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?