I recently saw a headline that read “Evangelicals continue to apply moral relativism in dealing with Trump, but at what cost.” Now, like many Roman Catholics at the moment, I presently live with the intellectual, moral and spiritual confusion being generated by the pastorally flexible approach to fundamental teachings now in vogue with some at the highest levels of leadership in the Church. So, I found fault with the headline. It conveys the impression that the tendency to replace God’s fully knowledgeable understanding of right and wrong with our own inevitably more ignorant one, is in any way peculiar to Evangelical Christians. Where once, in Christendom, the plainly articulated will of God was taken to be the standard of Christ’s love in action, these days judgments rooted in human passions and preferences are being allowed to overshadow it.
Yet, from the first, Christ’s true Apostles, consonant with God’s ancient word, exalted the fullness of His knowledge, in contrast with our won. So, St. Paul (Colossians 2:3) speaks of ‘the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” So, the Psalmist (Psalm 139:1-10) says to God:
Yahweh, you examine me and know me,
you know when I sit, when I rise, you understand my thoughts from afar.
You watch when I walk or lie down, you know every detail of my conduct.
A word is not yet on my tongue before you, Yahweh, know all about it.
You fence me in, behind and in front, you have laid your hand upon me.
Such amazing knowledge is beyond me, a height to which I cannot attain.
Where shall I go to escape your spirit? Where shall I flee from your presence?
If I scale the heavens you are there, if I lie flat in Sheol, there you are.
If I speed away on the wings of the dawn, if I dwell beyond the ocean,
even there your hand will be guiding me, your right hand holding me fast.
This Psalm, so often cited for its reminder of God’s prescient knowledge of our being before it comes into existence, accords with the words of Revelation 1:8, when the Lord God says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega [the beginning and the end, [cf. Ibid. 23:6] who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Though somewhat like a Master Programmer, God is not one who informs and sets things in motion without knowing how and whither they are going. At every instant, He is present in them. Having, therefore, prior knowledge of every particular, He knows all there is to know about their being and their fate.
With this in mind, how do the counsel, instruction and commands of God compare with the heartfelt passions or preferences of the human heart, as a guide for conscientious judgment? We can take account of the nature and consequences of what we do, but only up to a point. No matter how far any method or means of knowing advances that point, the knowledge of God extends infinitely beyond it. So, in every situation, where we see causes and consequences only partially, God sees them all, and He may look even beyond that, into things foreseen on account of His almighty power of Creation.
Surely, if we trust God’s Word, we must first of all believe what He tells us about Himself. So, we must assume that His counsel, instruction and commands take account of consequences that are infinitely beyond the boundaries of our ignorant knowledge. But once we know His instructions, we can no longer pretend to be ignorant. Rather, assuming that He has already done so, we may rest assured that good will result from obeying Him, even if, by our own perceptions and understanding, we apprehend the contrary.
God makes this point in His account of the creation of humanity, as it unfolds in the Biblical history of Adam and Eve, including Eve’s fateful sin. According to the Word of God, the nature of her mistake is immediately clear—: Though she apparently knows from the very substance of her being the command God gave to Adam, Eve relied instead on her own finite, and therefore ignorant sense perception; so that, thinking to know better than God in one respect, she darkened the prospects of humanity in every respect. God, however, had foreseen this consequence. Knowing it to be beyond what human perfection could endure, He forbade it.
Eve might well have asked, as Pope Francis once did, “Who am I to judge?” An answer may be possible, in comparison with one or another human being. But, with God’s instruction at hand, the real comparison is between human judgment, however well-informed in its own terms, and the judgment of God, entirely well informed in terms of all that is, or was, or may be. Thus, from the perspective of Christ and God, the problem with so-called “moral relativism” is that it judges not in relation to God’s knowledge, but our own.
But, by dint of remembering God’s Word, our knowledge includes His wholesome counsel, instruction and commands. If, despite that fact, we choose to disregard what we remember, enacting what God forbids, we gainsay God’s benevolent self-limitation of His Being within us. But since that activity provides for our existence, this denial of God’s will releases the infinite power that erases the delimitations that make it possible. In effect, by relying upon our own understanding, we take action that discards the will of God that determines (set bounds to) His being for our sake. We undo humanity, in the very principle of its being. Thus, the Psalmist concludes “…God knows the way of the righteous (those who faithfully keep God’s word), but the way of the unrighteous (those who choose to depart from God’s word) is utterly destroyed.” (Psalm 1:6)
Following her own perceptions, Eve judges the God-forbidden fruit to be ripe and good for eating. But God knew that ingesting it (taking it into her way of being) would bring into human being the activity of Being that takes no account of (makes no provision in respect of) the possibility of human existence. But since that experience would be predicated on willfully disregarding the Being of God determined to allow for the human possibility, Eve’s action implies the annihilation of humanity as such, not just the end of her particular existence. This implication is verified when Adam’s relationship with Eve leads him to follow her fateful lead. Without respect for God’s provision, humanity tries, as it were, to subsist on a will of its own making. It ends up attempting to exist in a way that takes no account of human existence except what humanity itself can give.
But without the intentional determination of God’s benevolent will, the whole of His infinite being is replete with possibilities that gainsay the possibility of human existence. But, as Christians trust in God to know, humanity exists only on account of the benevolent provision of God. Once departed from His provision, it simply expires, like a brief fad soon, and then forever, out of date. But in Christ, the provision of God may be restored. Though our present day be brief, yet there is time enough to embark upon the way that leads through Christ to life, renewed in Him, forever. For followers of Christ, Is there some better standard by which to measure moral choice?
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