|Goya: The Third of May, 1808|
In our last blogpost we asked the question "What is 'salvation'?," and noted that the word refers to deliverance from the wrath of God. But why is God angry? To answer that question we must consider the problem of evil.
What we see in life are people pushing and shoving and hurting each other in various ways. Businessmen are greedy. Politicians are self-serving and deceitful. Marriages end in divorce. The world is in constant turmoil with tyranny, war and oppression everywhere.
But there is something inside of us that tells us that this cannot be right. We cannot accept the idea that we should simply accept things the way they are. We long for some sense of justice.
But what makes one action "right" and another "wrong"? On what basis can we judge another? Who can say, objectively, who is right and who is wrong? Secular thinkers, from Socrates on down to the present, have struggled to answer the question, and have not found a satisfactory answer. The best that most modern (or perhaps we should say "post-modern") philosophers can say is that morality is a human invention. Either we so evolved that we developed a moral sense, so that we think that there is a difference between right and wrong, or else that morality is the result of some sort of social contract. We must somehow get along with each other, and so we enter into a tacit agreement with each other as to what we will tolerate and what we will not.
But our conscience tells us that there has to be something more to morality than ingrained behavior or social pressure. We somehow sense that certain actions are intrinsically wrong, and that in an ideal world wrong would be punished and good rewarded. But how? Too often evil seems to have the upper hand.
Thus we are faced with a conflict between the "real" and the "ideal." It has been said that most people are followers either of Plato or of Aristotle. Plato was the quintessential "idealist." Truth is a matter of abstract ideals, and the physical world is merely an imperfect copy of the ideal world. Aristotle, on the other hand, was the archetypical "realist": he was concerned with the physical world as it actually exists. But there are not many true idealists around today. In our modern, science-based culture we are too preoccupied with the here-and-now to worry much about abstract principles or ideals. In its more extreme form this way of thinking is frankly atheistic But the implications of this outlook are stark. It means that there is no real meaning or purpose in life, no real difference between right and wrong, no final justice, no life beyond the grave. Unfortunately for us the party will eventually end and the lights will go out.
The biblical answer to all of this is that our intuitions are largely correct. There is a real design in nature, there is meaning and purpose to life, and there is a real difference between right and wrong. The reason is that the universe was created by an Intelligent Being. Everything, when created, was originally "good." We revolted, however, against our Creator, and everything was corrupted as a result. This is why the present reality does not conform to God's ideal standard. This is the reason for God's wrath, and thus the need for salvation.
The Case for Moral Absolutes
Alasdair MacIntyre: A Study in Moral Theory
What Makes Christianity Different?
What God Thinks of Us