Pay attention the next time you hear an argument. Maybe you can go start one just to check this out. Nancy and I had a good argument recently about which one of us was supposed to buy a clock radio for me. Surprisingly, I lost.
When people argue, here are the kinds of things they say:
“I do way more than my fair share of work around this house, and you do way too little!” We call those people husbands and wives.
“He got a bigger piece of dessert. He got a bigger allowance! He did fewer chores. He got a later curfew time than I did, and it’s not fair!” We call those people brothers and sisters.
“You’re a miserable boss, and this is a dysfunctional sweat shop, and I am grossly overworked and criminally underpaid.” We call those people unemployed.
When we argue, we don’t just say, “Do what I want because I’m stronger and I can make you do it.” We say things like, “That’s not right! That’s not good! You’re not being fair!” In other words, we appeal to a standard that is independent and objective and higher than you and I. We appeal to the idea that there is such a thing as right and wrong.
In theory, many people in our day hold the belief that right and wrong are subjective — just preference, just vanilla and chocolate. You have yours, and I have mine. Everybody is different. Author Dinesh D’Souza points out that in our society we will often hear someone say, “Don’t impose your beliefs on me.”
D’Souza says he finds it interesting that we don’t say, “Don’t impose your geometry on me. Don’t impose your chemistry on me.” Why don’t we hear such things? Because we assume that science and mathematics are about objective reality. We don’t think they can be “imposed” on us. But we often believe that morals and values are simply subjective preferences. You have yours. I have mine. Everything is arbitrary. Whenever you hear two people argue about whether something is right or wrong, it shows we know that right or wrong isn’t subjective. Deep down we all live on the assumption that moral reality is built into the way life is.
This is exactly what Paul was writing about when he said that “the requirements of the law [what’s right and what’s wrong] are written on [people’s] hearts.” We can’t get away from this. When we argue, we show that we know this. Paul continues, “their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them” (Romans 2:15).
Every human being knows two things: There is a way we ought to behave. We do not invent this code; we only discover it. We might be fuzzy on the details of it sometimes, but we have a general idea of what it is. We also know that we don’t live up to this standard. We all fall short. We need forgiveness. We need grace. We need to get fixed.
Every time people argue, they are implying that the universe is not an accident, that there is a moral order built into the way things are, because it was put there by Somebody, and that Somebody is God. The good news is that he is a gracious God. That’s part of why I believe in God.
John Ortberg, Know Doubt: Embracing Uncertainty in Your Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014).
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