Proper criticism of another’s position includes two things: an exposing of their error on the basis of the Word of God, and a positing of the truth which is demanded of us according to the Scriptures. These two aspects of criticism are inseparably related, they form the two poles that attract attention. If we as covenant youth are going to be completely polarized by the Word of God, we must not only see how the world is wrong, we must also know what it is to be right.
Our purpose in this article is to consider the negative pole: we aim to consider how those who advocate and practice situation ethics are wrong on the basis of the Scriptures. The Lord willing, we shall consider the positive aspect in our next article.
Having set forth the criteria of criticism, we at once realize the difficulty we fact in exposing the error of situation ethics. The difficulty is this, that we have no common basis upon which we can stand with them.
It is true that we could criticize this view from a purely social point of view. This is done today by some leading anthropologists, sociologists, and even politicians. They do not claim any allegiance whatever to the Word of God, although most of them want to be known as Christians. Their criticism is not on a Scriptural basis; rather they have problems from a social point of view. They openly admire the situational approach to morals, yet they have problems with it. The main problem deals with the practical application of this view of morals. They ask how will this affect society and man in his social environment. If it is true that any act is justifiable and good, provided it be performed lovingly, how can there be order in society? They wrestle, and correctly so, with the problem of community behavior, law enforcement, and controls upon the citizen. If murder, adultery, stealing are lawful acts if done in love, who will judge this and who will control the citizen who has no love? Will this not lead to chaos in society?
This criticism is, of course, correct. If anything is right because it is done in love and does not harm the neighbor, but helps him, and another thing is wrong because it is done in hatred and hurts j the neighbor, then the door is open for personal subjective ideas of love and good, hate and hurt. This is the autonomy of the individual in the extreme, and a destruction of any social order.
Our critical approach however, is not social, but Scriptural. Here we find it difficult to present to the situationist any convincing criticism. The reason is that the only foundation upon which a Christian can stand is the Word of God. The adherents to situation ethics pay lip service to the Bible, but in reality deny it. If we cannot stand with them on the Bible, we have no common ground whatsoever. Here then, we must realize that our purpose is not to convince them, for then we would have to digress and first consider the more fundamental question of the authority of the Scriptures. We aim rather, to see for ourselves as covenant young people, that situation ethics is incompatible with the faith of one who truly believes the Word of God.
We stated before that one who denies the authority of Scripture tries to construct a “theology” on the foundation of Humanism and will inevitably end with a “morality” of the same nature. The structure of their world-and-life-view is built upon the crumbling foundation of Man.
The basic criticism of situation ethics is that the advocates have a wrong view of God. This is not to say that they differ on some “minor points”, if that is conceivable when speaking of God; rather they deny the God of Revelation! Bishop Robinson makes this plain in his book, Honest to God. Having ridiculed the Biblical view of a Personal God, and having reduced God to some abstract notion of “ground of being”, he accuses those who teach that God is Personal and that all His dealings with Israel were in fact real historical events through which He revealed Himself to them, as believing in an idol. Robinson accuses us of idolatry. “But I have a great deal of sympathy also with those who call themselves atheists. For the God they are tilting against, the God they honestly feel they cannot believe in, is so often an image of God instead of God, a way of conceiving him which has become an idol,” page 126.
Their rejection of the God revealed in the Scriptures is the fruit of their acceptance of Humanism, which basically maintains that God exists for man and not man for God. The only reason the situationists even want to talk about a god and hold to any idea of a god, is that they recognize that the presence of some divine being lends a new dimension to man’s life. Without holding to some idea of a god, man is no different than a beast. To make this possible they deny God’s sovereignty and make Him lower than man. This is a terrible sin. We do well to remind ourselves that God is upon the throne and never is dependent upon man for His existence; rather is man dependent upon God. The words of Rom. 11:33-36 express this beautifully, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God, how unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counselor? Or who hath first given to him and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him and through him and to him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”
Quite naturally, this wrong view of God leads to a wrong conception of the law of God. According to the situationists, the law of God is reduced to a simple slogan, “Love, only love.” They reject all ideas of God giving to man certain warnings concerning specific sins and certain demands concerning things that must be done. According to them, nothing is wrong in itself, and nothing is right in itself; it all depends upon the situation. If one is motivated by love, if one has a purpose that is compatible with love, if one uses loving means, and if one produces consequences that are loving, then any deed, no matter what it may be, is right not only, but also good. This may include stealing, murder, adultery, or whatever.
Here too, it is obvious that their conception of law is based upon man, not God. This idea of law begins and ends in the judgment of man and not in the judgment of God. God says only one thing, love; and man has to determine for himself how he will carry out this requirement.
This contradicts the Scriptural idea of law. God is our covenant Father, and as such He determines for Himself on what basis He will conclude this covenant life. The prelude to the pronouncement of the Ten Commandments makes this plain, “I am the Lord thy God.” Then God spells out in complete detail (10 words) what He requires as the only basis upon which He will be our God and we will be His people. God’s law is the sphere within which He is a God of divine love and fellowship and outside of which He is a God of wrath and punishment.
(To be continued)