FROM THE PASTOR
I want to share a lesson with you that I first learned from S.C. Lewis. It is a profound lesson that comes from the little word “ought”. Ought is a simple word that we all know and use. Lewis reminds us that we ought to think about it a little more. (Mere Christianity ch. 1)
As soon as we introduce the word “ought” into any communication, we have made an argument for the God of the Bible. That little thread can lead us all the way back to the Law of God. How can this be? It takes someone like Lewis to think it through.
Anyone who tells me that I ought to do something is appealing to a moral judge outside of and above the two of us. Someone can say, “I want you to save the whales.” That is a logically valid appeal, but lacks any power to in-fluence my actions beyond the degree of our personal bond. I might respond positively to it if I really care about the person who made the request. On the other hand, I am most likely to ignore these words if they come from a stranger.
That request is only a step above the person who says, “I really care about what is happening to the whales.” This personal statement has no intended moral impact on me. It is simply an “I” statement. I can answer it with my own personal statement. It is just as valid to say in return, “I really like to hunt whales.” Maybe I really care about the money I can make in the whaling business. Maybe I have a deep affection for the taste of blubber.
But, as soon as we introduce the word “ought” we take the communication to a higher level. “You ought to save the whales” appeals to a standard or judge outside of both of us and places a moral burden on me to respond. This is why ought is a thread leading back to God. The statement only has meaning if a judge exists that has standards that apply to everyone.
So why do we all use the word ought? At some level, we all know that God exists and has the right to direct our lives. We intuitively recognize the importance of a standard outside of and above our race. That intuition ultimately leads toward the Ten Commandments. We might imagine that Mother Nature or Human Decency are adequate replacements for the Lord of heaven and earth. They are better than nothing, but eventually break under the weight we try to hang on them.
All moral judgments become nonsense in the mouth of an atheist. Without a judge, anything goes. For them, “You ought to tell the truth” can only mean, “I want you to tell the truth.” They think that they are speaking with authority, but they are actually appealing to a reality that they deny. Without God, life is reduced to my will against your will. We have tumbled into the law of the jungle. We may not be as violent in our conflict as two lions on the Serengeti, but the rules are the same. “You ought to give me that seat.” “No, I have it and intend to stay in it.” The battle only differs in magnitude.
Why is this important?
First, it can help your confidence. You know how it is when you speak up for God and someone looks at you like you are out of your mind. It can be very intimidating to be mocked as a little Sunday School baby. It is disappointing how every kind of speech is celebrated except appeals to Biblical morality. Yet, if we listen and think a bit, we find that we reflect a higher logic than the unbelieving voices around us. People know that there is meaning to “You ought to tell the truth.”
Second, this can help your witness. Perhaps you will encounter a thoughtful person who is willing to listen again to what everyone keeps saying. Someone who places a high value in logic may be willing to follow this thread to a greater truth. It is the start, not the end of the road. God is able to use some very simple things to start people thinking in a new way.