Some Reflections on “Right” and “Wrong”
Sinful human beings are ever attempting to blur the distinction between “right” and “wrong.” This inclination reaches far back into antiquity. The Book of Proverbs states: “He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination unto Jehovah” (17:15).
Later, the prophet Isaiah affirmed: “Woe unto them who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isa. 5:20).
Amos spoke of those who “turn justice to wormwood, and cast down righteousness to the earth” (5:7).
“Right” and “wrong” exist. They are not merely evolved inclinations that were humanly contrived in order to introduce a sense of order and security into society. Nor are “right” and “wrong” subjectively determined so that, practically speaking, each person functions as his own law-maker. Rather, morality is to be measured by the laws and principles of divine revelation, as made known in the inspired writings of the Bible. Ultimately, morality is grounded in the very nature of God Himself. “[A]s He who calls you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy” (1 Pet. 1:15). Though such a concept is almost wholly rejected by modern society, there is ample evidence to support it.
Let us briefly contemplate some of the principles contained in Scripture that assist us in putting “right” and “wrong” things into proper focus.
(1) “Wrong” is not determined by the perpetrator’s moral sensitivity to an act. A wrong act is still wrong whether or not the violator is aware of it, or whether or not he feels comfortable with the situation. Saul of Tarsus did not know that he was doing wrong when he persecuted Christianity (see Acts 23:1; 26:9; 1 Tim. 1:13), but he was violating the will of God nonetheless. Ignorance is no excuse (Acts 17:30).
In modern society, for example, many have entangled themselves in adulterous “marital” relationships. Frequently it is argued that such liaisons may be sustained because the parties “did not know” the intricacies of God’s marriage law when the unions were made. The logic is fallacious. Will a similar argument be offered to defend the concept of same-sex “marriages”?
(2) “Right” is not established merely by what man is able to accomplish by means of his genius or ability. Pragmatism does not provide the criteria for ethics. One human being can take another’s life, but that does not make the act moral. Two unmarried youngsters are able to conceive a child apart from the sacred vows of matrimony, but the act is illegitimate nonetheless. “Might” does not make “right,” and autocratic decisions relating to moral matters are condemned in Scripture (see Hab. 1:11).
Radical attempts at human genetic engineering, or cloning, may be accomplished through the manipulation of genetic laws, but the achievement, in and of itself, does not license the practice as ethical. The issue ever must be this: Is a procedure consistent with the principles of God’s inspired revelation?
(3) “Right” and “wrong” are not determined by what is legal. In the Roman world of the Caesars, infanticide was legal, but it was not moral. In some ancient cultures, a woman was not a person; she was mere property to be abused, or disposed of, at the whim of her husband. There are few who venture to defend the ethics of this custom. Homosexuality is legal, but it is moral perversion (Rom. 1:26-27). The destruction of human life by means of abortion has the sanction of civil law, but the practice is abominable before the eyes of the Creator (Prov. 6:17).
(3) “Right” and “wrong” are not grounded in what a majority of the population “feels” is ethical. Jesus Christ is a King; He has not implemented a democracy to determine, by majority vote, how human beings ought to live. In the first place, man can never be his own guide. “O Jehovah, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walks to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23).
Second, fallible opinion, multiplied a thousand times, does not change wrong into right. Moses warned: “You shall not follow a multitude to do evil” (Ex. 23:2). It hardly is necessary to remind ourselves that the path of the majority ultimately is the way of destruction (Mt. 7:13-14).
(4) “Wrong” is wrong, whether or not one is ever caught. In the isolated environment of ancient Egypt, separated from his kinsmen, Joseph might well have rationalized an illicit relationship with Potiphar’s wife on the ground that his indiscretion would never be known by his family. His principle of operation, however, was: “[H]ow then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9).
There will be a time when the “skeletons come out of the closet” and “the chickens come home to roost.” Many things that have been perpetrated in darkness will be revealed in light, and secret evils will be proclaimed from the rooftops (see Lk. 12:3). Secrecy does not sanctify!
(5) “Wrong” does not become right by virtue of passing time. It is certainly the case that the public’s conscience sometimes becomes dull with the passing of years, so that what once was horrifying eventually becomes commonplace. But wrong still is wrong, though a millennium passes. Eventually, there will be accountability (2 Cor. 5:10).
May God help us to examine our practices by the illumination of His glorious Word (Psa. 119:105), and to determine “right” and “wrong” issues upon that reliable basis.