In the House or Out?


The pictures somewhere nearby, which in black and white are probably just blobs (sorry), are moral value heat maps.  (Here is the link to the originals and the article in the journal Nature: ). What they represent is the moral worth assigned from inner circle being your immediate family to the far outer circle being all things in existence, separated by self-reported political ideology.  There are two somewhat surprising results. The self-reported conservatives assigned lower overall scores everywhere. The darkest red which stretches from immediate family to personal acquaintances is only 12 units. (Explaining the units would take all my space, I’ll point you to the article.) That is verses the darkest red on the liberal chart being 20 units.  So the self-reported liberal in the survey’s measurement places almost the same absolute value on those inner rings.  That leads to the 2nd surprising thing.  The liberal darkest red – highest assigned moral worth – centers not on those closest, but stretches from “all people” to “all things”.  

Essentially those maps and that paper are trying to answer the lawyer’s question to Jesus, “who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:29).” And the self-reported liberal’s response is consistent with the parable that Jesus answered with – The Parable of the Good Samaritan. Who was a neighbor to the man who had been beaten? Someone who would have been in the “all people” ring.  And stretching that response to “all things” is not foreign either, in that the original divine assignment for man (Gen 1:26) was to have dominion – benevolent care – over all things.  You might even say Jesus addresses this directly (Matthew 5:43-48) when he says, “love your enemies.”  Given all that maybe we just condemn the conservative moral assignment as benighted.

But that would ignore a few other biblical passages.  In Mark 7:10-13 Jesus addresses those who would swear off responsibility to mother and father – clearly part of the innermost ring – for a much more nebulous “god”.  And he does this in the context of the 4th commandment – “honor your father and mother.”  Also hear the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 5:8, “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  Hearing those passages we might turn on the liberal and say “you are just dodging what has actually been placed before you.”

And in the context of a political polarity, what we are attempting to do is justify ourselves. I’m righteous and you are evil.  That is what passes for much of our political discussion these days.  But I’m not counseling quietness or any such dodge.  We have a life together and politics is how these things are sorted out. And being sinful humans, we will probably do it terribly.  But I believe the Lutheran specifically has a good word here.  Anytime you are talking morality or moral worth, we are probably in the realm of the law.  And Jesus’ other summary of the law is in the conclusion to that “love your enemies” passage.  Matthew 5:48, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Good luck with that.  And anytime we find ourselves involved in a self-justification game, recognize that we have no ability to do that.  We can argue our own righteousness right into hell.  The biblical picture of that moral worth chart would just be all red.  And the Father in his providence does provide for all.

But we are limited creatures. Limited in power, in abilities, in time.  Instead of self-justifying, we really need to look to the one who justifies. Instead of attempting to judge everyone by true, yet impossible, standards, we need a little grace to allow each other “to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling (Phil 2:12).” Because we are not the judges of someone else’s work in these regards.  We will all stand before Christ one day for ourselves. 

That sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7 has a lot about the law in it.  But it also has the most amazing reminder of grace.  “Consider the lilies of the field…”. That passage ends with the phrase I think should guide so much of our lives.  “Do no be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  Maybe tomorrow places all people and all things before you. When it does and if that is your calling, the providence of God is working through you. And it will be enough.  Most of us will probably spend tomorrow in front a variety of people from family to acquaintances – the troubles of the day. The providence of God is likewise working through you.  And it is no less for being local.  What we need is not another judge, but reminders of the amazing grace of the true judge of all things.  And to grant each other a bit of that grace to work out the day.

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