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Who determines what is right and wrong?

This is a fundamental question that affects every facet of life. If there is no God, then everything is determined by man. It seems that the consensus of opinion in society is that concepts of right and wrong are just a matter of personal choice.

Dr J Slattery, writing specifically about sexual matters, stated the following:

“In today’s culture, right and wrong are sorted through a grid of what we perceive as being the best for ourselves and our fellow humans. Essentially, human beings are now ‘god,’ with the authority to determine our own moral compass. With this type of humanistic worldview, morality is defined as ‘do no harm.’ Ethics and morality are measured by whether or not people are harmed. ‘She’s not hurting anyone, so how could she be doing something wrong?’ From this perspective, Christians who stand against gay marriage, for example, are thought to be doing harm. They are ‘hurting’ people who want to celebrate the gay lifestyle. In contrast, those who want to participate in gay marriage are viewed as doing no harm.”

In today’s secular society, God and His Word are neither thought about nor consulted when laws are enacted. The consensus is that when it comes to morality which can be defined as “principles of right and wrong,” there are those who believe that there are no absolutes, merely personal preferences and these can be different in varying cultures.   It is because man wants to do his own thing that he dismisses God, and the standards expected of a God-fearing individual don’t apply to them as they don’t believe in a superior Being who created everything we see.

On the website, truthnet.org, we read: “…the problem is that Christianity proclaims there are absolute moral norms that apply to all persons in all places at all times. Relativism denies there are moral norms. If relativity is true then Christianity is false. If there is no basis for right and wrong, then Christianity is a meaningless set of values. If relativity is false, then there must be an objective source of what is right or wrong.”

This same writer asked this question:

“Why is there a right and wrong? Have you ever asked yourself this question? What makes something right and what makes something wrong? Imagine a world, where you could do whatever you want? No one to stop you from your heart’s desire, if you like the car you just take it! If someone offends you, you have the right to hurt or even kill them. What’s the problem with this scene?

“Well if you are like me, you might think, ‘What if I am on the other side?’ What if I am the guy who owned the car or I am the guy who offended the person?’ The world would be a chaotic place to live if everybody got their heart’s desire. What is the basis of rules? Who said it’s wrong to steal, murder or rob? The real question being asked is who determines our morality, and why should we care?”

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, a Russian novelist, short story writer, essayist, journalist and philosopher wrote that If God doesn’t exist, everything is permissible.” And that is what the liberal, permissive and atheistic element in our society is determined to achieve, and just look at the chaotic state that exists around the world. The world denies God and His way at their peril, and judgment cannot be that far away now for this God-hating world and its determined ignorance of the way that God wants us to live for our own good.

In 2012, Ben Kinchlow wrote an article, entitled, “Who Decides What’s Right and Wrong?” Below are just a few brief excerpts from his thought-provoking article.

“Doing right: Actions which are fair, proper, good, upright, righteous, virtuous, moral, ethical, honorable, honest, lawful, legal.

“Doing wrong: Actions which involve crime, lawbreaking, lawlessness, criminality, misconduct, misbehavior, malpractice, corruption, immorality, sin, sinfulness, wickedness, evil, vice, iniquity, villainy, offense, felony, wrong, misdeed, misdemeanor, fault, peccadillo, transgression.

“Now I have a few questions: Says who? Who sets the standards for right and wrong? Who gives them the right to establish these standards? Suppose we disagree on our definitions of right or wrong … who are you to decide for me? Based on what?

“Remember when sodomy was not only wrong but a crime? Who suddenly decided it was not only right, but now legal? And who has the right to declare pornography as wrong or illegal? Doesn’t that interfere with my rights? Who gives them that right?

“Why can Saudi Arabia say homosexuals should be put to death if homosexuality is OK in the United States? If NAMBLA (North American Man/Boy Love Association) thinks sex with boys, including 8-year-olds or younger, is OK, who can say it isn’t?

“Did anyone come up with the answers to some questions I asked in an earlier column: Should lawbreakers be prosecuted just because they don’t agree with society’s standards of behavior? Is anything truly right or wrong, really legal or illegal? Does it all just depend on whether one agrees or disagrees?

“If we all began as an electromagnetically charged single-cell product of lifeless slime, evolving, like other life forms, with no reason or purpose other than survival of the fittest, why should I be subjected to another life form’s delineation of right or wrong?

“If no One is in charge, isn’t everyone?”

What an excellent question to ask those who think that man is in charge of all law-making processes. They believe that they are, but look at the state of society when mankind is left to its own devices. No one in their right mind could possibly accept that societies around the world are law-abiding and shining lights for others to follow!

It is not a new phenomenon. We read in Judges 17:6 and 21:25, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” In fact, it goes back even further than that.

In the garden of Eden, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). We know that Satan tempted Eve as we read in chapter 3, and she made the decision not to do as God had instructed but, with the help of the serpent, made her own decision, and Adam followed that poor example. It was a case, right at the dawn of civilisation, that man wanted to make his own rules and do his own thing.

After just over 1600 years of man ignoring God and making up his own rules, the wickedness of man had become so great that God said that He had regretted making man (Genesis 6:7), and the flood came and man was destroyed except for Noah and his family. We know that man again followed the cunning of Satan, “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), and man, today, still wants to live by his own rules, laws and regulations.

What you may consider right for you may not be right for another person. It cannot be that each person makes up his own rules and regulations to live by as there would be chaos, and no one set of rules would be accepted by everyone; hence the reason why the nations’ rulers and legislators enact laws and put them on the statute book for all citizens to live by. In a way, that makes sense as everyone knows what is and what isn’t acceptable, but the system fails when God is ignored because He has our best interests at heart. He is the Creator of us all and, consequently, knows far more than man will ever know.

Proverbs 21:2 tells us that “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes…” This is repeated in Proverbs 16:2, in this fashion: “All the ways of man are pure in his own eyes.” In Jeremiah 17:9 we read: “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”

As already mentioned above, we read in Judges 21:25 and in Judges 17:6 that when there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. The Benson Commentary observes: “There were elders (Judges 21:16), who had some authority, and there was a high-priest (Judges 20:28), but there was no supreme governor, such as Moses and Joshua were, and after them the judges, and none that had power sufficient to punish public wrongs, whoredoms, and idolatries, and thereby check the progress of vice and profaneness, and keep the people in order. It is a natural inference from hence, that men ought to be extremely thankful for lawful authority: and, if they would preserve their felicity, ought to be zealous to support that authority, as well as to discourage all licentious approaches toward its dissolution.”

“What are the fruits?” is always a very good question to ask about anything that man does, and we can see that there have been 6,000 years of disobedience to the great Creator God. Man, following the lead of Satan the devil, has had a history of wars, killing, cruelty, barbarism, inhumanity, persecution, depravity, wickedness and so much more.   When we compare the “fruit of the Spirit” listed in Galatians 5:22-23 (love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control), we see the difference between God’s Way and the way of the world, and the chasm between the two is enormous.

The true Christian will not, and cannot, just accept the law of man when it contradicts instruction from the Word of God.

The great Creator God set the standard for absolute Truth, and it is His authority that establishes that Truth. When Jesus was on earth, He said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). When Jesus was praying for His disciples, He said, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:16-17).

Therefore, God’s Word is Truth; that is, the source that a Christian must consult to find out what God has to say on any given matter. Let us look at just four examples of conflict with what society now accepts legally and as the norm, and what the Bible has to say on these four matters. There are many more, but these examples will clearly show how deeply man has sunk into depravity, compared to what God instructs and expects.

Abortion has now been legalised in many countries around the world. The Centre for Reproductive Rights, an organization dedicated to promoting abortion around the world, estimates that 60% of the global population lives in countries where abortion is broadly legal. During the years 2010-2014, it was estimated that 546 million abortions per year were carried out worldwide. For an explanation as to why abortion is wrong, please see our booklet “Are You Already Born Again?”

Homosexuality is roundly condemned in the Bible, but is now accepted in many countries around the world as being normal. Please see our booklet God’s Teachings on Sexual Relationships,” pages 95-105, to see the biblical instruction and condemnation on this issue.

Couples living together rather than being married is another commonly accepted practice, but is against God’s clear instructions. Please see our booklet “God’s Teachings on Sexual Relationships,” chapter 6, entitled “Cohabitation or Common Law Marriage.”

A family was defined by God, and again this issue is covered in the booklet mentioned above, God’s Teachings on Sexual Relationships,” on pages 75-79. Man has re-defined marriage and family to suit his own requirements, which is certainly at odds with the Bible.

Is man right on these, and many other issues, or should we always and solely look to God for His wise instruction? Secularists and atheists would say the former and true Christians, the latter.

Most people live by their own rules and accept society’s rules without too much thought as to whether they are acceptable in the sight of God. Some others, even church members, may, at times, try and change the meaning of Scripture so that it can fit into what they want it to mean to suit their own particular sinful lifestyle (compare Romans 1:25). However, we must never forget that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

Too many Christians today are prepared to compromise with God’s Word because they are not separate from the world and its customs when they should be living by God’s standards and setting the example that is required of them (compare Matthew 5:13-16). Some may think that God’s Way is too hard, boring or not what excites them, and if that is the case, it may be that they are not convinced about the “Way of Life” which is the lot of a true Christian.

Many may want to indulge their own desires, have a fear of what others may say or just be ignorant of the true Way of God, and so they weakly compromise. They should have known that following God and His Way is the narrow way (Matthew 7:13-14). When such people compromise, they will, inevitably, follow the way of the world and its laws and edicts, and God’s Way will be either ignored or discarded. Right and wrong will then be decided by them and the society they willingly accept!

Who is the ultimate authority in all moral matters? Is it the created – man – with all of his imperfections and lack of wisdom and Godly knowledge, or is it the Creator God of the Bible who was the One who created us all? The answer is that God reveals what is right and wrong in His Word—the Bible. Put as simply as we can, God decides what is right and wrong in His Word, and that must be our guide to life.

Only God has the right to decide what is good and evil.

As the Church of God has said many times, if the law of the land is in conflict with the law of God, then we must follow God’s Way and be willing to suffer for righteousness sake which might even include not violently resisting any punishment or sentence that the state dishes out for such an infringement to its man-made law. In order to see what a Christian’s duty and responsibility is in this regard, please read our free booklet, Obeying God Rather Than Men,” pages 44-45. We must always strive to do as God instructs and remember that God’s Word is our basis for living and our instruction manual for life.

Psalm 119:105 is a good Scripture to finish this Q&A with: “Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.”

Lead Writer: Brian Gale (United Kingdom)