Have you heard the Good News, or Gospel, of Jesus before? Did it seem distant and irrelevant? How could some guy from 2000 years ago or an old-fashioned term like “sin” matter today? Looking at the preeminence of good and evil in our favorite stories and in the latest news coverage, we’ll conclude, however, that nothing can be more central to our lives than the message of Jesus.
When We Acknowledge Right and Wrong
If you venture into philosophical debates, people frequently deny the objectivity of good and evil. In every other context, however, we find people obsessing over matters of morality, justice, right, and wrong.
Think of the most popular movies and books: Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, etc. Not only does the audience quickly acknowledge good and evil characters and actions, but we long for goodness to prevail: justice, peace, and freedom.
When watching these stories, few viewers subscribe to moral relativism, which supposes that people or society can determine the correctness of their actions. For instance, the Death Eaters in Harry Potter think the pure blood wizards ought to oppress the muggles and “mudbloods.” The audience does not believe this can be wrong for some people, but right for them simply because their actions align with their values. While watching or reading Harry Potter, we are moral realists, believing actions are objectively good or bad.
Our commitment to the notion that certain actions are evil and certain ones are good is even more obvious while watching the 24-hour news cycle. Reporters and audience declare their morally indignation at the actions and beliefs of the other party and their supporters. While conservatives paint liberals as immoral, liberals accuse conservatives of being unjust. In either case, both sides acknowledge a belief in an objective standard by which we ought to act.
Even in our disagreement, we find one more similarity. Conservatives criticize liberals for not valuing the unborn. Liberals lambaste conservatives for not caring for immigrants. An audience clearly identifies the Galactic Empire as evil because they blow up an inhabited planet. Ultimately, we agree that goodness requires we acknowledge that persons have value and deserve compassion, respect, and dignity. In other words, we know we ought to love others.
Our favorite fictional stories as well as our continual stream of (biased) non-fiction center on the topic of right and wrong, revealing two truths about humanity. First, we intuitively believe in an objective moral standard that determines how we ought1 to treat one another. Second, as stories and news obsess on right and wrong, we see this standard is of supreme importance in life.
The Relevance of God
Let us move forward with the acknowledgement that we ought to love (or value) other persons. As this moral principle says we must value persons, this principle itself is valuing them. As only persons can value something or someone, this objective moral standard must be a person.
This logical reasoning concurs with scripture. A disciple of Jesus named John agrees when he states “God is love,” equating the person his readers identified as God with the moral ideal (1 John 4:8, 16).
By identifying God as the objective standard of goodness, the Bible does not a proclaim a god that is some arbitrary person as random or unproven as a flying spaghetti monster. Atheists often argue that humanity has posed thousands of gods, and while theists disbelieve all but one, the atheist only denies one more. This reasoning, however, misses the point as it views any god as an arbitrary individual, not as goodness itself.
God is not an irrelevant person from ancient times. Quite the contrary, as we see in stories and politics, we value nothing more than doing good over evil, right over wrong. When we understand that God is love incarnate, we realize nothing in life is more important than God.
Since there is nothing more important than love2, we have a problem. We frequently do not value others as we ought, whether in our individual relationships or as a society. We often live in a selfish or self-absorbed manner.
As Scripture says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This quote does not mean we fail to appease some powerful guy in the clouds. Instead, we do not live up to the standard of love we intuitively prioritize.
Scripture points to a punishment, which is being separated from God. When we understand God as love, we realize this involves more than a loss of relationship with a person, but a separation from goodness itself.
Why this punishment? When a person acts unloving to another, they do not merely reject the other, but they say say through their actions that love is not right or good. The person does not merely spurn something God likes or something He commands. They reject love itself, the very nature of God. If any human was rejected as frequently as God, would we say they must forgive the offender?
If punishment still seems harsh, let us acknowledge our moral intuition as presented in stories and the news. We do not want to see a fictional villain rewarded for his treachery. Similarly, we don’t want to see a politician benefit from corruption, fear-mongering, or abuse of power.
While many would bristle at the justice of hell as depicted in medieval art, which is partially scriptural at best, I hope your moral intuition will at least agree that, based on our selfish thoughts and actions, we probably don’t deserve eternal bliss.
Our favorite stories tell us that love does not give up without a fight. Goodness prevails. This makes logical sense. If the most important principle in life is that we must love others (regardless of what they deserve), and if this principle is a person, this principle/person will act and love us despite our faults.
The God who is love enters history as Jesus Christ. Though he provided moral instruction, he didn’t only tell us more of what we ought to do. Taking action himself, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-11).
Christ died as our punishment. Separated from all goodness, he lamented, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). But three days later, he rose from the dead. Having reunited with God, he now offers to enter our lives. He desires to fill us with the his Spirit, and the “fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23).
The Relevant Gospel
Perhaps you have heard a Gospel presentation before and thought it sounded arbitrary. How could an ancient Near Eastern religion matter today? Equating God with love, I hope you can see how the message of Christ speaks to our most dire concern, namely our longing for goodness.
In summary, our favorite stories and news coverage teaches us that we believe in right and wrong and that life is about loving others. Unfortunately, we fail to live up to what we know we ought to do.
The Good News of Jesus Christ, however, proclaims that goodness is not a distant principle standing over us in judgement. As a person, it (or traditionally “He”) cares for us and acts. He offers redemption and transformation.
I presume you already care about living a selfless life and helping others. What difference would it make if you could know Love as a person, even as a compassionate Father, and join Him in serving others?
Understanding that God is not some old guy in the clouds, but that He is goodness itself, would you surrender your life to following Him? You might find yourself pleasantly surprised that you have not just devoted yourself to a moral principle, but have found yourself in a loving embrace with the God who is love.
- Based on David Hume’s Is-Ought problem and novel about the Sith, we can conclude that the objective moral “ought” is not part of the material universe. ↩
- If the reader feels I have contradicted myself by saying that nothing is more important than God and nothing is more important than love, then the reader has misunderstood a central point of this post. ↩