I taught my last Proverbs class today and we looked at an interesting contrast between modern day proverbs and the proverbs in the Bible. I found a website explaining modern proverbs (a stitch in time saves nine, a penny saved is a penny earned) and created a Wordle of all the proverbs listed.
A Wordle is a visual illustration of a text file that shows the realtive frequency of each word (once you remove common English words like a, the, it, is…) and jumbles them together. Here is a wordle of the modern day proverbs:
The most common word in this list of modern day proverbs is ‘good,’ followed by ‘never,’ ‘make,’ ‘better,’ and so on. Compare this with a Wordle made of the whole book of Proverbs:
The most common word in the book of Proverbs (once you remove simple common words) is ‘Lord’, as in God. God barely makes the modern day list (it appears in the lower right corner right below the word ‘money’). ‘Wicked’ features prominantly in Proverbs but it’s equivalent (‘evil’ ) barely makes the modern list. So what insight can be gained here?
The fall of mankind (Gen. 3) was a declaration by humans (men and women) that we know better than God. We will determine for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. As a result you will find today that almost everyone has an opinion on what is right and wrong. So how’s that working for us?
Speaking of fictional morality, Dungeons and Dragons (so I’m told) has a scale that it uses for the characters that you can play with. Characters can be good, neutral, or evil. Interesting that they would have to add neutral. When playing, being good limits the options of what your character is capable of doing. Likewise, evil is equally limiting, for the opposite reasons. For that reason, neutral is preferred if you have the choice. Again, why limit your options when you can sit the fence right?
With each of these orientations you add another variable: where does your moral orientation originate: are you consistent or ‘lawful’ about your moral orientation? (Does it originate in a strict moral code?), are you neutral?, or are you ‘chaotic,’ completely unpredictable about your moral behaviour? In the end you get 9 different orientations, illustrated below:
Interesting here is how popular the Chaotic Neutral in our culture. Undisciplined, unrestricted, morally ambivalent is in. Principled (whether good or bad) is out. But what does the Bible say?
In Mark 10, a lawyer comes up to Jesus and tries to pull a fast one. “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17) The question is a set up. The lawyer has determined that Jesus is good, he is good, and he is waiting for Jesus to provide him with his own validation: Game, set, match. Jesus blows up the ‘Yay me’ party however and says “No one is good by God.” (Mark 10: 18) What Jesus is saying here is that morality isn’t a sliding scale. There is no minimum standard for morality. You can’t cross over from the bad side to the good on your own steam.
All external standards of morality, no matter how effective, can be summed up in what Paul calls ‘the Law.’ In contrast to the Law Paul sets up “the righteousness of God,” who is Jesus. Paul says,
21 But now apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Rom 1: 21-24
The gospel is not that we have been declared good, but we have been declared justified. We aren’t good but instead, Jesus is good for us. In Ephesians Paul says,
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Eph 2: 8-10
We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works. The active element is Jesus. So in effect the Bible says that there isn’t Good Bad or neutral in the world. There is varying degrees of Evil. Jesus comes as the moral standard of goodness. He grants this goodness to those who put their faith in Jesus and then we become God’s goodness in the world, again through Jesus Christ.