How do we define and apply morality?
Is our morality intention-based? So that we examine motives, whether our own or others, to know whether a person is authentic in what they choose? If so, this calls for us to find our true identity so we can be “true to self” no matter what others might think about our choices. In the book of Judges we learn, for instance, that “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”
Or is our morality an existential act of will? Do we impose our own moral point of view on an otherwise confusing and chaotic universe? Call this the “might makes right” model. It will face challenges from others who have their own versions of morality, but more often than not it allows the boldest person to win the day.
Or, again, do we focus on behaviors? So that we set out options that are right, wrong, or ambiguous so we can become better Christians by making good choices from among the options before us. Is the Bible, by this measure, a moral guidebook that we mine for the innumerable nuggets of God’s golden will to guide us? Do we use WWJD (“what would Jesus do?”) as our code of conduct?
Let’s listen to one man’s answer—a response attributed to Asaph.
Psalm 73 in the Bible gives his answer.
Asaph first identified the problem: evil has practical benefits. So much so that his own motives were getting twisted because he could see how some people around him—the act-of-will existentialists—were prospering. It was all too easy to envy, and then to imitate, the arrogant.
Asaph’s starting point had been among the “pure in heart” (v.1). He soon realized, however, that the “arrogant” and the “wicked” were prospering. In other words, the overt behaviors of evil were effective for the proud as seen in their growing wealth. The “innocence” (v.13) of the heart-based crowd, on other hand, seemed naïve and financially fruitless.
A key premise of the arrogant-yet-successful crowd is that they weren’t bothered by what others thought, God included: “And they say, ‘How can God know? Is there knowledge [of our activities] in the Most High?’”
This skepticism towards God set up the big question of morality for Asaph. Does God really care?
Yes! Asaph reports how troubled he was “until I went into the sanctuary of God” (v.17) where he discovered that God does, indeed, know about the arrogant and has an appropriate “end” in view for these people: “Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall into ruin.”
Asaph, by contrast, learned that his own future—as a pure-in-heart man—had a relational end: “you will receive me to glory” so that, “there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you [God]” (v.25). It’s interesting to note how he adopts a selfless point of view: there’s no introspection or self-serving vision here! God alone is in view.
And for God it’s all a matter of timing. Everyone will have a chance to respond to the moral options before them but only one ambition has a long term future: a desire to know and please God for God’s sake.
Asaph summarized this personally, and directly to God, as a prayer (v.27): “For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.”
He then ends by sharing his own renewed and heartfelt ambition: “But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.”
Amen and amen! Let God be our ambition, our desire, and our reward. That’s life lived right.