Meditations in Meaning & Values 26. More on Values
Ex 34:6,7 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
If we are to think these things through carefully we must take our time. In the previous meditation we said that if you look up ‘values’ you come across such words as principles, standards, morals, ethics and ideals and values are what underpin our thinking and then subsequently our behaviour, our words and our actions. We also noted that laws flow out of values; we create laws according to the values we hold. Further we considered that we need to identify values but even more importantly, where they come from, their origin. From there we noted that many people have the values they have, not because they have carefully thought them out, but they simply go along with the crowd or are influenced by some ‘big person’.
Now one ‘big person’ (at least in the eyes of some of his followers) is Richard Dawkins who came out with a paragraph of vitriolic condemnation of God that is not worthy of these pages and so will not be quoted. But in producing this vitriolic condemnation Dawkins obviously read snatches of the Old Testament and misinterpreted it. Compare the description I have just spoken about with the verses above where the Lord describes Himself as a “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin”. Now to deny this description in this quote you have to say either Moses was lying to record this, or God was lying to say it about Himself, and in both cases it would be legitimate to ask the question, why would they bother to do that? What’s the point IF the evidence points in the opposite direction?
Now you may possibly be wondering why I am going down this path when it comes to talking about values. Why is God’s integrity of importance when we consider values. Well here’s my big statement: take God out of the equation and values simply become whatever any individual ends up holding at any particular point in their life. I put it like that because their values will change. I was once a college lecturer and sat in the staff room at lunchtime listening to a conversation in which about a dozen of my colleagues took part. I’ve forgotten now even what the subject was but I suddenly found myself pondering about a particular ethical viewpoint, “Why are they all thinking the same? This is most unusual”. As their conversation unfolded it appeared that they had all watched a BBC Panorama programme the night before in which a particular viewpoint prevailed – and now they all expressed it. Without God in the equation we take on views, we take on values with so very little thought. We have come to a point in Western society where so many have rejected the idea of God or of God being an arbiter of values because they have listened to the likes of people like Richard Dawkins to form their value system.
Now is this just a Christian rant or is it important to think these issues through carefully? Some of us belong to churches where all we receive is a ten minute homily each Sunday morning and we are left unchallenged and therefore give little thought to what is truth. Others of us go to churches where ‘the Spirit’ and ‘experience’ is all important and rarely do we hear anything which makes us think deeply. Others of us may go to churches where we simply receive a diet of legalistic rules and never the explanation why we have the rules. We need Spirit and word and within the word we need to consider these issues. You and I may take it for granted that God is the arbiter of all we believe but I would make two comments. First, not everyone else does and we need to consider why they don’t and what is an appropriate response to them and, second, we need to be aware of the possibility of us accepting that general truth – that God is the arbiter of all we believe – but never get around to thinking why and, even more importantly, not holding fast to those values when the crunch comes. (We have already considered the apostle Peter’s denial failure in this context).
So why do we question the world’s value system that says self is all-important and the autonomous individual has the right to do what they like as long as it doesn’t harm others? The simple and short answer is that we observe in modern society the fruits of such thinking and they are not good. In our society we may be like the frog in the example that is so often given who, if you threw him into a pot of boiling water would immediately leap out, but put him in a pot of cold water and gradually heat it to boiling point, he would tolerate the changes and eventually die. We may accept the values of our society simply because the changes that have come about have come slowly and steadily and we are dying spiritually as a people with the consequences of that following.
Let’s ask a question: what ‘values’, what principles, standards, morals, ethics and ideals would you suggest we would like for our society, for our lives? This is not as obvious as it might seem. Let’s make a suggestion. If love was the foundation of every principle, every standard, any morals or ethics, would that not be the ideal that surpasses every other ideal? True love does not put self first, but we live in a society that relishes ‘self’. True love is concerned for others and constantly seeks their best, but we live in a society where others are a nuisance and life is too stressful to worry about others’ worries all the time. That of course is an overstatement for many do care for others, but so often as an outlet or means to achieve meaning for self. If selfless living is possible then it is worth considering. The Bible says God IS love. (1 Jn 4:8,16). If that is true then we need to think some further about the values He has, why He has them, and can we have them? More thinking required.