On forced moral reform

CeasarWe were out for the evening and decided to stop into a local thrift store. I found six books that were worth taking home, especially at 3 for $5.00.

One of the books I brought home was Volume III of Will Durant’s History of Civilization set. I opened the book at random and began reading about Caesar Augustus. The first paragraph I read was this.

He destroyed his own happiness by trying to make people good as well as happy; it was an imposition that Rome never forgave him. Moral reform is the most difficult and delicate branch of statesmanship; few rulers have dared to attempt it; most rulers have left it to hypocrites and saints.

By hypocrites, I assume he means those who give the appearance of moral superiority that they do not actually possess. Saints, on the other hand, are presumably those who do have the moral superiority. But either way, these are two classes of people who think that they know a better way for humanity. They seek to elevate the people around them to their own ideals.

In these postmodern times, this almost seems laughable. In 21st Century America, we look with disdain on anyone who thinks he knows a better way. We offer our disdain unless he is spouting the patent nonsense of those who preach (but do not practice) tolerance. But is not politically correct tolerance a type of moral reform? Is it not an attempt to impose the absolute belief that no absolute belief should be held as applicable to society at large.

Yet there is something in man that is drawn toward absolutes. We have seen men throw off the yoke of the church only to be caught in the yoke of hedonism or totalitarianism. I quote Muggeridge here:

“If God is dead, somebody is going to have to take his place. It will be megalomania or erotomania, the drive for power or the drive for pleasure, the clenched fist or the phallus, Hitler or Hugh Hefner.”

But as Mr. Durant brings out in the quotation above, we can attempt to force people into conformity to a moral code, but when that morality bumps up against what they perceive makes them happy, that moral reform is an everlasting source of irritation and frustration. We cannot change people from the outside in. It did not work for Augustus and it has never worked for the church.

But isn’t this the whole point of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? We are in need of a savior precisely because we require change from the inside out. It is not what goes into a man that defiles him, Jesus told us. The defilement is within and only the grace of God has sufficient power to make the internal change that makes the external change a lasting one. One does not read of any of the New Testament writers seeking to impose the will of the minority on the majority.

Certainly the church needs to speak out on moral issues. We are called to live and preach what Scripture commends as the right way to live. Yet, we need to do so with the understanding that to impose compliance on the outside without providing for reform on the inside will not work better for the church than it did for Caesar.

The only thing that will bring lasting change to our country is a massive outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the form of revival. Let it begin with me.