A reader asked me the question:
How do we answer the cultural idea that morality should be based upon that which does no harm to others rather than biblical values. (My question is - setting aside the Bible for sake of discussion - how do we offer an effective response to that?) I hear this a lot with college age students.
At the heart of the issue is the question “What is Love?"
Is love giving people what they want whenever they want it, however they want it? I wonder what our children would grow up to be like if we took that approach.
Does love come in the shape of discipline at times? If I tackled someone out of the way of a speeding vehicle, would they not be grateful despite the scrapes and bruises?
One of the things we have been created for is to love people. The problem is that we have morphed love into something that it is not. Love is never giving someone something that will harm them. Love is never telling a lie. Love is never condoning a behavior in someone that is destructive. Love is never enabling someone to continue down the wrong path.
But those statements define love. What do we believe are wrong paths? What behaviors do we believe are destructive? What is harmful to people? How we answer those questions will shape how we love. Well, that is true as long as we aren’t self-absorbed entertainment sponges, vampires who suck life from the world and never give back.
Now in those statements, we see that we believe there is a wrong path. We all believe there is a path that leads to death. Even the most tolerant hippy would tell you that intolerance is wrong. The debate isn’t about whether there is a wrong; the debate is always centered on what is wrong.
We also see in those statements that we believe things will harm people. It is easy to identify the immediate harms. Shooting someone for no reason is harmful. But the discussion gets sticky when we talk about long-term harm and/or psychological harm. Is feeding someone McDonalds every day harmful? Is drinking eight alcoholic beverages a day harmful? Is spending too much time watching television harmful? We all know that they are because we have seen the long-term impact of people who have abused things that were designed for good. Well, McDonalds might not ever be able to be used for good, but I think you get the point.
The immature mind will only look at the now. Does this feel good to me now? Then it can’t be that bad. Does this make me happy now? Then it can’t really be bad. But what happens when we wake up the next day and the man or woman who gave us so much pleasure the night before is gone and our heart is broken? What happens when the hangover comes? What happens when I am dying of liver disease? What happens when I have to face my personal crisis alone? True love has to look at what an action is doing to us, not just today, but tomorrow. Is it building better relationships? Is it making me into a better me? Some things might give a momentary rush or satisfaction, but if continued regularly, the behavior will destroy.
So when it comes to loving someone, we actually have to ask if what we are doing is to their benefit, not just in the moment, but tomorrow and the day after that. [A brief disclaimer. We have to be careful though that we do not stray into never doing any loving actions for others because we have a pull up your own bootstraps definition of love. Not loving is always a terrible definition of love.]
Is it more loving to give someone a free handout or is it more loving to give someone work to earn money to buy the food? Is it better to give someone free housing or is it better to help someone learn the soft skills necessary to hold a job and get their own housing? Now we would always answer the latter on these. But are we willing to make the sacrifice to give the work if it means I pay someone to mow my yard rather than do it myself? This might take away from my date night money or my vacation money. Are we willing to invest the time and energy into a person to teach them the necessary skills for living rather than enjoying another book, movie, or that extra time with the kids?
Now this brings us to biblical values. God gave us biblical values, not to enslave to some outdated moral code, but to free us to be loving. When we are enslaved to bad behaviors we are bad lovers. When we are free, we are empowered to love the way God intended us to live. When the Bible teaches values to live by, those of us who believe in God and his inspired word view those instructions as liberating. They are given to free us from the chains that often bind.
True love is more difficult than the “make me feel good because I have done something” type of love. We need to really make a difference in people’s lives. This won’t usually happen through a quick one time fix. This takes time, training, and a serious relational investment. Love is always sacrifice, our sacrifice.
“But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18 ESV).