My three-year old is an extremely strong-willed child. When my oldest child was this age I used to think he was strong-willed, but since my second one has come along, I realize now that he just barely scratched the surface of that. My second one though is the textbook definition of strong willed, which is completely different from just being stubborn. And although we battle over many things – ok, everything – God is using him to teach me a lot about myself, also the second-born strong-willed child in my family. And in this world of parenting, I have found it is a common thing that God uses our children to teach us, to grow us, and to show our utter lack of control in situations so that we will trust more in Him. It also has been a huge instrument in improving our prayer life…
But it’s not just the lessons we learn about ourselves through raising a child, it’s the lessons we learn about God and how He relates to us. It’s a beautiful analogy of God and His creation. The latest battleground with my preschooler is over nap time. Meaning, he doesn’t want one even though he still really needs one. More importantly, mommy still needs him to have one! You have to give him credit though that he typically chooses a battle on something I truly cannot force him to do. I cannot physically force him to chew and ingest food so we battle over meals. And I cannot physically force him to close his eyes and fall asleep, so we battle over naps. So the rule for naptime is simple. Stay in your room and be quiet. I don’t care if you sleep or not, just stay in your room and be quiet. Rest. We both need you to.
In my latest effort of creative discipline in this battleground, I decided that each time he got out of his room (which was literally 5 seconds after I walked out his door), I would take a toy out of his bed. Honestly, between you and me he had WAY too many toys already in his bed but that was a battle I abandoned months ago. So we had a bit of an exchange where he would leave his room and I would remove a toy. Several toys and many tears later, I put him back in the bed and picked up another toy. Then with tears full in his eyes, he looks up at me and says, “Mommy, I don’t want you to take my toys away.” I gently explained to him that I didn’t want to take his toys away either. I’ve given him a very simple way to keep his toys. How does he get to keep them? He points to his bed, knowing he must stay in his bed and be quiet. So I tell him that the choice is his. If he chooses to stay in his bed, he can keep all his toys. But if he chooses to get out of his room or scream, then he’ll lose toys. The choice is entirely up to him.
And as I explained this to him, I realized this is exactly how God deals with us. At the end of this life, we will all stand before God and be judged for what we did with our time here. God will judge us and determine our just reward. For some, it will be an eternity of life in heaven and for some it will be an eternity of life in hell. Jesus describes hell as a place where “the fire will never be quenched” (Mark 9:45). In Luke 16 in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus describes the two eternities as one “resting in the comfort of Abraham’s bosom” and the other across the chasm as a place of “great anguish and torment, to the place of the dead.”
Unfortunately (and fortunately) there’s nothing that any of us can do – and God knew that. It’s not up to our works. That’s why God did it. The level of righteousness required is unattainable so God provided a way for us to gain righteousness, and it has nothing to do with what we do. It has to do with who we know. John 17:3 says, “This is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” That’s it. It’s nothing about what we do but who we know. Do you know Jesus? Only then can you have that righteousness. Because only then will God see Jesus instead of you during that judgment. He will see holiness and perfection and righteousness instead of your filthy rags. But without knowing Jesus, you WILL have to rely on what you did with your time here, your works. All of them. All of the nasty things you’ve said behind people’s backs. All of the angry words spoken to your enemies. All of the jealous thoughts you’ve had of your friends. All of the lustful ideas you’ve had of other people. No matter how much “good” you do, those things are still there. And where will that get you?
People oftentimes think that is so horrible for God to send people to an eternal damnation and judgment. How could God send someone to a place where the fires are never quenched? A place of eternal torment and punishment? How dare God judge us and deny us that eternal life? How dare God “take away our toys”? But meanwhile, God is saying to us, “I don’t want to take away your toys either. I’ve given you a very simple way to keep your toys and have eternal life. How do you get to keep them?” You point to the cross, knowing you must believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord. “So I tell you that the choice is yours. If you choose to follow Jesus, you can keep all your toys. But if you choose to reject and deny Jesus, then you’ll lose your toys. The choice is entirely up to you.”
In my opinion, one of the most compelling arguments for the existence of God comes from the Moral Law. It’s the idea that mankind has this overwhelming sense of moral, decent behavior that permeates every time, era, and civilization. Many people struggle with this concept, however, since there are so many societies and peoples that live as though they have absolutely no moral compass whatsoever. So how can we say that morality is inherent in the human race to prove that a God exists if people live immorally? Well, it’s because even those societies that appear morally depraved still uphold certain traits as desirable and condemn others as undesirable. For example, even though Hitler believed it was his duty to exterminate entire groups and ethnicities of people, he still demanded loyalty and honesty from within his troops and would punish treason and espionage. Somewhere he understood what traits people “ought to” exhibit. His soldiers ought to be loyal. Even those who are cruel and evil know when they are being treated unfairly. People sitting in prison for committing crimes against others would protest if the prison guards began to abuse them. So all of mankind, from young to old, uneducated to educated, poor and rich all recognize that there is this standard of behavior that people “ought to” follow. We all have in mind some kind of rule or law of behavior for playing fair. We can see it even as we make excuses for our own behavior. When we try to justify our actions, it is a subtle admission that our actions were indecent. We just feel that on this instance maybe we have some excuse for behaving indecently. As C.S. Lewis described it, “If we do not believe in decent behavior, then why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not behaving decently?”
All of this begs the question, from where did this moral law come? I go into this at length in the third chapter of my book, Teaching Others to Defend Christianity, but here I want to take this discussion in a new direction. Obviously as a theist (spoiler alert), it comes down to the existence of God. God imparted this sense of morality onto mankind because mankind was “made in God’s image.” However, for all atheists (or non-theists) the most common assertion is that this moral law came as a result of evolution. After all, what else does the atheist have to explain anything, other than evolution? Their argument will say to look at the moral component of the animals. And here’s where it gets tricky to parse through what the animal is truly doing and what we, as a morally driven mankind, impart to what the animal is doing. We all like to say that our dog is sad when we leave, a cat is happy when its sitting in your lap, and the mama bear loves her cubs. People take this to mean that animals emote and are morally guided just like humans. It leads them to think that maybe humans got their moral ideals simply from being part of the animal kingdom. Maybe we don’t need to be made in God’s image to love – the robin loves her babies and cares for them just like we do. But we have to look a little more honestly at animal behavior to understand the difference between mankind’s moral law and animal instincts.
And what better place to consider these truths than to watch the National Geographic channel? It sounds funny, I know, but several scenes on there helped me consider this on a new level. The first scene was three male leopards chasing down a female leopard in heat, each of them successfully mating with her behind a bush as the female struggled to get away. For the animal instinct, this is simply what male leopards do to continue their line of leopards. But for the human moral law, this was gang rape. So let’s stop and consider. Would we say this female leopard was raped? Or do we judge the leopard behavior differently from human behavior? The second example was five male lions ripping apart another male lion as a way of “de-throning” that male lion as the king of the pride. You could tell the filmmakers even had a hard time watching the scene unfold. Were those lions committing a murderous coup to overthrow the government? Or was this animal extinct to be the alpha male?
Sadly, both of the scenarios do play out in humankind. So it’s not to say that humans having a Moral Law are immune from this behavior but it’s our assessment of the behavior that differs. We would outright condemn the leopards’ behavior as taking advantage of a helpless female. It would be morally reprehensible. We would in most cases also condemn the lions’ behavior, unless we didn’t like the king/government being overthrown and then we would provide some justification or excuse for it. And by doing that, we admit that it’s not right to do that behavior – we’re just giving some reason why in this particular case it should be considered allowable. Otherwise, we might even refer to that kind of violent change in power as “uncivilized.” And that is incredibly revealing about how we really view animal instinct behaviors. Thus, even though we like to inject emotions and morality onto our pets, we can’t remove that morality from mankind and simply accept all animal instincts as decent to act upon as humans. In other words, we judge animal and human behavior differently. We are expected to refrain from our animal instincts so that we behave how we ought to behave.
The only plausible explanation is that there is a Moral Law Giver, something outside of this nature and mankind to give us this sense of fair play. Biblically, we would say that we have this morality instilled in us because we are made in His image. Because God is moral, He has given us the same moral ideal when He made us in His image. Granted, our sin as corrupted that perfect morality but the concept of it persists. But morality isn’t the only thing we gained by being made in His image. God is also good, intelligent, rational, spiritual, and ultimately, God is love. And here is where I want to really focus. God is love. We are made in His image, therefore we have a unique awareness, ability, and longing for love. The desire for love and acceptance cuts across all backgrounds and peoples, all ages, for all of time. Why? Why do we long to be loved and to give love? Is that something that exists in the animal kingdom too or is this truly unique for humans?
The non-theists will be quick to point out the mama bear. She loves her cubs just like humans love their children. And the baby bear cubs love their mama just like the human children love their parents. Is that the same kind of love though? Is the instinct to protect the innocent life you gave birth to the same thing as a God-given sense of love? I don’t know. But I do know this. We long for love in much more ways than just the child-parent relationship. Animals mate. Animals procreate. But humans? Humans marry. Why is that? Why do we not just continue the species the way the male lion does, with as many lionesses as you can to produce the strongest heirs? Or like the leopards with any female that is in heat? Yes, there are some examples of animals that mate for life but do they stand in front of witnesses and recite a vow of holy matrimony? What is it that has compelled humans to not just mate or even mate for life, but to promise to “love and cherish” for the rest of their lives? This is found nowhere else in nature. So are we really going to think that man just invented the idea of marriage? Man did not decide one day that he would pursue a lifelong love relationship with a spouse, whether they can procreate or not. The only way man has the desire for this kind of love is because he was created by and in the image of Love itself. God ordained marriage for mankind when He created Eve as the proper helper for Adam. In Genesis 2:24 it says, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”
In case you’re thinking that’s the “Old” Testament or maybe that Genesis was not literal, let’s take a look at Matthew 19:1-9. The Pharisees approach Jesus to question Him about the issue of divorce. To explain God’s stance on divorce, Jesus reaffirms God’s stance on marriage. And where does Jesus turn? To Genesis. He says, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” He is quoting from Genesis as a literal account of what happened in the beginning. Notice what all Jesus reiterates. First, “He who made them”. God made. They did not evolve or develop on their own from something else. God made. Second, He made them male and female. Two distinct genders. Not whatever the creation decided they identified with, but God made them separately male and separately female. Third, God joined them, one male and one female, together to become like one flesh. God made. Separate genders. Joined in marriage.
Marriage was not a concept invented by man. It was an institution ordained by God to satisfy man’s inherent desire for love. Therein lies the problem with the LGBTQ community’s demand for same-sex marriage. Typically the argument against gay or lesbian marriage comes from the fact that God created male and female for marriage. He gave to Adam his wife, not a husband. He said that a man will be joined to a woman, not a woman to a woman and not a man to a man. However, if this was just one particular way to define marriage out of many options, then who is to say that gay and lesbian marriage can’t happen? So the argument must be taken one step further to the very definition of marriage itself. Who was it that invented marriage? God did. Man did not devise this institution. Therefore God is the only one who gets to define what marriage is, not mankind. The LGBTQ community is not expanding our idea of marriage, they are redefining the word itself. God defined it as man will be joined to his wife, and they shall become one. Notice again in Matthew 19:6 what Jesus says: “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” God is the one who joined man and woman in marriage. God is the one who defined what marriage was. In the specific sense, it means that a particular man being joined to his particular wife by God should not be separated by man. But in the general sense, it means that God has designed marriage for one man and one woman, let not man redefine and destroy that.