Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent
December, 6th, 2020
In 1941, in the middle of the Second World War, C. S. Lewis did a number of radio broadcasts for the BBC. In one of his broadcasts, entitled: “Right and Wrong: a clue to the meaning of the universe” Lewis begins by giving the example of two men quarreling.
Quarreling, not two men just trying to overpower one another, but two men engaged in an argument. Two individuals, each trying to prove that he was right and the other person wrong. Lewis says we can learn something from listening to people quarrel. Lewis said, that if you listen to people quarrel you will hear something interesting. People will say things like:
I was here first.
That is my seat.
How would you like it if someone did that to you?
That’s not fair.
People say things like this every day. Educated people and uneducated people. Children and adults.
What Lewis says is fascinating about these statements is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man’s behavior doesn’t happen to please him, he’s appealing to an external standard of behavior that he expects the other man to know about. He appeals to the idea of right and wrong. And he expects that the other person must have some basic understanding of right and wrong as well, otherwise the quarrel would be pointless. How does the other man respond? Well he either tries to appeal to right and wrong himself, in order to show that he in fact does uphold the standard, or he tries to provide some reason why he should be exempt from the standard, but he pretty much never argues that right and wrong don’t exist.
Or I will give you my own example: think about the Supreme Court. You have some justices that argue that the constitution should be interpreted this way; you have other justices that argue that the constitution should be interpreted that way. But NO justice ever argues that the constitution doesn’t even exist. That is a given.
Why do we take it as a given that some actions are right and others wrong? Why do humans even have this notion of right and wrong at all? Where does this idea of an external standard come from? Well, Lewis’s argument is that this is where we begin to see God breaking into the human world. For Lewis, the very fact that we humans believe in right actions and wrong actions is evidence for the existence of God.
Now, you may have some objections and questions about this argument, and Lewis has already anticipated you and answered them. I won’t go into his entire argument here, but I will send you all the link so that you can listen to someone read his essay. If, by chance, you have read his book Mere Christianity, then you have already read Lewis’s argument as his radio broadcasts were the foundation of that book. Give it a listen, because the objective existence of right and wrong is, as Lewis says, a clue to the meaning of the universe.
As I said in a sermon a couple weeks ago, we believe that the power at the center of the universe is not just a creative force but is also a judge. Think about the book of Genesis and the creation story: God creates and then God judges. God creates the heavens and the earth and the seas, and all the animals and even human beings and after creating each one, he looks at it and says “This is good.” God creates and God determines what is good. This God is a judge.
Now the words judge and judgement have gotten a bad rap in recent years. When I say judgement, you may think of individuals you know that are judgmental. You may think of self-righteous people that sit in judgement over others. You may think of all those people casting stones on the internet, filling everyone’s comments section with their virtue signaling and their pious opinions. You may think of people who rush to judgement without having all the facts. When I say judge, you may think of Judge Wapner, or Judge Judy, Judge Harry Stone, or Judge Joe Brown. You may think of the Supreme Court Justices that you like, or you may think of the Supreme Court Justices that you don’t like. The words judge and judgement get a bad rap because whenever we think of those words, we think of human beings making judgements and we are reminded whenever we do that of how prone we are to making bad judgements. Even the wisest, most benevolent person can make bad judgments because we never have all the facts. We know that our judgments are clouded by things like emotions and prejudices. We all know that human beings make pretty lousy judges and judgements.
How do we know that? How do we know when a judgement is bad? How is it that we can recognize a bad judgement or an unjust judge? Well maybe, it is because deep in our soul, way down in our being, there is this imprint or image of a higher standard. Something tells us that right and wrong are real things, and faith tells us that that something is God. Faith tells us that the author of right and wrong is a force in our lives. It is such a powerful force that even when we try to run from judgement we usually end up running to the ideas of righteousness, justice and fairness that this force, this judge, created in the first place. When the creator of the universe is also a judge, you cannot escape judgement, nor would you want to. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom mentions in his book Morality, that “there is no justice without a judge.” Our vision of the world is of a place where right and wrong, good and evil objectively exist, the evidence for that is in our daily language, but we also recognize that we are not the best arbiters over which is which. We love justice, or we say we do, but we act unjustly. We want people to be fair with us, but we also know that we treat others unfairly. We have the power to recognize the existence of good, we know the standard exists, but we also know that we don’t always conform to it. There is only one judge that really knows how closely we conform to the standard, and that judge is not us…it is God.
Today is the second Sunday in Advent, and as this Advent I am discussing the four last things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell, today I am discussing the second of those things: judgment. Just as we believe that there truly is a standard in the universe of right and wrong, so we also believe that one of the questions that all humans must face is where we stand in relationship to that standard. When the author of good and evil, right and wrong, examines our life, how will we be judged?
We are not capable of accurately judging where other people stand in relationship to their creator; we know that we are not qualified to do that, because we don’t have a complete window into the lives and the thoughts and the hearts of others. But hopefully we do have a bit more insight into our own lives. What is our relationship with God? Where do we stand with our creator? That is a question we all must ask.
Yes, we believe in forgiveness. Yes, we believe that Christ suffered and died for us, even while we were still sinners. There may be, as Paul says, “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” My sins may not have the power to damn me so long as I am a part of the body of Christ, but that doesn’t mean that my actions here and now don’t matter. Our actions in this world matter a lot, because our actions are either drawing us closer to the eternal judge, or they are drawing us farther away. Where do we want to be, which direction do we want to be headed in, when our actions can take us no farther? Yes, we cannot save ourselves, but if we have judged ourselves rightly and recognized that on that day of judgement that there will be much in our lives that will be in need of forgiveness, and if we have confidence that through the mercy of Jesus Christ that forgiveness will be offered, then what sort of lives ought we to lead in the meantime, or as Peter says, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness? We may not be called to judge someone else’s walk with God, but we are called to judge our own. We are called to constantly judge for ourselves, whether we are moving closer to the author of right and wrong, or whether we are moving further away.
One of the things that Lewis says in his broadcast is that “we all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.
I guess that is what repentance is all about. Who would have guessed that John the Baptist was such a progressive?
C. S. Lewis Essay Recordings:
Right and Wrong: A clue to the meaning of the Universe Part I
Right and Wrong: A clue to the meaning of the Universe Part II