I once read that Willie Nelson, the country star, bought his own golf course. Somebody asked what “par” was. “Anything I want it to be,” he replied. “See that hole over there? It’s a par 47.” Then he added, “And yesterday, I birdied it!”
That would be laughable if it was not a sad and sorry picture of what’s going on in America today. It seems people don’t believe in right and wrong anymore; they believe right and wrong is whatever they want it to be. Given that reality, we are without doubt at a critical hour in our history as a people. We all know that every building must have a foundation, and consequently what is true of buildings is also true of people’s belief and behavior. If the foundation of moral consciousness and conduct in a nation is destroyed, what is left (Psa. 11:3)?
A television news crew was on assignment in southern Florida after hurricane Andrew caused widespread destruction. Amidst the devastation and toppled buildings, they were struck by a particular house that remained on its foundation. They interviewed the owner of the home and asked, “Why is your house the only one standing? How did you manage to escape the severe damage of the storm?”
“I built this house myself,” he answered. “I built it according to the Florida state building code. I was told that a house built according to the code could withstand a hurricane and it did. I suppose nobody else around here followed the code.”
As I look around our crumbling culture, it seems that few in our nation are building to the code. But Jesus told us that there is a foundation we can build on that will stand the test of time and beyond. It’s the bedrock of God’s word (Matt. 7:24-27).
We need to be once again a people governed by moral maxims: absolutes. “Righteousness exalts a nation,” according to Proverbs 14:34. Righteousness is uprightness. It is an action or behavior according to a standard.
Interestingly, Proverbs was particularly written to the emerging leaders of Israel as demonstrated by Solomon often addressing his son or sons. As they were instructed, so are we. When the authors of Proverbs wrote of righteousness, they had in mind the upright standards of God’s moral law, codified in the Ten Commandments, later to be embodied in the Lord Jesus Christ. Righteousness exalts a nation; therefore, uprightness of behavior in accordance with the moral law of God is the path to peace and prosperity.
The world is not a moral vacuum. It is one designed and directed by a Holy God, who weighs the actions of men and reacts accordingly.
“All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
But the Lord weighs the spirits.
Commit your works to the Lord,
And your thoughts will be established.” (Proverbs 16:2-3, NKJV)
Just as the physical universe is governed by natural laws, such as gravity, so there is a moral component to this world governed by a just God, who is righteous in character. If we are going to enjoy some measure of life, liberty and happiness, we must recognize our Creator, seek His happiness and live within His moral laws. Good government, therefore, takes God’s holy nature into account. How is a nation to be exalted if there is no righteous standard by which to live? That’s what the book of Proverbs reminds us.
“Many seek the ruler’s favor,
But justice for man comes from the Lord.” (Proverbs 29:26, NKJV)
Justice does not come from any person’s sense of right or wrong – not even a king. The king is to administer God’s justice. Leaders are to establish God’s righteousness. Morality is not relative or situational. We need to stop living by the dictum that everything is right some time and nothing is right every time. God’s standards are like God himself; they are sovereign and steadfast. Heaven and earth will pass away, but not God’s Word (Mark 13:31). Morality, therefore, is and must be rooted in the absolute righteous character of God, revealed to us in the Holy Bible and ultimately put on display in the perfect life of Jesus Christ.
Right is right, and wrong is wrong because God said so! If God does not exist, and if there is no transcendent, absolute, moral law given by Him by which to measure our behavior, then all things are permissible. Biblically speaking, no man has the right to tell another man what to do unless that man is telling another to do what God commands all men to do. If God is not the authority, then who is? Without the chart and compass of God’s Word, we would be left to drift on a sea of relativism and pragmatism, inevitably finding shipwreck against the rocks of our own self-will.
But the Bible tells us that there are certain standards that are absolute and God will hold us accountable to them. We discard and disregard them at our own peril. Happiness is found in obedience to God’s will as revealed in God’s Word and seen in God’s Son (Psalm 1; Hebrews 1). The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. If we want to know peace and prosperity, then we must embrace God’s truth as we find it in Scripture and in the person and work of Christ (John 17:17; 14:6).
We must stop living as if we are our own judge and jury when it comes to morality. We must stop thinking that tolerance prevents us from having sound judgment. We need to move from feeling good to being good to doing good. We must realize that ideas have consequences. Therefore, we need to repent of the idea that the only absolute is that there are no absolutes (which is a complete contradiction since that statement is an absolute!).
Success and stability involves a commitment to righteousness and the righteous One. Obedience invites God’s blessing.
When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices;
And when the wicked perish, there is jubilation.
By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted,
But it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked.” (Proverbs 11:10-11, NKJV)
Given all that we have said, starting today we must urgently pursue goodness by following the wisdom of God’s sufficient word. We must passionately walk uprightly, stand for truth and justice, and show mercy according to God’s liberating law. But first and most important of all, we must kneel in submission to God’s Son who kept the law and died for those who have broken that law (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:10-14). These are the keys to greatness; these are the grounds for happiness, both for a nation and for each of us individually.
Philip De Courcy is the senior pastor of Kindred Community Church in Anaheim Hills, California, and speaker on the daily radio program, Know the Truth (ktt.org) This week’s devotional is adapted from his sermon, “For God and Country” (kindredchurch.org).