Meditations in Meaning & Values 25. Values
Gen 26:2-6 The LORD appeared to Isaac and said, “…. I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.”
We have so far in these meditations focused mainly on meaning and purpose with little emphasis on values although they are inherently there embedded in so much of what the world says or the Bible says. Look up ‘values’ and you come across such words as principles, standards, morals, ethics and ideals. Values are what underpin our thinking and then subsequently our behaviour, our words and our actions. Values today, tend to be a little like justice which we considered in an earlier meditation, they appear hidden for much of the time and some people even deny they are there until suddenly it becomes personal and we hear the cry, “It’s not fair!” and someone is appealing to a supposed set of standards or expectations.
I looked up the word ‘laws’ in a concordance and our verses above came up as the very first reference in the Bible. Now I find these words above (and they are God speaking to Isaac) surprising because whenever I have read the earlier chapters of Genesis involving Abram, later renamed Abraham, I have not been aware of loads of laws being laid down by the Lord for Abram. But the Lord doesn’t only refer to laws for we also see Him referring to “my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.” Now ‘requirements’ are easy, simply meaning things God wants of him. ‘Commands’ are stronger – specific instructions of things he is to do, for example, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Gen 12:1). ‘Decrees’ tend to add a sense of official governmental requirement to a command. A command is simply an instruction to do something, whereas a decree is a declaration of governmental order. ‘Laws’ are established rules for living.
Now values are the things that underpin all these so we may say we value human life and so establish a law, “You shall not murder”. The law follows from the values held. Similarly we might say we hold the value that any personal property that an individual has either personally made or has legitimately bought with their own money, belongs to them and may not be taken from them without their permission, and thus we find the law, “You shall not steal”.
So, we may have started from the thought that laws are the expression of our principles, standards, morals, ethics and ideals, but we have come to see that perhaps there is more value (sorry for the pun) in looking behind the laws to the values that create them. We so often focus on the law, whereas we might do better to ponder what is behind the law. This is why a consideration of values is important.
Now there are, I suggest, two important things about values to be considered now we have seen that they outwork in law, and those are first, what the value is and second, why such a value exists. Now this is going to take us into deeper philosophical thinking! But the moment I write these two things down I realise that the second thing is even more important than the first, because without some originating cause (why the value exists) the first thing (the value itself) cannot exist.
So why do we have values? We all do in some shape or form but why do we have the values we have? In this meditation we will now only consider wrong ways of having values and then in subsequent ones consider better ways, Biblical ways, and why they are better, but until we see the wrong ways we work, we won’t see the point in turning to the Bible.
Here is a quote from a book called Blue like Jazz by Donald Miller: “We were sitting around in my friend’s living room and talking about it and she was in a huff and at one point raised her fist and said, ‘Down with Bush!’ After that I didn’t have a crush on her anymore. It wasn’t because she didn’t like George W. Bush, it was because she had no idea why she didn’t like George W. Bush. She only went to a rally and heard a good band and saw a lot of cool people with cool clothes and hippie haircuts. She decided what to believe based on whether other people who believed it were of a particular fashion that appealed to her.”
The first way people so often hold to the values they think they have, is simply because they follow someone else and their values, not questioning whether there is a good base or not for their values. In the example above the girl in question held shallow views based on those held by the ‘stars’ in her thinking.
In his book, ‘How Should We Then Live’, Francis Schaeffer wrote: “People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize. By presuppositions we mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic world-view, the grid through which he sees the world. Presuppositions rest upon that which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. …. “Most people catch their presuppositions from their family and surrounding society the way a child catches measles. But people with more understanding realise that their presuppositions should be chosen after careful consideration of what world view is true.”
These ‘presuppositions’, these starting values that people hold, are responsible for the laws we write and the lives we live. In the previous study we considered the apostle Peter’s failure in denying Jesus three times, and I spoke about his fear. Now it wasn’t only fear of being branded with Jesus and possibly suffering what Jesus might suffer, but it was also surely the same as that which each of us so often suffers – the fear of being seen to be different. We don’t like being branded oddities, we want to be loved, liked, accepted and so we try to avoid controversy. That is why many people hold to the values they hold, to go along with the crowd. That is not a good reason to hold on to values that may be shallow or even bad. This is an area that needs some thinking about. if we can be clear in our own minds, we might be better at convincing other people. Are we ready to look at that we think, what our values are and why we hold them?