“How do we know what is true?” the speaker at a workshop I recently attended asked the participants. She wanted us to say that we “feel” what is true. I know that because when I answered “because the Bible tells me so,” she didn’t like my response one iota.
Not wanting to shanghai the workshop by launching into a debate on relativism, I let it slide. We thankfully moved on to unrelated topics, and I was able to let this question about truth ruminate in my brain over the next few days.
Ravi Zacharias, a profound speaker on Christian topics, would explain the pitfalls of a relativistic outlook in this way: Because relativism by it’s very nature denies the existence of an absolute truth, it is a failed system before it has even begun.
How do you explain what is good without having an ultimate good to which to compare? In the very act of trying to define truth individualistically, people can only make meaning by finding their way to an unwavering Power they are consciously doing their best to deny.
The human heart is absolutely incapable of always doing good or even consistently knowing what good is without reaching for an absolute groundwork that is unwavering. This absolute does not have exceptions to its rules. It does not allow for human happiness above the need for right over wrong. It operates from a place of love tempered by a spiritual perspective that is beyond the ability of the human mind to fully comprehend. We are designed to know when the rules are in alignment with the truth of His Word, but we do not get to decide which parts of His Word we will choose to attend to or ignore.
If it feels good, then it must be good. No story in the Bible is more designed to prove the fallacy of this concept than the story of King David, a man after God’s own heart. Even though he spent the bulk of his life pursuing God’s Will, acknowledging God’s goodness and superiority in his life, and actively making choices that would please God, even David’s heart for God managed to stray from the straight and narrow path of truth as David knew it from his own study of the Hebrew traditions.
David knew absolutes. He loved God so much that when Saul stumbled into the cave where David and his men were hiding, the fugitive youth refused to harm a hair on his King’s head because any harm done to Saul, who had been crowned by God, would be an offense against the Creator.
When David turned from the reality of God’s truths, it was relativism that made David give in to the lusts of his heart and steal another man’s wife. It caused him to underhandedly try to cover up his adultery by lying to the man he had cuckolded, and then, when that strategy failed, to actually have the man killed in battle. When David turned away from God’s truths to lean on his own understanding instead, he set forth a series of events that would cause his family to suffer for generations.
Relativism made David’s son Absalom convince himself he deserved his father’s throne so that Absalom slaughtered his other brothers and launched a nearly successful coup of his father’s otherwise powerful reign. In a world where God died to make it possible to wash away my sin, I am convinced He does not make bad things happen in order to punish us. But, I do believe He makes no promises to save us from the consequences of our own actions, only the promise to hold our hand while we suffer them.
Relativism is easy on the surface. Live and let live leaves lots of time to seek what pleases, especially since standards based on happiness are really no standards at all. Its proponents don’t have to deal with any harsh reality because they make truth a liquid that moves with their own whims and wishes.
But God, who rules this universe He created, doesn’t operate on a platform of fluctuation. He is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. He is the definition of an absolute, and His laws, natural, spiritual, and moral, are the ultimate movers and shakers of reality, no matter what social media or television dramas want us to think otherwise.
The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that God praises David and yet also graphically displays David’s humanness in order to prove to us that no person is capable of following God merely by “trusting his gut.” We know what is right and wrong not because of the “god” in us as so many Eastern philosophies would have us believe, but because we spend time in His Word and in relationship with His Holy Spirit in full knowledge of our dependence on Him for all things that are real and good.
Sometimes, we love best when we are willing to stand in the truth of God’s Word, no matter if the world wants to mock and ridicule us for our belief in His absolutes. Often, doing right only feels good after the fact, when we can go to God in thankfulness that He helped us stay on the straight and narrow path. Sometimes, doing right, like sticking with a marriage to which you made a holy vow, can bring a whole lot of sorrow and pain before you round the curve back to the light. But always, when we follow God’s absolutes, we can walk forward in confidence knowing that God loves those who cling to His truth and seek His understanding rather than being guided by our ever-deceitful hearts.
Black and white is not just an old-fashioned television era when moms stayed home cooking and cleaning and the worst trouble their kids managed to wrangle was a broken window from a stray baseball. Seek God’s truth, which is absolute, and you will ultimately grow into the person His master plan longs for you to be.
You are a key player in God’s ultimate picture for this life and the next. I didn’t say it. Christ’s broken, innocent body on a cross on Calvary did, where love and mercy, justice and forgiveness came together to save us all.