Defending absolutes

In our culture today, to believe in — much less confess and defend — absolutes is deemed arrogant. To insist that something is one way and not another provokes charges of egotism, presumption, and superiority. That’s tricky for Christians because we absolutely believe in absolutes.

Perhaps nowhere is this more tricky than in the area of morality and its exclusivity, about which the faith is very serious. Certain people will be excluded from the future kingdom for certain things (try 1 Cor. 6:9-10 on for size). But to say as much in public today almost requires a masochistic streak.

Still, while Christians will always be deemed disagreeable when speaking on unpopular subjects, we should give no unnecessary room for the charge of arrogance or presumption. Again, Christianity asserts various absolutes. The fact that we will all face a future judgment implies as much. But the fact of an absolute does not mean that the Christian always has access to it, and that necessitates some humility. We won’t always get it right.

This is why God provided a solution for those who became accidentally unclean in the Old Covenant system and why liturgical prayers for forgiveness include language regarding sins of both “knowledge and of ignorance.” Jesus even offers warning about this. We come before him and say we did x, y, and z in his name, and (Lord, have mercy) he says, “Depart from me. I never knew you.” We can miss the mark even when we think we’ve nailed it.

There are a lot of reasons for this. For one, we’re limited. We have blind spots. For another, we’re sinful ourselves, and sin deforms us and our capacities to judge and act. For yet another, we’ve been conditioned by our families and cultures to see things certain ways. We operate in function of that conditioning, whether against it or for it or something in between. It’s unavoidable. So we mustn’t become arrogant in our certainty.

But neither should we become debilitated in our humility. I think of something Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon said in a sermon: “We almost never have all the light we need, but we must go forward.” We have to act with the light we have, and if that light has illumined (even if only partially) the truths of God, then we are obligated as Christians to believe, confess, and defend them, to act on them in the face of people who radically disagree.

We don’t do so because we are presumptuous, let alone superior. We do so because we humbly love God and want to obey him.

Question: How does it strike you when someone defends a moral or doctrinal absolute?

About Joel J. Miller

I'm the author of Lifted by Angels, a look at angels through the eyes of the early church. Click here for more about me or subscribe to my RSS here.

  • http://evaulian-thebestoftheworst.blogspot.com/ Eva Ulian

    Those kind of people drive me up the wall- they should all try a bit of humour. I do, because I intend to Laugh My Way to Heaven… title of my next novel.

  • http://evaulian-thebestoftheworst.blogspot.com/ Eva Ulian

    Those kind of people drive me up the wall- they should all try a bit of humour. I do, because I intend to Laugh My Way to Heaven… title of my next novel.

  • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

    It seems like the only culturally acceptable absolute is “there are no absolutes.” It is maddening, especially when you see it creeping into the church.

    • http://joeljmiller.com Joel J. Miller

      We’ve got to do more thinking and acting on this one. There’s too much at stake. If we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves ten years on, having apologized ourselves outside of the faith. Can you imagine Athanasius or Maximus the Confessor trying to make nice like this?

  • http://joelmiller.com Susan Sheveland

    Hi Joel, Found your website by divine intervention….was reading your piece about Joel Olsteen sp? and his inability to call Mormonism what it is. Thank you so much for your wonderful insight….too bad many of today’s preachers are not ‘preaching it’! God Bless you,
    Susan

    • http://joeljmiller.com Joel J. Miller

      Thanks, Susan. I hope you find some uplifting material here, too (along with the occasional critical piece, like the recent stuff on Osteen).

  • http://joelmiller.com Susan Sheveland

    Hi Joel, Found your website by divine intervention….was reading your piece about Joel Olsteen sp? and his inability to call Mormonism what it is. Thank you so much for your wonderful insight….too bad many of today’s preachers are not ‘preaching it’! God Bless you,
    Susan

    • http://joeljmiller.com Joel J. Miller

      Thanks, Susan. I hope you find some uplifting material here, too (along with the occasional critical piece, like the recent stuff on Osteen).

  • http://joeljmiller.com Joel J. Miller

    We’ve got to do more thinking and acting on this one. There’s too much at stake. If we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves ten years on, having apologized ourselves outside of the faith. Can you imagine Athanasius or Maximus the Confessor trying to make nice like this?


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