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Relativism: It's all a Matter of Perspective
Scripture: Proverbs 11:1,3; 20:10,23; 28:24
Track 4 of 13 in the American Idols series
Running time: 35 minutes, 26 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

It's all a matter of perspective...

Some of you are seeing an old hag, others a young woman (the left side of the picture is either the nose of a hag or the chin of a young woman). If you look long enough, you'll see both. It depends upon what you focus on.

Our culture is convinced all of life is represented by such choices. Nothing is absolute (seen only one way); every thing is relative (it just depends upon your vantage point). So, in many circumstances truth is, well, truth. Two plus two equals four. But on other occasions truth is, well, authenticity. I lie to you to keep from hurting your feelings. Both are acceptable.

It's true (can I use that word?) that circumstances sometimes create nearly impossible quandries. Should families hide Jews from Nazis? Should they lie about their whereabouts to protect them? While those instances are geniunely difficult, they are rare.

The more serious (more common) quandary is in my daily life. Is there an absolute standard by which I must govern my life? It doesn't seem like it. The speed limit really isn't 65 . . . it's whatever the policeman allows today. Coffee break isn't really 10 minutes every 2 hours, it's whatever the foreman/manager allows today. False identity on MySpace isn't really lying, it's security.

For the Christian, it is necessary to stand against the culture when the culture is wrong. There is absolute truth. It is found in God's word. His word can be trusted and must be obeyed. God does not change the standard from day to day. He does not alter His will according to current circumstances.

We are challenged to live according to His word. We are challenged to recognize the presence of right and wrong and choose right. We are not living in a utopian bubble where there will be no challenging situations. We are simply acknowledging that we will do our best to honor God at all times.

Ok, do you see the old hag, or the young woman? Both. Don't you just hate pictures that don't do what they are supposed to do? I mean, a picture is supposed to be a picture and you're supposed to recognize it and not have to try and figure it out. But then life is supposed to be that way, right? Everything is supposed to be just the way it's supposed to be. And the way it's supposed to be is the way you choose for it to be. The absolutes that you'd like to have absolutely true are the ones that you like.

I don't know what you've done lately, but I've been monitoring the gas pump, carefully. I know how many gallons will fit in my tank, so when I go to fill it up at $3 and some odd cents, I want to make sure that the pump actually gives me a gallon of gas for the gallon of gas it charges me. By the way there is leeway in that. They're allowed to be off five tablespoons per five gallons. I want them leaning my way.

It's an amazing thing, this world we live in and the values we have to deal with, we live in a world--without question--a world where things are pretty relative. You all know that 65 does not mean 65, it means whatever that guy in that car will let you get by with. And if he's going to go 65, you better too. I watched it happen the other day as I was traveling a policeman was going 65, at least according to my speedometer, it was 65. The guy behind me didn't like it, so he decided he would take his chances, I mean after all, most policeman will let you have 3 to 7 miles an hour over. So he thought he would go for it. He did. He crept around the policeman, at probably 67 miles per hour, and got pulled over. You just never know, that's the problem, you just don't know.

We live in a world where you just can't trust many people. The average household in America spends $440.00 this year in higher prices, simply because of inventory theft. Now that doesn't sound like a lot. It's less than $40.00 a month. That will hardly keep your Coke, I mean your soda habit, have to be careful how you use that. The problem is, when you think about that just in our congregation, if we had 800 people here on a given Sunday morning, which would be about typical. The average household according to this particular piece of information, that $440.00 represents what a household of four would pay in higher prices. So that would be like 200 houses paying $440.00 more this year simply because of retail theft. That would represent this congregation having an extra $88,000 to do something with. It would mean if we stayed within the limits of Quincy and took the average population to be 40,000 people, the city of Quincy loses $4.4 million dollars a year, simply because we have to charge more to cover the cost of employer, employee, excuse me, employee theft and fraud. But I know and you know that any employee who steals from a company rationalizes that and says I deserve it. It's not stealing, it's just that they haven't given me a raise lately. Or I worked a little overtime or. Well you fill in the blank.

Cause that how we function, that's how we think. We would never just, out and out steal. I mean we live in a culture that is clearly built on shared values. You and I can't survive if we don't share some values that we hold in common. Now just think about it? You couldn't hire a babysitter if you didn't assume that there were some shared values over, well your not going to go through my bedroom and try to find all my pocket change. You're not going to eat everything in my refrigerator unless I tell you it's ok. You're not going to beat my child, simply for the pleasure of beating a child. We share some values.

I don't know about you but what little money I have, I have in a bank. I don't put it under my mattress. I don't trust my wife. But the shared value is, we believe the bank is going to keep track of that. And they are going to give it back to us when we want it. Because we share a sense of common value. That's how society works. You and I share this value. When the light turns red, hurry. No, no, stop, that's it. And if we didn't have that, just think of the mask chaos we'd have on our streets, if we don't assume, green means go, yellow means speed up, and red means stop. We live in a value-shared culture and if we don't share some values that we believe absolute values our world our world absolutely falls apart.

And yet we don't, not if you pay attention to what is going on. We live in a world where people can't decide what is really an absolute, and what isn't. I'm going to read something to you that just blows my mind. I'm going to bias your listening, by telling you I can't hardly fathom this. So having biased your listening, which is what we people do.... This is from Finding God At Harvard. Kelly Monroe is the editor, she went to the doctor, and she was being prepped for her exam and so she decided to do a little informal testing. She wanted to find out this one particular persons view on morality. So here's the thing she's trying to ask. "Do you believe that morality is absolute? Or are all people just out for themselves?" "What do you mean by morality?" "Well, simply put, what's right and what's wrong?" We talk back and forth for a few minutes and it became evident to me that she was having a hard time comprehending the question I was asking. I thought maybe a clear case example would make the task easier, a question with an ovious answer, like, who's burried in Grant's tomb? Or how long was the 100 year war? Something simple. "Is murder wrong? Is it wrong to take inocent human life?" She waffled, "Well..." "Well what?" "Well I'm thinking." I was surprised at her hesitation. "What I'm trying to figure out, is whether morals, whether right and wrong are something we make up for ourselves or something we discover. In another words, do morals apply whether we believe in them or not?" I waited. "Can we say that taking innocent life, is moraly acceptable?" "I guess it depends," she said. "Depends on what?" "It depends on what other people think. Or decide." "I'll make this easy," I thought. "Do you think torturing babies for fun is wrong?" "Well, I wouldn't want them to do that to my baby." "You've missed the point of my question. I may not like burned food, but that doesn't mean giving it to me is immoral. Do you believe there is any circumstance in any culture, in any time in history in which torturing babies just for pure pleasure could be justified? Is it objectively wrong or is it just a matter of oppinion?" "There was a long pause. Finally she answered, people should be allowed to decide for themselves."

Do you begin to understand why I don't believe this happened? So Kelly Monroe says in reflecting on this conversation I realized I never want this woman on a jury. I would never want her as a social worker, as an employee in a bank, as a teacher, as a medical practitioner, or in any branch of law enforcement, I would not want this person in any position of public trust. Sadly this woman's views of ethics is repeated time after time at every level of society. In reality, if she was awakened in the middle of the night by the plaintive screams of a young child being tormented by her neighbor I'm sure she would be horrified at the barbarism. Her moral intuition would immediately rise to the surface and she'd recoil at such evil. In a discussion of the issue however, she seemed incapable of admitting that this eggregious wrong was actually immoral.

Our culture doesn't know how to think about morality, about absolutes, and relativity. And that's scary. The fact that she could have this conversation with someone who couldn't pin down a simple answer to an ovious question, I'm not suggesting to you that there are not hard cases. I'm not suggesting to you that it's always an easy answer that eveything is clearly marked right and wrong. But there are some things that are obvious. Unfortunately, we live in a world where nobody wants to take a moral stand, we want to instead express our moral timidity by standing back and saying, "well I guess it all depends on where you are standing." Do you see an old hag or a young woman? Depends upon your perspective. Depends on what you look at.

So it's little wonder when I pick up the paper this week and read of a recent report of 11 year olds are now using steroids as performance enhancing drugs, so that they can win in sports competitions. It's no wonder then, that I read in the newspaper with such regularity about such men as the executives at Enron and other major companies who pad their own pockets at the expense of your pocket, and don't find anything wrong with it. It's little wonder that we pick up the paper and read aboout yet more abortions, it's no wonder that we talk about immorality in such terms as wife swapping, that's an old 70's term, which now has been traded for, hooking up. See the claim is, that it just depends on where you are standing when you look at it. It just depends on your perspective.

Well there is truth to that. Unfortunately we've allowed that truth to really cloud our ability to make good decisions. I want you to watch something. I hope this will make sense to you. I want to set it up, it's a book that is now up here and you are going to see it, so you need to pay attention. At every scene is connected by the previous scene, you may not see them immediatly because you are not going to have alot of time to think about it. But I do want you to watch this, because this is a classic case of it all depends on where you are standing, it depends on your perspective. Be sure you read the screen. The first slide and the last slide will have words the rest of it is for people like me, it's all pictures.... Did you catch that last line? Nothing is as ever as it seems, this is a picture book where every picture is a picture in a picture in a picture and you just keep stepping back and stepping back and every time you step back you realize that you weren't seeing it correctly. And now you step back and your not seeing it correctly then you step back and you haven't seen it correctly yet and the intention is to comunicate to you that there is no one place where you can stand and be in the right place. Where you can see right. That is a children's text book, being promoted by Illinois State University Program. That is what is being taught to your children & your grandchildren. That there is no place where you can stand and see correctly . So therefore everything is relative to where you are standing. So if you happen to be standing here, it may be true that lying looks wrong. But if you happen to be in these circumstance over here that lie may not be a lie, it may be something, something different.

So here's my question to a bunch of disciples of Jesus. The man who said "I am the way the truth and the life." Is there a place where you can stand and see the truth and be comfortable that at least you have a perspective that has some over-arching perspective that brings everything else together? Can I ask you to go to the book of Proverbs? And we'll use an illustrative verse. That gets at the heart of what God is trying to say to us as his people, about his perspective on life. We're looking at the 11th chapter of Proverbs. There are multiple places where this kind of thing occurs but this is such a simple example. It occurs actually three times in the book of Proverbs, it's that much of statement that God wants you to think about. Proverbs chapter 1, chapter 11 verse 1, says the Lord abhors dishonest scales but accurates weights are his delight. Do you hear what he is saying? Well if not, try verse 3. The integrity of the upright guides them but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity. Duplicity is their ability to be deceitful.

Just hang on to those verses and think about chapter 12 for example, verse 22. The word detest in all of these verses is the same phrase. Often it's translated this way, "This is an abomination to the Lord." It's one of the strongest words in the Old Testament for that which God hates. It's an abomination. He says in verse 22, the Lord detest lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful. Chapter 17, for example of the book of Proverbs, verse number 15. I love the sound of those rustling pages, just keep that up. Proverbs chapter 17 verse 15, acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent the Lord detests them both. Chapter 20, verse number 10, this will sound very familiar. Differing weights and differing measures the Lord detests them both. Or same chapter, verse 23, the Lord detests differing weights and dishonest scales do not please him. That's even part of the old testament law. Deuteronomy chapter 25, we will not take the time to read it, but if you want to verses 13-15. Here's the system for those of you who are a bit older you will remember these, for those of you who are a little too young, you won't. But there used to be a way we did things when we didn't have electronically balanced scales. It was a balance beam. You put a weight on this side and you put what you were buying on this side. You see it happened in developing countries all the time. You go down to the fruit market, they put a two kilo stone on this side and they stack fruit on this side untill it balances out. Now the assumtion is very simple. The two kilo stone actually weighs two kilos. Do you hear what he's saying in Proverbs? Do not have differing weights for your scales. Because here's what happens, and it was common all over that part of the world, it shows up in every law code in Egypt up to the Uphraties through Israel. People when they were buying something would have one weight, but when they were selling something they'd have another weight and they would use them in order to make a better profit, and the loser was you. And God says, "I hate that kind of duplicity."

The standard that God is trying to set, what God is trying to say to us is that there is a right place to stand on some fundamental issues. So I'm going to ask you to think about Proverbs one more time. Remember these four things we said about the book of Proverbs and how they can help us address these american cultural idols. Take some time to reflect. So think about it, think about the implications of relativity? If we lived in a relativlistic world, what would it look like? What would some of the expressions of that be? Well it would look like this.... I drove my car away from the tire shop, and I heard this really strange sound. And I thought, that is odd, that did not happen before I was there. And I got out and I looked, and my back tire was leaning about, oh, I don't know, not a lot I suppose, 10, 12 degrees, but enough where you'd think, that's not good. Even a non mechanic like me, would say that's not good. And I took it back to the tire shop and they said, "Oh well, we forgot to tighten the lug nuts." Oh. Now accidents like that happen. But you could see in a relativistic culture where somebody could say, "Well it's just your opinion that they need to be tight, I happen to think that lose lug nuts are good." Well that's good if your not driving the vehicle. Or you go to the pharmasist, and the doctor say, "I want you to have 150mg of x." And the pharmasist says, "Oh weights and measures don't matter what's a miligram here, a miligram there?" And so they give you 300mg of what you're suppose to have a 150mg of. You don't want to live that way. Infact you probably won't.

See if you step back and look at this, relativism will not work. You can't run a society where some people think red means it's ok to go through. Which by the way in Quincy, IL it seems to be true. Remember we're asking questions like "Will these things sustain you?" "Can you live with this over the long haul?" And the answer is, no. Yeah, I know we agreed that you should get paid $25 an hour, but I just didn't feel like paying that to you this week. None of you are sitting still for that, it won't work. We talked about the fact that we might want to listen to instruction. I'm not talking about biblical instruction so much as I am the instruction of the church, the instruction of people, maybe your parents, maybe people you look up to, your tradition in your life, or maybe your family. You learn from other people that's what it is that Proverbs would teach. Learn from others, so I'm a slow learner, so I try to learn from other people.

I have this absolutely enormous regard for Billy Graham, I suppose you saw that his wife passed away this last week or so. Billy Graham had two standards that I have adopted in my life. He would never enter a motel room alone until somebody went in to make sure that nobody was there. And the reason was that he was such a famous person from a Christian perspective that he had been set up with prostitutes in his room so that photographer could take a picture of him and try to bring him down. He would never get in the limo, well he never used a limo. He would have a car pick him up at the crusades, he would never get into that car untill somebody made sure of what was in that car. He had some basic standards to protect himself. I try never to go to a house where I know a woman is going to be there by herself. I rarely ever travel in a car with somebody who is a female that is not my wife if there is nobody else around. Now sometimes that's really ackward and it makes it hard, it's just things that are difficult but you learn from other people and you say there are some things I'm going to try to do because these make sense. So Proverbs says reflect on these things, ask good questions, it says be corrected by the people around you and let them teach you something. And the book of Proverbs reminds us that we should not only listen to instruction but be corrected, and I'm gonna do that just a little if I can just for a second.

I just want to ask you a question that I think pulls two or three things together I don't know who to pick on cause I don't have high school kids in front of me. I need high school kids in front of me. I'm sorry I picked on you guys before and here you are again. You know, I don't know if this is a God thing or what, but here you are and I don't know what else to do. I'm assuming you trust Him, right? Yeah. And you've got no reason not too, right? And so if you can trust Him today, you believe if things would progress, I'm not suggesting that they are, but if they would progress to marriage and all of that kind of stuff. Fifty years from now you could still trust Him, because he has not done anything to disprove that.

All right parents, because you parents need to help me with this. Let's say she came home, and she said, "Umm, Mitchel was caught cheating at the baseball game. Oh, and I found out he really didn't pass that math class, that stuff he sent into the college really, because the teachers were trying to help him they just kind of sloughed him through and really he is not as good of student as everybody thinks he is." If you heard three, four, five or six things that called in to question his honesty and, and she came to you and said, "What do you think of our long term chances?" What would you say? "Forget it." Why? Because if you can't trust him in the little things, you can't trust him in the big things, and if he's cheating on you now, what makes you think going through a wedding ceremony is going to keep him from cheating on you later? Moral relativism will not work. If there are not at least some absolutes on which you can depend we can't function.

I will leave in a month to go to Europe and I will be gone for 17 days teaching and I will not even have a second thought whether my wife is faithful and she will not even question whether I am. Because we've never given each other reason to doubt our faithfulness. You've got to live that way! That's the only way it works.

And so Proverbs would say, does God have anything to say about this? And the aswer to that is "Absolutely!" He honors honesty. He honors truthfullness, he honors obedience to commands, he honors keeping of promises. God's character is what's at stake here. This is what God is. God does not break his word. God's word is always true, God always keeps his promise, the text of scripture says God cannot lie, and we're to be like Him. That is an absolute. But you know, there are none, according to the world. And so your children pick up Alice in Wonderland, and they're reading through the book and they come to this conversation. Humpty Dumpty says, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less." And Alice says, "The question is whether you can make words mean so many things." Oh, by the way, did you ever wonder about the Lewinski/Clinton thing in that context? What does "is" really mean? And Humpty says, "The question is, which is to be master? That's all." Which is to be master? You or the words themselves? And in our culture, in every major institution of education in this country you are the master of the words, they mean what you say they mean.

Now we'll not get into Dairy Don Focall, and all of the stuff that's behind that, but that's where it comes from. So what's the whole point? God has delighted in telling us the truth. And illistrating for us the truth and showing us that moral relativism will not work. Did he not say, thou shall not commit adultry? And did David not look at Bathsheba and commit adultry and murder? And did God not send a prophet to say, "David, you were wrong." It won't hold up, it will not work, and it's up to you and me to pull this into our lives in a way that we live out with consistancy the absolutes of God. So for example, if you want to teach your children different you're gonna have to be different. And so the phone rings and your daughter says, "Mom, it's Whitney." And you say, "Tell her I'm in the bathtub." Oh, by the way, Doris was in the bathtub. She immediately, when she heard the phone ring, not a Doris from here. She walked into the bathroom stepped into the bathtub and then said, "Tell her I'm in the bathtub." Cause you see, that's not lying. What do you think her children learned? If we don't establish the standards in our business, practice. If I can't trust you, a piece of paper, a contract is not going to mean a thing.

I love the legend, and I understand it is nothing more than a legend, but I love the legend of Abraham Lincoln walking 187,000 miles to return two pennies. I love the legend because it taught me when I was a kid growing up, that honesty was important. It's the kind of thing that would make me go back to the counter in the Sam's Club and say you forgot to charge me for the bratwurst. And have the lady say, "Hey, Sally, has anybody ever told us we forgot to collect money?" "Nope, don't think so." I can't believe that. Out of the thousands and thousands of people who go through a Sam's Club every day in Springfield, IL. Nobody was ever not charged for something something, and came back to pay for it anyway? I can't believe I'm the only person whose father taught him that honesty was the best policy. I'd rather lose my dollar and 85 cents than to lose my honor. If I'm gonna lose my integrity, it's going to cost a whole lot more than a $1.85. I hope there's not a price that I'd pay for that.

I just can't help but wonder what would happen in Quincy, IL if every person in this building began to live by some absolutes. I don't, we won't always agree on exactly which ones they are but if we would just take the fundamental core beliefs and live them out with consistency what would happen to our neighbors as they began to see us be different people? I don't know if you've seen Cindrella Man? It's one of my favorite recent movies, It's the story of James Bradock, who was the depression era boxer who basically threw his fighting career away because he'd lost a bout and broke his hand and he just kind of went into a depression and he quit boxing much. And the depression hit and his kids were starving. He ended up, by the way, in 1935 beating Max Bayer for the heavy weight championship of the world. It's a, it's a great story. There is one brief dialog in the middle of this movie that is worth you renting the movie just for this. Because during the depression in New York lots of people were sending there kids out of the city to the country to relatives because at least in the country you had a garden or you had a cow and the kids could survive, and Jay Brach, the son, the older son, stole a salami from the deli, because there was no food in the house to eat. And when his dad got home, he made his son take that salami back to the deli. By the way, did you know that James Bradock actually went on welfare for a while during the depression, and after the depression he paid it all back? Every last penny of it. Because he felt so strongly about honesty. He sat down with his son, and the reason his son stole the salami is because he knew when his friends ran out of food the parents sent them away. Now if there's a good reason for stealing, to feed your brothers and sisters and keep your family together that ought to be it, right? I want you to hear this dialog. "His parents didn't have enough money for them to eat." says Jay. James says, "Yeah, well, things ain't easy at the moment, Jay, you're right, but there's alot of people worse off than we are. And just cause things ain't easy that don't give you the excuse to take whatever is not yours, does it? That's stealing, right? And we don't steal. No matter what happens, we don't steal, not ever. You got me? You gonna give me your word?" "Yes" "Go on.." "I promise." Can you imagine a community where every disciple of Jesus practiced that kind of honesty and that kind of consistency in their life? What kind of wittness to the community that would be, if every disciple just decided to live by the truth, the best way they knew how. No matter what it cost. That's what you're called to. To let God have your life. That no matter what life brings you will live like a disciple of Jesus. Let's commit ourselves to that, shall we? Stand with me and let's sing about it.

[Transcribed by AM3]