Certainty About What’s Right

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I was thinking recently about an article I wrote about Buddhism and morality nearly two years ago. In that article, Void or Victory: The Higher Nature of Christianity Over Buddhism, I quoted the Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions as saying, “In Christianity absolute morality is the central theme, in Buddhism absolute morality is nonexistent.”

Today I ran across a quote from theologian John M. Frame that provided me with insight into why philosophies like Buddhism cannot offer anything concrete like moral standards that reflect things which are always right or always wrong. In an article for Free Inquiry magazine, Frame wrote, “An absolute standard, one without exception, one that binds everybody, must be based on loyalty to a person great enough to deserve such respect. Only God meets that description” (Emphasis mine).[1]

How true this is. Moral values can only find their expression in terms of relationship to others, and specifically, relationship to God. Buddhism cannot offer concrete absolutes because it is a system which denies the existence of God, the Lawgiver. Thus, its system of morals, if it can be called that, cannot be absolute. Buddhism’s system of morals can be notoriously flexible. Remove any sense of offense and the sin does not exist. This is especially true about Buddhism since it is a system that also encourages detachment.

Think about the moral imperatives you learned through life. What moral imperative is there that isn’t predicated upon relationships? Use the Ten Commandments as an example. Stealing, adultery, lying, even coveting are all expressed through relationship. Someone else is always hurt by these actions. The first four commandments are expressions of sin in relationship to God. Even the commandment, “You shall remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy,” is an expression of relationship to God. When we violate a moral imperative we offend God even if we do not offend our peers.

God himself is the final expression of all that is right and true. Imagine for a moment that we commit a sin against someone but they are not offended or do not feel hurt. Say you stole something from someone but it was something they really didn’t care that much about. They let it go. Or you hide covetousness in your heart against your neighbor, but they don’t know about it so they receive no hurt. Do these things nullify the idea that a break in moral standards has been committed? Not at all! Ultimately the person we always offend with every sin is God, the Lawgiver.

One of the great treasures of biblical truth that is being lost in our postmodern culture is the idea of absolute truth—or absolute morality. In postmodernism, as in Buddhism, morality is a function of perception (or as the Buddhist might say, illusion). But in the scriptures morality is a function of God’s eternal nature. As Christians we look to God’s character for what is right. He, in his person as expressed to us through his word, is the final standard for all that is true and right.

We have a sure and certain guide in God’s character and in his word so that we may know, absolutely, what is right and what is wrong. Without a relationship with Christ, we cannot know anything about character and truth with certainty. We can only speculate. And speculation is not the way to find assurance about our nature or eternal destiny.

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