Farmville Enterprise June 19, 2019
Morality, or principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong, plays a large role in what is deemed legal or illegal in any society. The question is whose vision of morality will be legislated and how far will it extend? What should be the standards for a government deciding which bad behavior warrants intervention? If we are to protect the innocent or weak from evil through laws and policies, whose definition of evil do we use?
It is almost universally acknowledged that murder, rape and robbery are immoral. In most countries laws against those crimes exist as well as legislation to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals. Governing authorities can’t not legislate some morality but they can’t possibly legislate all morality.
In the Old Testament the people of Israel were bound by a covenant with God and were required to abide by laws from all kinds of categories. Unlike Israel was then, the United States is not a theocracy. Our governing authorities have a duty to protect us from abuses but often stay out of matters between consenting adults that do not harm people outside of the situation. This distinction is not always so clear. Adultery is an example of an action which does not constitute physical harm but certainly can injure people emotionally and psychologically. Currently it is illegal in 18 states, although not typically enforced, and many states are working to remove it from the books. Many of us consider adultery immoral yet not a criminal matter. Speaking of consenting adults, different countries define “adult” differently. While we might see child marriage as wrong, people from some societies see it as acceptable. Actually, the minimum age for marriage with consent from parents varies from state to state in the U.S.
Ideas about what constitutes moral or immoral behavior have changed through the years and more quickly in some regions of the world than in others. Even Christians, with a written standard, have added interpretations of biblical morality in past few decades. Today there are a host of issues which politicians and citizens declare “immoral.” They include: separating families at the border, abortion, limits on abortion, doctor-assisted suicide, use of narcotics, a low minimum wage, the death penalty, prostitution, redefining marriage, marriage inequality, one percent of the population owning most of the resources and redistribution of wealth. Libertarian voices are rising, saying that things like prostitution and marijuana use should be decriminalized, giving government less intervention in our lives. We should listen to a variety of perspectives but ultimately societies must do their best to protect people from harm and abuse with laws that are just and moral. Legislation, however, does not change hearts. Morality does not change hearts. God changes hearts. We live in ways that are pleasing to God, moral ways, because of grace through faith and not in an attempt to earn God’s favor. Spiritually speaking, aspects of limitations of legislation today are reminiscent of limitations of God’s Law for the Jewish nation. “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:20- 24) “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.” (Romans 8:1-3a)