What do we do next in life requires a wise head and choices that are driven by knowledge or experience. Unfortunately wisdom isn’t automatically given to us as we age. It has to come from somewhere else.
The Professors Challenge.
I recently had to watch a video lecture by a Harvard University professor on the Jewish understanding of the Old Testament. Whilst I really enjoyed the trip through history as seen through his eyes, one thing I discovered shook me somewhat. It wasn’t his view of creation that was new or different to what I had heard before. It wasn’t the many translation issues in the English bible but there was one idea that set me thinking. That idea was, the source of our morals comes externally. In fact, the lecturer said, the whole purpose of the bible is to show that God has given us a moral framework for our lives.
What About Non Believers?
So where do you get your morals from? I know some people – about 20% of the Australians will say “I don’t believe in God.” That’s OK but where do those people get their moral compass from? How do they ever know that what they say or do is for the benefit of society or the long term benefit of themselves?
Maybe I’m just a grumpy old man, but I can look back and see many times when I have followed what seemed right. Then I discovered later that I was wrong. Even yesterday I had to get up and speak to a group of people for less than 5 minutes about how to exit the building within the Covid rules. I had it all worked out in my mind but unfortunately, I had this brilliant idea half way through and followed my gut. Everybody suddenly went quiet. When I sat down I was so angry with myself for what I said and the way I said it! And in truth is, I blew it! Such a simple task and I let my head have its way because of a brain fade. It seemed like a good idea at the time but it turned out a mess. Of course no one said anything. They just ignored my mistake possibly because they didn’t want me to feel even worse! So if I can blow it on such a simple task how much more damage can I do to myself on matters that really matter.
What About Doubt?
Now belief in God is almost life long for me so, I don’t have issues believing there is a moral compass – just a problem of following the compass! Of course I have had periods of doubt and still have moments. But from the moment I decided to “bet the farm” on there being a God in the universe that problem largely evaporated.
I’m reading a book at the moment about what Australians atheists believe. The first thing the author says is there is not just one set of beliefs. Rather the thing that holds the diverse group of atheists together is their professed lack of belief. Sometimes its a very strong belief they are right – though they have no more evidence for their “belief” than I do. The fact is, there is a whole spectrum of unbelief from the idea that there is no God anywhere in the universe and that we have made up stories about Him to the agnostics who say they don’t know whether there is a God or not.
Our History of Unbelief
There is a long history in Australia, of people rejecting belief in God. Unlike the American colonies, where the first act of the pilgrim fathers was to hold a prayer meeting after they arrived, Australians have rejecting the church and its practices since the first fleet arrived.
Richard Johnson the only Anglican priest on the first fleet, was not welcomed with open arms. The fleet arrived on Saturday and the following Sunday they were “too busy” unloading to pause for half and hour and hold a church service. Johnson got no assistance from soldiers or convicts to build the first church for 5 years. When he eventually built the church himself, it mysteriously got burned down and he had to start again. That may have had something to do with the fact he was also appointed as the magistrate. So he had to preach forgiveness on Sunday and order floggings for the rest of the week. In addition, he was given the task of providing education to the colony. The records show that he and his wife taught between 150 and 200 children in his church. But his “captive audience” did not prove fertile ground for Christian belief.
The Ten Commandments
Which brings me back to where I started. Where do you get your moral compass from? I know that for some people the answer is the ten commandments. But I suspect most people who say that can’t tell me what they are. They often know a few – don’t get involved in murder, adultery, stealing, but after that it gets a bit hazy.
Whenever I have asked that question of people, only one person has ever correctly quoted the first commandment. In case you don’t know what it is get out your bible and look at Exodus 20:3. This is the first one for a very good reason and addresses the big issue for all of us. It says “you shall have no other God before me. So, what it is telling us is that God has to be number one in our lives. He himself demands that of us and it is for our good!
You Are Not God.
A few years ago, a man by the name of Ernest Kurtz wrote what’s become the definitive history of Alcoholics Anonymous. He called his book “Not-God,” because, he said, the fundamental problem alcoholics have is that down deep, they refuse to acknowledge limitation, and weakness. They live under the delusion that they are in control of everything, when the truth is, they can’t even control themselves. “And so,” he writes, “fundamental to the recovery process is that healing and sanity begin with a single realisation that I am not God,” I’m not in control of my universe. I often cannot even control myself. I want to do one thing, and then I do something else.” So, I need help from a power far greater than myself. I am not God.
Now, of course, this “I am God” illusion is not limited to alcoholics. I believe we can all fall for that illusion and do so often. So the first commandment is telling us there is a God who is above all and its not you. The implication is that one day we will all have to front up to the one who sent the rules and answer the question as to how well we have kept the rules.
The Genesis Story.
Genesis tell us this was actually behind the very first sin ever committed. The serpent says to the woman in the Garden: “When you eat this fruit, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” So, the first temptation was “You’ll be master of your own universe. You won’t have to bend the knee. You can get away with flouting the moral law of the universe. You will be like God.” Unfortunately people have been falling for that one a long time. Wanting to be like God is at the heart of sin and spiritual confusion.
So, the first commandment really says “Don’t fall for that one.” You do not have enough knowledge or wisdom or experience to put things in place even for your own good or to ensure someone else isn’t hurt. I believe the best advice is keep the 10 commandment but start with the first one. When you keep that one, you will find the other nine are a whole lot easier and the result will be that you will be able to live the best possible life. But that all begins when you work out that you are not God. You are not in control of very much at all so you need guidance from the one who really is in control.