On Morality, An Introduction: The Context of Morality

When we speak of morality, much is presumed. Indeed, it is a part of our nature to presume morality, for morality is presumed upon us. For if we hold to be true that which can be gleaned from Scriptures, namely that God created men in his image and that we who are of the human race are unlike any other created being in that God instills in us such quality so as to make us God’s Image-bearers, then there is something in us that is defined by the Divine (cf. Gen. 1:26,27). To what degree the nature of the Diving Being is imparted to us we may never fully comprehend, yet there are some things that are without doubt. Indeed, a simple observation of the history of mankind can bring to light many of these qualities by the sheer uniformity of laws, actions, and dispositions among various and diverse peoples (as C. S. Lewis has so wonderfully chronicled in his Abolition of Man), yet to use man’s history as such a gauge is an hopeless endeavor since God’s Image upon man has been inexplicably dulled by the consequences of the transgression of Adam.

And yet we find that there is grace in Adam’s transgression, for in that transgression the knowledge of God was more deeply imparted. And while the knowledge of God is a curse and a judgment upon those who hear it naturally and rebel (cf. Rm. 7:7-8), to those to whom Christ has been revealed specially, it is the knowledge of the riches of God’s mercy (cf. Rm. 9:23). For while it can be said that Adam knew the Lord in the Garden, having walked with him in unbroken fellowship, there are things that Adam would not have known had sin never entered into the picture. It is for this reason that the sinless angels who dwell in the resplendent and matchless presence of the Thrice Holy God are said to peer longingly into those things which have been revealed to those who have been redeemed (cf. 1Pet. 1:12), and it is for this reason that the tree bearing the forbidden fruit was named, “The Knowledge of Good and Evil” (cf. Gen. 2:17). For I doubt there was some special substance in the fruit itself that lent itself to such revelation, but the single act of defiance, the act of transgressing the one command to which God had subjected Adam, was sufficient enough both to damn the human race and to instill in Adam’s offspring the seed of rebellion and of evil.

However, coupled with this new propensity toward evil was the heightened understanding of that which is good. For the tree of the forbidden fruit was not merely the “Tree of the Knowledge of Evil,” but it was the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” For when man took on his sinful corruption there became a clear defining line between who he is now and who he was. For when he was God’s sinless Image-bearer (ever how long that was) he was good and lived in complete goodness. He knew nothing apart from God’s goodness and the goodness that was instilled in him, therefore it may well be said that he knew little of goodness at all. For, as it were, if one wants to know what “wetness” is, he does not ask a fish, for a fish has known nothing but “wetness,” so too, to some degree, man in his prelapsarian state knew little of goodness for it was the ocean in which he swam. And though Adam perceived the goodness of God in the beauty of what he had made and the order in which he made it, there is little doubt that Adam’s comprehension of the goodness of God and his creation was deepened when the ground began to produce thorns that destroyed his labors and painfully pricked his hands.

It is in this context that we meditate upon morality. For we do not have the benefit of meditating upon this subject outside of who we are in Adam, and I doubt that little would be gained if it were otherwise. For when we consider the subject of morality and moral law, we are doing thus in a world that is not as it once was and as men who are not as we once were. And it may be rightly said that our morality and consciences, our sin-laden compasses that still in Adam’s offspring points toward that which is good, is among the few vestiges of God’s Image that are still upon us. And it is in our present context alone that morality has any meaning, for what meaning would morality have in an unfallen world? What would, “You shall not murder” mean in a world where there is no hatred and nothing dies? What would “You shall not commit adultery” mean in a world where the desire to lust after another man’s wife did not exist? What would “You shall have no other God before me” mean in a world where idolatry is inconceivable? Thus our study on the subject of morality will be upon that which is written upon the hearts of all sinful men that points toward the goodness of God and stands against the evil that has imprisoned the soul and corrupted the world.

Categories: Theology

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