Monday, January 28, 2013

"Creation and Morality"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

Lesson 5: "Creation and Morality"

All true morality derives its origin from God's agape. The dictionary defines moral or morality as "relating to, dealing with, or capable of making the distinction between right and wrong in conduct" (New World Dictionary). Sometimes we refer to the "moral law" meaning our obligations to others. Understood this way, it is easy to see how the Ten Commandments embody God's understanding of humans' obligations to each other.
When God came to investigate Abel's murder, He asked Cain where Abel was. Cain said he didn't know and asked, "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen 4:9).* God didn't respond directly, but He made it clear that Cain had sinned by violating his brother's right to live. In order to enjoy each other's company, all have certain basic rights. Even animals have instincts which echo some of these rights.
A National Geographic program aired a photojournalist's documentary of an elephant herd. The herd encountered a baby elephant that did not belong to them. He was standing beside his dead mother crying helplessly into the Savannah night because he was too young to fend for himself. The herd was curious so they mingled around him and his mother's body, but after a while the herd moved on, leaving the little fellow doing the only thing he knew to do, cry into the darkness. Elephants have excellent hearing and his cries were apparently too much for the matriarchs of the herd, and not long afterward, the entire group returned to the baby and allowed him to join them permanently.
It is tempting to attribute morality to the elephants' actions, but we know animals were not created with the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, other than to respond to instincts. A mother bear does not defend her cubs because she knows it is the right thing to do, she is carrying out a strong instinct. Humans do have instincts, but we have also been given the ability to reason between right and wrong actions.
There is a vast difference between man and beasts. "God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness'" (Gen. 1:26). God made man "to be a companion for God and the angels. Yet he is as dependent upon God for life as are the beasts over which he was given dominion" (E. J. Waggoner, The Present Truth, Aug. 2, 1894, p. 485).
What was God's purpose in creating the animals and man? God made man to rule and in that respect he was to be an associate with God. "For in that He put all in subjection under him" (Heb. 2:8). Man has been given the freedom to choose for himself. "It is the freedom of will that gives to man the possibility of being a companion of God" (ibid.).
Since all morality originates from God, who is agape, we can easily see why the beings "made in His image" were given the ability to reason right from wrong. God wanted humans to interact peacefully with each other, but sin derailed that. Sin focused humans inward. Adam was so in love with Eve that he was willing join her in sin because he knew she had to die and he did not want to live without her. Yet, once God confronted their sin his only excuse was to blame her. Sin changed Adam's nature and it was the only nature he had to pass on to his children. Our natural inclination is to take care of self first.
How can selfish beings determine their moral obligation to others? Only Christ can be our guide. God loved the world so much that He was willing to alter the configuration of the Godhead forever when Jesus took human nature upon Himself. That is the best measure of the value God places on His creation. Our obligations to each other stem from that. So much of humanity has chosen against the gift of life Christ obtained for us at the cross, but He died for us anyway. We cannot say then, that our moral obligation to others is dependent on how worthy another is; our obligation rests solely on the fact that we are brothers, and all belong to the family of God.
"And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Gal. 6:9, 10). "Though many whom He [Jesus] relieved never showed the least sign of appreciation, it made no difference with Him. He came to do good and not to be appreciated. ... Doing good to others is to be considered a privilege to be enjoyed and not an irksome duty to be discharged" (The Glad Tidings, pp. 134-136).
The message of 1888 teaches that when Christ was incarnated, He took upon Himself the entire world of humanity when He came as the second Adam, as Paul describes in Romans, chapter 5. Therefore, we are morally obligated to consider all as Christ's, even though many have wandered from God and rebelled against His gift of life. We benefit from the peace on earth that Christ restored by taking us to His cross and paying our penalty for sin. Not one sinner can claim superiority over another since our moral imperative derives from the cross. Even our faith is given to us by Christ. "The faith which He gives to us is His own tried and approved faith, and it will not fail us in any contest. We are not exhorted to try to do as well as He did, or to try to exercise as much faith as He had, but simply to take His faith, and let it work by love, and purify the heart. It will do that!" (ibid., p. 41, emphasis in original).
"Only in and through Him does the life of God flow to all creation. He is then the means, medium, mediator, the way, by which the light of life pervades the universe. He did not first become mediator at the fall of man, but was such from eternity. No one, not simply no man, but no created being, comes to the Father but by Christ. No angel can stand in the divine presence except in Christ. No new power was developed, no new machinery, so to speak, was required to be set in motion by the entering of sin into the world. The power that had created all things only continued in God's infinite mercy to work for the restoration of that which was lost" (ibid., p. 76, emphasis in original).
"The oft-repeated declarations that the Lord is Creator are intended as a source of strength. Notice how creation and redemption are connected in the first chapter of Colossians. ..." "For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth ... For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross ..." (Col 1:16-20). "It is not an accident that the wonderful declaration concerning Christ as Creator is connected with the statement that in Him we have redemption. No. ... It is for our comfort that we are told that the head of the church is the Creator of all things. We are told that He upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3), in order that we may rest in the assurance that 'The Hand which bears all nature up shall guard His children well'" (Christ and His Righteousness, pp. 39-41).
--Arlene Hill
* Bible texts are from the New American Standard Bible.
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