1. SLAVERY - The abolition of slavery was one of the great historical changes of humanity. A structure that had been fundamentally accepted from the beginning of history, was accepted in the Christian community of New Testament times, was debated vigorously at the time of its final overthrow in 1833. Christians fought on both sides of the argument. Regrettably the law changed but the mentality for enslaving people has continued on and in actual fact despite it being illegal it remains a major humanitarian problem.
2. DIVORCE - Through the second half of last century society and the church vigorously debated the issue of divorce and remarriage. In synod, Christians argued sincerely on both sides of the argument. Society has changed, many are released from being locked in very unhappy or destructive relationships, yet overall the divorce rate is over 50% of marriages.
3. ABORTION - Abortion is now legal yet the debate still simmers in the discussions over coffee tables. We are now challenged to struggle with the possibility of change to the marriage act to include same sex union. In the church, people argue across the membership of the church as much as in society.
These examples impact upon the very structure of society’s core unit, the family, and therefore challenge each of us. There are naturally many other examples in society lying beyond the family but rather the fabric of society. War and its associated build up of armaments, refugees and the movement of people around the world, the question of environmental stewardship, censorship and the media, genetic engineering, money for space research. These are all issues that linger in our time.
I’m raising this because the gospel today presents a picture of why it is so complex. It could be said to be an old issue for us now but its presentation still has much to enlighten us in our thinking when dealing with moral dilemmas.
MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE
Jesus is asked if it is okay to divorce one’s partner. His following conversation with the Jewish people involves two sides of the argument.
On the one hand it is the ideal - There is a godly purpose in marriage with two people coming together to share a fully committed union of love and creativity. That is an ideal reflection of the very purpose of all life. That is, the purpose of aspiring to the fullness of godly union in all things.That ideal of godly intent cannot be done away with.
On the other hand, the discussion points out that Moses allowed for the signing of a certificate of divorce for such permission to terminate a relationship. Jesus is pointed in his comment. “Yes because that was for the hardness of your heart.” And we all do live very far from the ideal.
The human state is a broken condition. We live daily far from the perfection of being. As Paul said, ‘All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’. Jesus highlighted this in a dramatic way. If you are angry with your fellow human you have committed murder in your heart. If you lust for a woman, you have committed adultery in your heart. Our sexuality and our aggressive fight for survival are two of the strongest needs and drives of our life. They emanate from the most primitive depths of our brain. They will not disappear.
On the other hand, from this most primitive realm of experience we have evolved to acquire the capacity for godly perceptions and understanding. Jesus knows what we can aspire to.
Here in lies the extraordinary challenge of life. We live in a tension between the most fundamental drives of human experience yet far more we have developed the vision for the highest Godly purposes. I think it is fair to say, we are not primitive yet we are not godly. Yet the fullness of life’s purposes is surely to reconcile these two sides of life.
We live in the grey shadow between the two. If we only had the commandments to live by, that is, the black and white sense of right and wrong, we would all stand condemned. Yet the fact we know of Jesus, we are inspired in the tension of life’s grey to search for a greater light.
We are challenged with the responsibility of making decisions to move us toward that which Jesus points us to, the godly. This is our moral compass, our spiritual fortitude. The exercise of our will to wrestle sincerely and genuinely with life’s deepest challenges, humbly open to the spirit of Jesus to aid us in our weakness is the way of discipleship. It is the way of the Christian pilgrim.
A BROADER APPLICATION
I have used today’s reading to highlight the general challenge of our responsibility to take seriously the moral challenges of our times. I hope I have made it clear that I believe it is the sincerity of our wrestle to establish our opinions, more so than believing there is a black and white answer that must be our answer. The danger is we become side-tracked by our own prejudices. By political policies. By fear or self-centred intent.
Maybe Godly guidance at one time is not a blanket solution for all time. Maybe a godly understanding of life, needs to mature and develop for new complex situations.
Whatever our decisions may be, they are determined by the genuineness of our desire to sincerely reflect upon a situation in the presence of the Lord.