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Volume 7, Issue 1: Magistralis

Says Who?

Greg Dickison

Try this exercise: build an authoritative ethical standard upon any foundation, as long as it is not the Bible. Getting started shouldn't be hard, given that you do this everyday. You may not be as conscious of it as I am asking you to be, but you do it. Every time you say that something is right or wrong, legal or illegal, you imply a standard of right and wrong to which you can appeal. The question is, what is that standard?

When you were a child, and your sibling told you that you were not supposed to do something, your first response was, "Who says?" Think of this exercise as a grown-up version of that. It works whether you are a liberal or a conservative, and with any topic. Are you pro-abortion? Do you believe that it was "wrong" to deny a woman the "right" to control her own body? Well, who says it is wrong? And who defines what is a right? Are you in the pro-life crowd? All right, same question. Who says it is wrong to kill unborn babies? Who says there is a "right to life?" Think of something, anything, you believe is wrong (or right), and then answer the question, "Who says?"
The point of the exercise is this: it will not be long before you find that there is no rational answer to the question, "Who says?" If you assert that there is any basis for a moral standard other than the Word of God, then you have stepped into an ethical abyss where anything goes, and where the concepts of right and wrong become utter nonsense.
Why is this so? Because the concepts of right and wrong, good and bad, should and ought, make no sense apart from God. When you treat God's Word as irrelevant, then you make a statement that He is powerless to punish (or save) sinners, and that neither you nor anyone else is in danger of His wrath. God is thus irrelevant in the moral debate, and what is right or wrong at any given moment depends instead on the whim of whichever lesser being has the power to enforce his will.
Let's play out the scenario. Suppose that Congress passes a law legalizing homicide in all fifty states. "That's wrong," you say. Says who? Says you? Who are you, that anyone should pay attention to you? Says Congress? Obviously not, since they passed the law. Says the Constitution? That's easy to get around. All we need to do is pass another amendment, saying that homicide is a constitutional right. You say it violates the human rights of the victims? Where did those come from? Who says you, or anyone else, has any "rights," human or otherwise? Can you appeal to the will or consensus of the majority? What if the majority agrees with Congress? Will you appeal to the law of nature? Nature teaches that the stronger prey on the weaker to survive, and that mothers can eat their young. Will you say that we can do what we want, as long as we don't hurt others? Who says we shouldn't hurt others, if it is convenient for us to do so? Will you say that whatever is done between consenting adults is acceptab le? Again, why should consent be a criteria, or why should that criteria be limited to adults?
Do you see where this is going? Arguments over what is right or wrong degenerate into battles between nothing more than different personal ethical philosophies. A society that approaches moral questions that way is a tyranny waiting to happen. Whose ethic is enacted into law is dependent only on who can gain control of the system of power. You might attempt to trivialize the problem by saying that such a thing could never happen. That, however, is manifestly false, as a glance at any daily newspaper will show.
An appeal to God's Word is absolute, unchanging and authoritative no matter who controls the reigns of political power. In His Word, God decrees what is right and wrong. The Bible states clearly that murder is evil. It defines what civil rights are, and requires civil governments to honor them. God addresses not only what is right and wrong civilly, but how you should treat your spouse, your children, your parents, your co-workers, your boss, and everyone else you come in contact with. And He tells them how they should treat you. Majorities can change their minds; constitutions can be amended; legislative enactments can be passed and repealed at random. God is unchanging, and He enforces His decrees by blessings and judgments in this life, as well as in the next.
When you ask people to accept mutable and arbitrary ethical standards, you invite them to step into a world where anything goes. If there is no absolute standard of right and wrong, no transcendent basis on which to say that some behaviors are good and others are bad, then you lose the ability to object to anything. If a law is passed giving all of your property to your neighbor, or legalizing sex with anyone of any age, with or without their consent, or establishing a season for the hunting of a particular ethnic group, on what basis can you object? You might not like it, but that is irrelevant. The point is that you have no moral ground upon which to base your objection. Your only alternative is to live in abject terror of the capricious power of man. "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matt. 10:28).

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