Wickedness of Moralism
In his essay “The Divine Image”, Leo Partible argues that Christians need to move past the verbal and literal to embrace the visual and metaphorical. I’ll be posting some extended thoughts on his essay later, but for now I wanted to briefly comment on one part of his essay. He notes
The comic book has become central to, if not the center of, our pop culture. And Christians should be thrilled.
Comic books and comic-book movies, as well as the sci-fi and fantasy genres, frequently deal with Christian themes and employ Christ figures… comic books often depict a Judeo-Christian worldview in subtle ways… Superheroes characterized essentially biblical values: doing good deeds in secret, a respect for authority, loyalty, patience, kindness, fighting for truth, sacrifice for a friend or a neighbor, rejecting the use of power for personal gain, defending the weak and the powerless, the importance of family, taking a stand for justice… There was an idealistic core to the comic book… We tell stories to help us remember that someday there will be a better tomorrow, no matter how distant it may seem, and that the biggest dream of all, to live in glory with Christ Jesus forever and ever, will be a reality. Let us present our big dreams to the world, and we can start with the world of the comic book.
I’m always intrigued when people refer to a “Judeo-Christian worldview”. That’s not the same thing as a “Christian worldview”. Paul argued rather vigorously against a “Judeo worldview” in his letter to the Christians in Galatia. Doing good deeds and having good values is not the gospel. Left by itself, that is moralism. Awash in a sea of relativism and rebellion against objective standards, it’s easy to look to anything presenting objective standards as a safe harbor. But presenting idealized realities to promote “biblical values” devoid of Christ will not teach anyone how to live in glory with Christ Jesus forever and ever. You will drown clinging to the rock of moralism just as surely as drifting in the sea without it.
From Charles Spurgeon:
It has been thought that surely law might make men love holiness, albeit experience and observation prove that it never has that effect.
Very often men have needed nothing more than the knowledge of sin to enamour them of it, and they have loved sin all the better for knowing it to be sin. The apostle Paul tells us that he had not known lust if the law had not said, “Thou shalt not covet.”
There was a citizen of Gaunt who had never been outside the city walls. For some reason or other the magistrate passed an order that he should not go outside. Strange to tell, up to the moment that the command had passed, the man had been perfectly easy, and never thought of passing the line, but as soon as ever he was forbidden to do it, he pined, and sickened, and even died moaning over the restriction. If a man sees a thing to be law, he wants to break that law.
Our nature is so evil, that forbid us to do a thing, and at once we want to do the thing that is forbidden, and in many minds the principle of law instead of leading to purity has even offered opportunities for greater impurity.
Besides, although you may point out the way of uprightness to a man, and tell him what is right and what is wrong with all the wisdom and force of counsel and caution, unless you can give him a heart to choose the right, and a heart to love the true, you have not done much for him.
This is just the province of law. It can write out its precepts on the brazen tablets, and it can brandish its fiery sword, and say, “Do this or else be punished,” but man, carnal man, only wraps himself the more closely in his self-conceit, and perseveres the more doggedly in his obstinate rebellion. He defies God, defers to his own reprobate mind, goes on in sin, and waxes worse and worse, knowing the judgment threatened, yet committing the transgressions prohibited, and taking pleasure in those that do such things, as his boon companions.
Because of the malignity, as well as the infirmity of our flesh, the mere principle of law will never do anything to purify or ennoble our moral nature. It has been tried by eminent teachers and social reformers.
Dr. Chalmers tells us that in his early ministry, he used to preach morality, and nothing but morality, till, he said, he had hardly a sober or an honest man left in the parish. The preaching of morality seemed to lead to immorality.
Something more is wanted than merely to din into men’s ears what they ought to be, and what they ought to do. Something is wanted more effectually to renovate the heart and move the springs of action. The water is nought, and if you make it flow it is bitter. You want an ingredient to be cast into it that will heal its poison springs, and make them sweet and clear.
God’s great plan was this—that inasmuch as His justice could not overlook sin, and sin must be punished, Jesus Christ should come and take the sin of His people upon Himself, and upon the accursed tree, the Cross of ignominious note, should suffer what was due on our behalf. And that through His sufferings the infinite love of God should stream forth without any contravention of His Infinite Justice. This is what God did.
But how comes the second necessity to be supplied? How does the sacrifice of Christ tend from now on to make such a man pure in heart, and produce in his very soul an aversion and a total abhorrence of sin?
This is not difficult to apprehend if you will give it a little quiet consideration. When the Holy Spirit comes with power into a man’s heart, and renews his nature (oh, matchless miracle!)—a miracle that has been worked many times in this house—at that moment the unhallowed and the impure are made chaste. The dishonest are made honest, and the ungodly are made to love God—”for if any man is in Christ he is a new creature.”
From Pilgrim’s Progress:
“I know what I desire to obtain, stated Christian. What I desire is ease – to be eased of my heavy burden. . . Worldly began his advice: “Why, in yonder village —— the village is named Morality —— there dwells a gentleman whose name is Legality, a very judicious man, and a man of very good name, that has skill to help men off with such burdens as thine are from their shoulders: yea, to my knowledge, he hath done a great deal of good this way; ay, and besides, he hath skill to cure those that are somewhat crazed in their wits with their burdens. To him, as I said, thou mayest go, and be helped presently. His house is not quite a mile from this place, and if he should not be at home himself, he hath a pretty young man to his son, whose name is Civility, that can do it (to speak on) as well as the old gentleman himself; there, I say, thou mayest be eased of thy burden; and if thou art not minded to go back to thy former habitation, as, indeed, I would not wish thee, thou mayest send for thy wife and children to thee to this village, where there are houses now stand empty, one of which thou mayest have at reasonable rates; provision is there also cheap and good; and that which will make thy life the more happy is, to be sure, there thou shalt live by honest neighbours, in credit and good fashion.”
“Sir, which is the way to this honest man’s house? Worldly responded, do you see that high hill over there?. . . You must go by that hill, and the first house you come to is his, advised Worldly. So, turning out of the way he was going, Christian went towards Mr. Legality’s house for help. But when he reached the hill it seemed so high, and the side of the hill that was next to the pathway had such a great overhang, that Christian was afraid to venture farther lest the hill should fall on his head.”
“Therefore, continued Evangelist,