The previous generation seemed to believe in a “right” and a “wrong.” They had clear categories of moral behavior and immoral behavior. Some things were right and others were wrong. And there was no need for further explanation.
(Now, that doesn’t mean any of us followed what was right and wrong. We still sinned against the rules. But we knew there was a line we had crossed. We knew we needed to repent and turn to Jesus for forgiveness.)
Today it seems like right and wrong are off the table. To put a certain behavior in the wrong category is the only true “sin” left in our society. Anything less is seen as judgmental and unloving.
Many Christians, especially Christian leaders, wonder, “How can we still speak out in this type of society? Can I really speak of a Savior if nobody wants to listen to a message about sin?”
In other words, in a post-right-and-wrong society, does the Bible have anything left to say?
Let’s open this very ancient and “old-fashioned” book and take a look.
In the first chapter, it says God created human beings in his own image, in his own likeness. Our purpose was to live in such a way as to reflect God’s character. Humans were created to act like God.
Then in the next chapter, God puts the first two humans in a garden. In the middle of the garden, he places a tree called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He says they can eat from any tree in the garden, but if they eat from that tree, it will kill them.
Yikes! Why put a tree in the middle of their neighborhood that could harm them?
I’ve reflected on this idea for quite a few years. And I’ve concluded that the tree itself was not the problem. It wasn’t like God put poison ivy in their yard to mess with them.
God put the tree in the garden because that tree represented an important idea. They couldn’t eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil because that was God’s tree. God is the only one who has the true knowledge of what’s good and best and what’s bad and evil.
Notice the tree was not called the Tree of Right and Wrong. God was not creating arbitrary rules to ruin their fun. He is a good God who created a good world, and he wanted humans to flourish and have a good life. And when humans reflect what God has said is good and reject what he says is evil, their lives are better.
When Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they were saying, “God’s instructions for life are not good. God doesn’t know what’s best. We want to set up our own standards for what is good and evil.”
But when they made that decision, how did their lives turn out? When we reject God’s instruction, does that lead to a good, enjoyable life?
In my bedroom at home, my wife and I have two bedside tables from IKEA. From the outside both of them look very similar. Both are white with three drawers. But the table on my wife’s side has drawers that work. She believed the instructions were good, and so she followed them. I wasn’t so keen on following them, and now my drawers don’t function well. In fact, they are stuck shut.
In a world that has abandoned morality, maybe we need to stop talking so much about what is right and wrong, and maybe we need to talk about what is good and evil. Instead of demanding sexual purity because it is the right thing to do, maybe we need to show how it is also the good thing to do and the opposite hurts everyone involved.
Instead of demanding people come to church because it is the right thing to do, maybe we need to show that God created us to worship him. Worship is the good thing to do. And to give up worshiping God is actually bad, even evil.
Changing the language from right and wrong to good and bad will probably not stop most people from doing the “bad” thing. But when we use the language of the tree in the Garden of Eden, then we might help people see the need for a second tree. The tree of Calvary. The tree where our good Savior did the good thing by giving up his life to rescue us from our evil.
Even today, in a post-right-and-wrong world, the Scriptures still speak. They show us what is truly good. They show us what kind of behavior will lead to the best life. And when we’ve rejected God’s good instructions, they point us to the only One who always did what is good and rejected everything that is evil. They point us to our only hope, Jesus Christ.