Losing Our Way
Liberal seminaries teach that consequences for wrongdoing are harsh in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. I believe this is one reason why so many graduates of these institutions focus more on the New Testament, and then only on the kinder and gentler pronouncements of Jesus.
Elsewhere I have posited that God's moral laws, the Ten Commandments, for example, are like physical laws; they are immutable. If I violate the Law of Gravity, I fall down. If I violate God's laws, whether or not I personally appear to suffer, my descendants fall down.
Civilization is a good thing insofar as it reduces the misery of increasing numbers of people. In a subsistence culture, let's say in northern Africa, negligence is more likely to have severe consequences than in American suburbia. If I fail to tie up my camel overnight and it wanders off while I am in the middle of the desert, I will die. In America, if I fail to lock my car and it's stolen, I call Uber and file an insurance claim. The consequences for similar negligence are quite different.
It is common for people who travel extensively in Third World countries to call the lost camel a Third World problem and the stolen car a First World problem. The first is a mountain, the second, a molehill.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, moral laws look severe to many moderns, but they derive from a less forgiving environment. Subsistence cultures are much more concerned about rule violations because severe hardship or death is a more immediate outcome. The distance between cause and effect is fairly short in a pre-industrial tribal community. It is easier to make the point that losing one’s camel is a big deal.
There can be a false sense of security when the distance between cause and effect is lengthened. Many people in modern civilization have this false sense of security. If I avoid the consequences of my misbehavior, someone else down the road pays the Piper. The great delusion of civilization is that no one pays the Piper.
Civilization allows larger numbers of people to avoid the worst consequences for their mistakes or misbehavior. It creates conditions that allow more people to distance themselves from consequences. Today, if my wrongdoing does not appear to affect others in some immediate way, society shrugs and calls my sin a lifestyle choice.
Judeo-Christian values helped guide development in the West. They are foundational, even when they are not explicitly mentioned. Simply put, they have helped us to avoid the effects of sin. They have helped us to keep our descendants from falling down. They have helped blunt the effects of sin in our daily lives. They have restrained most of us from engaging in self-serving behavior that ruins other people’s lives.
Finding excuses for one's misbehavior is the province of children, professional victims and criminal sociopaths. In any culture where this cancer of excuse-making and self-pity spreads widely enough, that culture will fail. The moral teachings of the Bible have stood the test of time. Our modern society has forgotten that it sits on that foundation and is failing as a result.