Helping a friend determine moral absolutes

(Candace foster) #1

I am kind of a lurker here. I have been reading posts and enjoying the input and perspectives. Hoping y’all have some resources or previously discussed topics to share with me.

I am currently reading through the Bible with a friend. We get together weekly to discuss and flesh out question areas. As I have done this for awhile and she hasn’t, I am somewhat the default leader although this lady is very sharp and insightful.

Unfortunately, although she has been a church member for years and a devoted follower of Jesus, she is having a crisis of faith as she really delves into the character of God. She has also struggled with the “less than nice”things that Jesus said in the gospels-“I have not come to bring peace but a sword…”. She really wants to believe that God is love and following Jesus is all about love. Some strong Emergent church, Richard Rohr influence is also present in herlife.

Anyway, the question is…what are some resources to help her think through her positions on God’s holiness, on the slippery slope of rejecting parts of Scripture, and enable her to grasp some moral absolutes?

I am reading Michael Wittmer’s book and have read the recent post with diagrams about ‘absolutes, convictions, opinions,etc’ and think these might be helpful. I am hoping to give her some things that are simple but that can help her answer some of these questions. I have also shared parts of Nancy Pearseys book, Total Truth, with her.

My advice to her when she shared her conflicts was to keep struggling and keep wrestling with these issues because they are important. She would much rather not believe the words of the Bible because they are hard and might require some further study and understanding. It is easy to go to the side that says’believe what you want, the Christian walk should be easy and filled with love…that’s how Jesus was’

Thanks for any direction.

(SeanO) #2

@Candy Thank you for sharing your question. Before delving into it too much more, I have a few questions about your friends’ perspective.

Does she consider herself a pacifist? Would she condone violence to save innocent lives or to bring an end to oppression?

Have you ever discussed Jesus’ cleansing of the temple with her? Did she seem to understand His motivations or did the violence still confuse her? This could be a launching pad for discussing holiness.

Are there any Bible stories where God intervenes in judgment that she would be able to relate to as a starting point?

Here are a few thoughts to get the discussion rolling. They may not be directly useful, but hopefully spark some good questions and lead us towards the right direction. May the Lord Jesus bless you with wisdom as you share with your friend.

Jesus Links Love and Holiness

We see throughout Scripture that serving the outcast and the orphan (what modern culture labels as love) is directly connected to living a holy life. John 14-16 is a brilliant exposition of the link between loving God and obeying God from Jesus. And James, as well as all the OT prophets, make it clear that to love God is to pursue holiness and love neighbor and true love cannot exist apart from a holy life.

James 1:27 - Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

John 14:21 - Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them

Matthew 22:37-40 - Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

God Sees the Human Heart

When we evaluate God’s actions we are always doing so with only an external view of the people involved - we can never see the heart. But God’s judgments are true because He knows the heart of every man and the state of every culture. This fact makes it difficult to assess His judgments because we do not have the full story. And it is important to remember, as we see in the sermon on the mount, that Christianity is ultimately about a new heart and not only external behavior.

1 Samuel 16:7 - But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

Ecclesiastes 12:14 - For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

Hebrews 4:13 - Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

John 2:23-25 - Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.

Matthew 5:21-22 - “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.

(Kathleen) #3

This is such a good question, @Candy, and thanks @SeanO for the initial thoughts!

The topic of ‘God of Love? God of Judgement?’ is always a good place to start, esp. when one is trying to come to grips with what exactly the holiness of God entails. Just a quick google search on that topic will bring up some Michael Ramsden talks, which are always thoughtful and spot-on.

Sinclair Ferguson’s book A Heart For God was very instrumental in my walk of faith, as was Andrew Murray’s A Path to Holiness. Those hopefully wouldn’t be too inaccessible, but, again, it may give you some points on which you can come to better grips with them yourself, which would lead to more pointed discussion with her. :slight_smile:

And excellent advice! To follow Jesus is never going to be an easy thing. Am praying for your interactions with her. :slight_smile:

(SeanO) #4

@Candy As I thought about this, it occurred to me that Francis Chan’s video on fearing God in his Basic series might be helpful.

(Lakshmi Mehta) #5

@Candy, Just have a few thoughts from my experience about Matt 10:34-35.

I think this verse could be talking about the apparent division that occurs when people who do not choose Jesus turn against those who choose Jesus, which in turn breaks family bonds as described in v.35. It’s not that Jesus brings division directly but the sinful desires of a man’s heart that refuse to turn to Jesus bring division ( James 4:1). Many a people in India on placing their faith in Christ are ostracized from Hindu families. Even when one is not ostracized, there is a significant strain in family relationships with different faiths. When I first became a Christian from the background of Hinduism, this verse was a warning to not be surprised about the cost of discipleship ( Matt 10:37-39). Our peace is promised in Jesus not in absence of war on this earth. My pastor often says, we are on a ‘battleship’ not a ‘cruiseship’ on earth.

John 16:33
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I hope this helps a little in reaching out to your friend. May God open her heart and her eyes to see the truth as you share.

(Joshua Spare) #6

Thanks so much for sharing, @Candy! It must be difficult to see a friend beginning to question the reliability of the scriptures. But praise God for you! I absolutely love your heart to read with her and to seek to grow your understanding and love for Christ through study of the Word. Your commitment in this capacity is an excellent testimony! I will be praying for you and your friend, that God would provide you with wisdom and insight to help your friend ask the questions that would help her to wrestle through these questions and come out the other side loving Him who is truth incarnate.

I also echo Kathleen’s sentiment the wisdom in your advice to keep wrestling, because these are the most important of issues.

I wanted to pick up on the last couple lines that you wrote:

I think that G.K. Chesterton’s quote is rather apropos as a response:

Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.

Simply because we want Christianity to be easy, doesn’t mean that it is or ought to be. Simply stating that will certainly not go over well with your friend, but it seems to be to be another great avenue for conversation. Why do you think it should be easy? Who ever said that love is easy? And on whose authority can we claim the character of Jesus to be easy and simply love? The Bible certainly doesn’t seem to corroborate that position.

I also wanted to encourage you to keep at it! It can be really difficult when friends start to get a bit “wishy-washy” with truth, and it seems to hard to pin them down to a particular set of beliefs through which to discuss. I was meeting with a guy for about a year and a half who began down a similar road, and we began to read through some of the New Age Spirituality books together, simply to find common ground about which to discuss. Unfortunately, I didn’t maintain my persistence, both in prayer for my friend, as well as in seeking to find time to meet. I have lost track of my friend in the time since, but I hope and pray now that God will be bringing my friend back to Him. Your story reminded me of my failure to keep up with my friend. I intend all that purely as an encouragement; what I regret in my failure, may you find encouragement and nourishment in your persistence! God is good, and your efforts will surely be pleasing the eyes of our Lord!

(Candace foster) #7

Thanks so much for all the insightful comments. I will definitely keep studying and prayerfully sharing. Perhaps because I have a Psychology degree and a minor in Philosophy, I am fascinated with the twists and turns a person’s mind can take to avoid certain truths but gladly accept others.

I have had Christians tell me that they could never believe that Jonah was swallowed by a big fish…but they have no problem believing that Jesus was born by a virgin!?!

I truly appreciate such a responsive community. I will be back!

(David Bruce Young) #8

Welcome, Candy.
I think you gave her great advice. My suggestion would be to give her difficult things that she might not object to. She might enjoy Tim Keller’s The Reason for God and possibly Making Sense of God. These are more general studies that lay a solid foundation. It might be a good introduction for her to listen to some of Tim’s sermons. I can no longer access his Redeemer podcasts. But YouTube has some great new sermons of his that often address sceptics with love.
Possibly the best treatment of hard questions are the RZIM Friday question and answer podcasts and the Ask Away broadcasts with Vince and Jo Vitaly.