American society is in a right-and-wrong tug-o-war. We are wrestling with one another. We are all discerning and standing up for “my morals” or “my truth”. And we often hear of the “culture war” happening in our country.
In my opinion, we are in dangerous territory. Not because “they” might win. But because in the midst of the war for what is right, we are losing a sense of ourselves.
Why is that? Perhaps it is because being right is not enough.
When I was a kid arguing with my little brother, my parents would sometimes say, “do you want to be right or do you want to be good?” I wanted to be right. And I’m not sure I ever outgrew the preference.
I’ve spent my entire life fighting for right and wrong. Only to discover, quite honestly, it is not enough. There is more to the issue of good and bad than being right (or being wrong, for that matter).
When Jesus was on the earth, his enemies were those who took morality as prescriptive, a list of do’s and don’ts. Rules. A formula. Jesus is constantly arguing with the Pharisees that goodness goes well beyond morality.
Here is a quick example: is it right or wrong to give to the homeless? Morally, it is right. We should help the poor. But anyone who lives in a big city and faces this reality knows that is just the beginning of the conversation. How should we help? Does giving money every time we are asked support addictions and make the issue worse?
What I am trying to say is this: it is very easy to do the right thing the wrong way. To win the formulaic argument but lose the deeper truth in the process.
The Bible’s word for this is wisdom. It is the deeper layer of truth. Not just should I move here or there; should I take this job or that; should I help or ignore the homeless – but the question of how should I steward the morally neutral or the morally correct issues I face in day-to-day living?
Our world is lacking in wisdom. We are arguing about formulas but not living well. We are arguing about morality but missing opportunities for truth. We are focused on symptomatic circumstances and complicated emotions rather than the deeper, harder, more mystifying work of wisdom.
If we are winning an argument but alienating a person, we are not living in the truth.
Having the correct fact (or the correct opinion) is not the same thing as living well. It is like when someone says, “I am just speaking the truth” to justify why they call someone a whore or disliked by everyone or worthless. There is a deeper truth that we disqualify ourselves from speaking into when we smash into people like a battering ram.
And here is the real tragedy: if we do not focus beyond morals, morality itself will be lost. Jesus tells the Pharisees they are so focused on the formula that they are sinning! It has no longer become a morality of character or truth but of performance and self-aggrandizement. A system to measure how I am better than others. Morality is not just about doing right but being right.
This is how we get lost in the “my truth” perspective. There is no longer a true north, a deep and uniting truth that flows through all humanity. My preference, my emotions, and my ideas become my morality – my rightness. And if you disagree, you are wrong (or entitled to your own version of the “truth”).
Without wisdom, morality decays into something else altogether. We become defensive and fearful in the game of comparison. Life becomes about beating others rather than joining them. And how we view right and wrong starts to form in our own image rather than any sort of intrinsic guidepost.
Healing, forgiveness, unity, and truth itself are only to be discovered if we are willing to go beyond morality. Beyond our delusions. Beyond our formulas. Not in the absence of morality, but beyond it.
Wisdom encapsulates morality. It is no less but far more. And we are in desperate need of a perspective shift. We are in desperate need of the truth of wisdom.