I have confessed my addiction to news programming in this space before, and at the risk of sounding repetitious, I am going to do so again. When I was asked to write this article that reflects broadly on the themes for this month’s daily studies, I could not help but think about a phrase often repeated on the various “news analysis” programs that run on television. As different issues have been debated in recent months, it seems that there is one saying both conservative and liberal talking heads are willing to express. The words I am thinking of are, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion.”
This statement is an accepted maxim of American culture, for I have heard it not only on television but in many other places as well. It is bandied about in the halls of the university and used in everyday conversation across the country. Rich or poor, male or female, this is the unspoken sentiment held in common by all, even if not done consciously.
Every time I hear the phrase, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion,” I feel the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Who gives us this right? Who says I am entitled to believe whatever I want to believe? Why should I think my neighbor has the right to view the world differently than I do? I would venture to say that few people, if any, consider these questions when they make this statement.
In raising these potential objections, I am not coming out against freedom of speech as intended by the founding fathers of the United States. After all, the first amendment does establish certain safeguards for the preaching of the Gospel and for dealing with legitimate disagreements in a civilized society. My problem is that too many people illegitimately extend freedom of speech to take for themselves the “liberty” to judge for themselves what is right and what is wrong. Untold millions have embraced the view that if we are “entitled to our own opinion,” then we are entitled to determine what is good and what is evil in and of ourselves. Our culture has embraced personal autonomy with a vengeance.
This development is the inevitable result of mankind’s fall into sin and, in one way or another, has been a constant in human history from the very beginning. Many theologians have defined the essence of wickedness as man’s desire and attempt to be a law unto himself — to throw off all constraint and, as Nietzsche once said, exercise one’s will to power in order to live in freedom from any law except the one we have made for ourselves.
This grasp at autonomy was the sin of Adam and Eve when they cast off God’s law to eat the forbidden fruit that delighted their eyes (Gen. 3:6). Cain made his own opinion of right and wrong his god when he murdered Abel and evasively answered the Lord’s questions about his brother (4:1–16). Even righteous Abraham succumbed to the lie that man is a law unto himself when he twice subjected Sarah to the harem of a foreign king (12:10–20; 20) and looked to Hagar for a son instead of the Creator (chap. 16).
Today our embrace of autonomy may display itself with more subtlety. How often do we let ourselves stand in judgment over the Word of God instead of letting it judge us? This month we are going to study Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22. When I was an undergraduate, I once had a professor who, though claiming to be a Christian, dismissed this account as lacking an application for us today. She tried to stand in judgment over the narrative, claiming that the way we view children in the modern world rendered God’s request of Abraham barbaric and therefore meaningless for us today. Can you imagine such audacity? First, she made the ridiculous suggestion that the ancients somehow loved their children less since Abraham was willing to obey the Lord. But even more importantly, she is basically saying God’s command to the patriarch was unjust, placing her sense of good and evil above the Almighty’s. I fear for her on judgment day.
Our Father’s demand in Genesis 22 does raise some questions for us, and we will address them in the studies. But seeking to understand such issues in a way that honors the Lord and remains submissive to His goodness and to His Word is far different from dismissing the Scriptures and God’s character as my professor did.
Most of us will probably never be so vocal about our autonomy. Yet we must take care not to embrace the attitudes of those who try to judge the Bible. Tragedies may lead us to think God is far from us, but it is wrong to allow ourselves to entertain the possibility that our suffering means He is not good (Rom. 9:19–20a). Relational struggles may lead us to ask why we ever made marriage vows, but we sin when we convince ourselves they may be broken for reasons other than abandonment or adultery (Matt. 19:1–9; 1 Cor. 7:12–16). If we stand over Scripture and say it does not give sufficient principles for dealing with all of faith and life, we substitute our worldview for the Lord’s (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
Like Abraham we will fall from time to time and substitute our moral judgment for our Father’s. But like him, the believer will submit to God’s revealed ethical norms, even when we may not like what He tells us to do. The Christian’s life will be characterized by his conviction that only the Lord defines good and evil (1 John 2:3). For the only opinion that God entitles us to have is His own.