How does ethics influence one’s worldview?
foundational Issues in Christian Spirituality and EthicsBy David W. Bogue and Michael Hogan
Without a biblical worldview, all the great teaching goes in one ear and out the other: There are no intellectual pegs … in the individual to hang these truths on. So they just pass through. They don’t stick. They don’t make a difference [in how humans interpret existence and order their lives]. George Barna (as cited in Colson & Pearcey, 1999)
· What difference does your worldview make in daily life, and in how you perceive your future?
· What is the definition of spirituality from a Christian perspective? How does this compare to your own definition of spirituality?
· How would you categorize your worldview: atheism, pantheism, or theism?
· After reading this chapter, does your current worldview pass the three tests (coherence, correspondence, and practical)? If not, what might you need to change?
· How does ethics influence one’s worldview?
· Does right or wrong depend on individual subjective opinions or is it about something deeper?
· How does ethics relate to medicine and health care?
· Can one know what is right or wrong or is it just what one is feeling in the moment?
The world is complex and sometimes confusing. Information is created and disseminated at a rate no one can completely comprehend. It is like trying to drink from a fire hose. Ethical dilemmas clamor for resolution. How can one make decisions that are right and morally good, beneficial and not harmful? How does one make sense of this fast-moving world’s experiences and events?
a road sign with two directional arrows. One is labeled Right Decision, and the other is labeled Wrong Decision.
Medical practitioners make decisions every day that are laden with moral and ethical importance. Patients’ lives may be at stake, such as the elderly whose last days are near, children who are born with severe disabilities, the unborn and their anguish-filled mothers, and people who suffer from chronic pain or mental illnesses. Ethical questions abound, such as is euthanasia a morally acceptable choice? If not, then why not? If yes, then on what basis? Is it ethical to remove life-saving treatment from a dying patient and administer palliative care if needed? Is abortion a moral and ethical option, and if so, what limits, if any, should be imposed? Medical professionals at all levels of decision-making face these dilemmas regularly. How are nurses, with direct access to patients’ needs, to decide what is right and wrong? How one answers these questions matter in all areas of life. Professional morals cannot be separated from personal conduct. The importance of having a foundation and a framework from which to make true and good ethical decisions in both one’s personal and professional lives is the reason for ethical and spiritual decision-making in health care.
This chapter will help nurses think through how they view and interpret the world and the events and experiences of life. Nurses will come to understand how to answer ethical questions and address patients, families, and others when crises arise. The first questions to ask include:
· What is a worldview ?
· What is my worldview?
· How does my worldview shape my spirituality ?
The next questions often include:
· How do the three major worldviews, atheism , pantheism , and theism , see the world?
· How can one determine one’s worldview using the six basic worldview questions?
· How is one to test one’s worldview for coherence , practicality , and correspondence ? What is the basic Christian view of the world (i.e., the Christian worldview)?
· What is the foundational meaning of the biblical narrative, which is the heart of the Christian worldview?
Following these initial questions, one must further ask, what are ethics in general and what is the basis of Christian ethics portrayed in the biblical narrative? What is the Christian moral order in the practice of medicine, and how does the resurrection of Jesus Christ inform this unique moral order in a holistic manner? These, and many other concepts, will provide valuable tools, in the form of understanding worldviews and ethics, to enrich and bring clarity to one’s life, and to benefit patients who need thoughtful, ethically-informed medical practitioners to assist them.
What Is a Worldview?
A worldview is a point of view for understanding one’s personal experiences and the events of societies and history (Vidal, 2008). Every person who has ideas about what reality is and how to interpret the experiences of the world is operating out of a worldview. This is true whether the person understands his or her worldview or not; everyone has one (Taves, Asprem, & Ihm, 2018).
A person’s hand holds a magnifying glass in front of a globe, making one of the continents appear larger.
Think of the lens of a camera: A photographer places the lens against his or her eye and views the world through the lens. The photographer assigns meaning to what the lens reveals. A worldview is not a physical lens but, rather, a philosophical and intellectual lens though which a person sees and interprets everything one encounters. It helps a person accumulate and interpret how human beings gain knowledge , the area of study known as epistemology , and what one knows to be true about the world, others, and oneself. Worldview determines what one does and does not value and find meaningful in life.
A worldview includes underlying, often unconscious, assumptions about reality that a person holds. These assumptions inform how a person determines what thoughts and actions are morally right and wrong. They also influence whether a person has positive or negative thoughts about the future. Sandy Gibson (2011) conducted a study on male prisoners of various ages and discovered that internally held worldview assumptions informed how they viewed both their present circumstances and future possibilities. To put it simply, worldview will influence one’s sense of hopefulness or lack thereof.
Why do some people look forward to the future while others do not? Such worldview assumptions are shaped over a lifetime (Gibson, 2011) and may be additionally influenced by adult experience, such as religious experiences or traumatic events. Other studies conducted by Edmonson, Chaudoir, Mills, Park, and Bartkowiak (2011) and others demonstrate that trauma can play a significant role in worldview formation. When a person cannot integrate a traumatic event in his or her worldview, then posttraumatic stress disorder may occur, which can change the person’s ability to handle daily activities and shape how the person interprets events and assigns meaning to experiences (Edmonson et.al., 2011). According to Clément Vidal (2008), those who possess coherent, practical, and consistent worldviews tend to experience less stress, are more open to encountering others in the world, and have a greater sense of trust and hope (Vidal, 2008). Hence, it is important to think through and hold a worldview that is clear, consistent, and matches reality.
Worldviews come under two broad categories: religious and nonreligious. This text has further divided those two worldview categories into three: atheism, pantheism, and theism. Most people hold worldviews compatible with these three.
The word atheism comes from two words: A, which means “lack of” or “no,” and theism, which means “God.” The simple rendering of the word is “no God.” Atheism is a philosophical worldview, the central feature of which is a lack of belief in a deity. Atheists come from a variety of backgrounds and may hold divergent views from one another; they do not always agree with each other in the areas of politics, ethics, and cultural issues (American Atheists, n.d.a). For example, the atheist response to religion is not unified. Some atheists are indifferent to religion and are not disturbed that others believe in a deity. Others are adamant and assert the nonexistence of a God (Coleman, Hood, & Streib, 2018) and make it a cause to disprove the existence of God. According to the American Atheists (n.d.a), “The only common thread that ties all atheists together is a lack of belief in gods” (para. 13).
Some atheists claim that their worldview is not a belief system or religion. They state, “If Atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby” (American Atheists, n.d.a, para. 3); however, Coleman et al. (2018) disagree with this assessment because a belief system is a part of every worldview. It simply means that a person has particular beliefs about the world, meaning that believing that there is no God is a belief about the world. Beliefs shape how a person assigns meaning to the world and the events of life. In the atheistic worldview, there is no God. The belief that no deity exists is, in fact, a lens for viewing the world, and it shapes how atheists interpret life events (Coleman et al., 2018).
Looking at the world through the lens of a godless existence, atheists believe that the material world is all that exists; there are no outside forces or entities influencing the world. Whereas Christians hold that a personal God created everything that exists, atheists believe that the world came into existence as a result of natural forces alone. If there is no God, then there is no Creator. If there is no Creator, then how did the universe come into existence? To answer this question, atheists hold to the concept of naturalism , which states that the physical universe is the entirety of existence (reality); therefore, only what can be discovered through the empirical sciences can be called truth.
Atheism holds that there is no life beyond the physical world. This means that atheists believe that humans themselves invent morals and ethics, thus determining what is right and wrong. There is no God to reveal and teach right from wrong. For example, Caldwell-Harris (as cited in Coleman et al., 2018) says, “Without belief in any divine authority, atheists are more likely to view morality and meaning in life as self-constructed” (p. 204). Atheists look to culture and human reason, including science, to construct a moral and ethical framework; therefore, unlike theists, who look to a deity to learn about right and wrong, good and bad, atheists look to themselves to create such values and virtues. Humans, then, are responsible only to themselves. Ancient philosopher Protagoras reflects this perspective in his still famous phrase, “Man is the measure of all things” (Taylor & Lee, 2015, para. 4). If human beings are the highest authority (the measure of all things), then humanity must create its own morals and values, which the atheistic worldview, in fact, advocates (Coleman et. al., 2018). This leads to the charge against the Atheist worldview of moral relativism. Moral relativism holds that no truth applies to all people. This view claims that truth is created from one’s circumstances and culture; therefore, what is true varies across cultures and groups.
Moral relativism states that one group may not be qualified to judge the ideas of another group because the first group has not experienced life in the same way as the group they are judging. This view becomes problematic, for example, when dealing with issues of life and death. If one group or culture believes that it is right to murder people of different ethnicities or religions, then those who hold to moral relativism have no ground to argue that this kind of action is genuinely wrong. Because that particular culture believes murder is right, that belief is true relative to them. Because there are no broader standards by which to judge besides that which is relative, moral relativism is, on its face, a dangerous view to hold (Davis, 2016).
Many atheists deny that their worldview leads to moral relativism, asserting that their worldview possesses the foundation for objective morality . Objective morality refers to moral codes that apply to all people in all times and places, regardless of culture or religion. The website for the Atheist Alliance International (n.d.) states, “there are objective moral truths that can be discovered using reason (and science), and the process does not require belief in a god” (para. 20). Arguably, the assertion that God is not needed for the existence of an objective morality is hard to maintain.
If humans formulate their own morality, then humans are free to change what is right and wrong as they wish, which is arguably the logical outcome of the atheist worldview. And if humans are free to change what is right and wrong, then oppression of an unwanted minority group in a culture can be justified by those in the majority. For example, if a religious or ethnic group that makes up the majority of a population decides to rid their society of a minority religious or ethnic group, then on what grounds can one say that this is wrong? Humans decide based on their own subjective preferences and nothing deeper. Consider the oppression people endured in Germany under the Nazi regime, the African nation of Uganda under Idi Amin, or the North Korean nation under Kim Jong Un because human beings determined what is right and wrong without the guidance of God.
This demonstrates the importance of one’s worldview when considering human value. Christians believe that every human is made in the image of God , which causes human individuals, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, to possess innate dignity and worth. These unique traits of dignity and value are given by God, and they cannot be removed. When there is no outside authority (i.e., God) who assigns human beings’ their value, then assigning human worth is left to other persons.
Although atheists might claim to assign value based on science, there is not an actual basis to do so. Science is limited to claims about what may be tested using empirical methods. Values cannot be tested using scientific instruments or mathematics. Atheistic attributions of value work well when those who make such assignments are good and a positive influence on individuals and societies. It has had tragic consequences when leaders are tyrants who rule their people with absolute power. When human worth is assigned by God, it cannot be taken away. When it is assigned by human authorities, it is never secure.
Pantheism is a family of worldviews that focuses on the intertwining of God and nature. The word pantheism is a composite of two Greek words: pan, which means “all,” and theism, from the Greek theos, which means “God.” The intent here is to say that God and nature are one and the same. In other words, nature is god (Drees, 2017). According to pantheism, mountains, trees, rivers, and anything one may encounter in nature are deities.
In the pantheistic worldview, God is nature, such that God’s action is simply the natural operations of nature. This means that because nature is malleable, God is also malleable. As nature changes, God also changes. As nature progresses and evolves, God also progresses and evolves. This means that God is incomplete and still growing. One outcome of this view is that God cannot ensure a particular future, either good or evil. The world might end in a perfect paradise, in a fiery disaster, or in a quiet, slow death as its energy dissipates.
Likewise, God may sympathize with human suffering, but God is unable to intervene and relieve that suffering. In the pantheistic worldview, God is loving, but is not all powerful. Although morals and ethics and right and wrong may come from God, because God is constantly in flux, as is nature, notions of right and wrong will also change over time. With the evolution of nature and the accompanying evolution of God, what was once immoral may become moral. Pantheism is not consistent with a Christian biblical worldview, which holds that God is transcendent and not enmeshed with creation . God is sovereign and omnipotent . God does not change, nor do God’s commandments.
Theism is a worldview that focuses on the existence of a knowable, personal deity to whom humans are accountable and with whom they may have a relationship. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are examples of theistic religions. God is perfect in essence and morality. God is omnipresent , omniscient , omnipotent, all-good, and eternal (Swinburne, 2016). God is not in process but is complete in Himself. God is in no way limited, unlike the view of God in the pantheistic worldview. God is outside of time-bound creation, although He exercises providential authority and guidance over all things and creatures He has made. This separateness from the creation is called God’s transcendence (Pinto, 2018).
As Creator, God is never to be confused with what He has created. God’s sovereign rule of the universe and all creatures in it comes from the mind and person of God, which is distinct from what God created. Christians look to the Bible to understand the attributes of God, in which there are numerous supporting passages that speak to God’s independence from the creation, including His independence from human beings. 1 Chronicles 29:11 (English Standard Version) states: “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty…. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all [emphasis added].” Psalm 8:1 says, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens [emphasis added].” In Isaiah 55:8, God speaks to the people of Israel, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts neither are your ways my ways.” While God may reveal Himself through creation, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of this hands” (Psalm 19:1), God is not to be confused with nature.
Nevertheless, this generic form of theism requires more information. The views of the nature and character of God in theism are different from religion to religion. William Drees (2017) is right to state that the generic concept of God does not offer much practical or spiritual help unless God is described. Theism believes in only one God, and a Judeo-Christian understanding of God is that God is personal, transcendent, and love.
Islam also believes in one God, but this God does not have a son and did not come to sacrifice himself for the sins of the people. The God of Islam, known as Allah (the Arabic word for God), is not known as a God of love nor is he known as Father. Both are distinctive descriptions of God as a person in the Bible. Muslim theology emphasizes obedience of human beings to gain Allah’s favor. There is no emphasis on Allah’s love and grace as a free gift. The Qu’ran, the Islamic sacred text, does not explicitly promise individual salvation. Rather Allah sent prophets, the foremost and final of which was Mohammed, and the Qu’ran to teach his followers obedience and proper worship (Schirrmacher, 2012).
The Christian faith is described far differently. Christians believe that God is one, and this is similar to the Islamic understanding of God; however, Christians believe that God has revealed himself through both the created world and the Bible, which contains both the Old and New Testaments. God brings individual salvation through the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus, on the cross. Through the incarnation of his Son and the coming of the Holy Spirit, God revealed his triune nature. The above description demonstrates the need, as theists, to define and describe the specific attributes and teachings of one’s God. This text will focus on the Christian understanding of God.
The transcendence of God evokes awe and worship from God’s people. As Christians worship God, they can experience an uplift of spirit and sense the wonder of the transcendent God (Sproul, 2012). Christians believe they can approach God with the deepest respect and stand in awe of His holiness and majesty because God is both the creator of life and complete essence of love. Christians know God through the experience of holy and redeeming love in relationship with the spiritual presence of God. The opening paragraph of the Nicene Creed (325 AD) speaks of the Christian view of God: “We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible” (Christian Classics Ethereal Library, n.d.).
Although God is separate from the world, the world relies upon God for all of life. God is intimately involved with the world, and God’s Son, Jesus, holds the universe together with the power of his word (Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3). This close involvement of God is known as God’s immanence , meaning that God has come near in order to save His people who have fallen into sin and death. God’s immanence is demonstrated throughout the Bible, when God communicated directly to human beings, such as Adam and Eve (Genesis 1-3), Abraham (Genesis 17), and Moses (Exodus 3). The central example of God’s immanence is seen in the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ. Christians believe that Jesus is God come in a human nature and form. In this way, God enters fully into the broken world of humanity.
At this point, a more in-depth study of the Christian worldview will provide a fuller understanding of how Christians view the world and find meaning in the events of life.
The Foundations of Christian Spirituality
The Christian worldview is founded upon certain ideas about God and humankind. This chapter will examine each of these ideas briefly.
Christianity is a monotheistic religion. Adherents looks to what is called the Shema, the Hebrew word for “listen” or “hear,” based on the first word in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This is considered to be the central monotheistic declaration of the Bible. This is the clarion call of both Judaism and Christianity. For Christians, there is only one God, the God revealed in the Bible. In ancient Israel, the monotheistic declaration stood against the polytheistic religions in the ancient Near East.
Christians believe in this same God, but over time and through the study of the Bible, they came to comprehend the one God as three distinct persons known as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: God in three persons. Through the incarnation of his Son, God revealed his triune nature, and by God sending the Holy Spirit, the three persons of the Trinity are made evident. Theologian Wayne Grudem (1994) explains that each of these three statements is true and essential to a Christian understanding of God:
1. God is three persons.
2. Each person is fully God.
3. There is one God.
Christians describe God as one essence in three persons, not gods.
An essence is an entity about which something can be said. A person is a distinct bearer of an essence. Applied to the Trinity, it means that Father, Son, and the Spirit are distinct persons, each with his own personal attributes, while each share equally the attributes of deity (i.e., the divine essence). (Horton, 2011, p. 97)
The Nature of Jesus
Christians believe that Jesus is both the Son of God and fully God at the same time. This understanding of the nature of Jesus Christ is described in more detail in the Chalcedonian Creed from 451 A.D.:
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us. (Monergism, 2013)
Simply put, the Chalcedonian Creed describes the unity of the three persons of the Trinity. It describes the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as coequal with one another. It defines the nature of the Son, Jesus Christ, as possessing both fully human and fully divine attributes. These attributes cannot be separated. They are both always a part of who Jesus is.
Michael Reeves (2012) uses the Gospel of John as an example of trinitarian unity:
John wrote his gospel, he tells us, so states, “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). But even that most basic call to believe in the Son of God is an invitation to a Trinitarian faith. Jesus is described as the Son of God. God is his Father. And he is the Christ, the one anointed with the Spirit. When you start with the Jesus of the Bible, it is a triune God that you get. (p. 37)
The person of Christ is known as the second person in this unity of persons, within what is also called the Godhead. Jesus is described as the “word made flesh” (John 1:14), that is, God’s active voice that brought all of creation into existence from the beginning of time. Jesus had always existed as the second person of the Trinity having no beginning or end; however, He was known as the Christ, which is the Greek word for the Hebrew word Messiah, until his incarnation. The incarnation was when Jesus the Christ was introduced into the world, to save the world, allowing God full access to all peoples who would believe.
The Christian understanding of the Trinity then, is the basic doctrine for the Christian faith (Horton, 2011). From this understanding of God comes the Christian view of how the Trinity exists and interacts with human beings through the person of Christ in both an individual and corporate experience. Now, consider how God reveals himself through the Christian sacred text: the Bible.
The scriptures of the Christian worldview are called the Bible. The Bible is a collection of 66 books, comprised of the Old Testament and New Testament. Christians view the scriptures as the sacred Word of God, a special means by which God has revealed himself to the world. The scriptures bear witness to God’s Creation of the world, the fall of humanity through sin, the redemption of sinful humans through Christ, and the restoration of all things to come in Christ.
In the scriptures, a true, but not exhaustive, picture of God is found. Through the Bible, the attributes of God, the great works of God, and the commands and love of God can be learned. One can learn what God loves and what he does not love. Knowledge about God’s Son, Jesus, and his work on behalf of humanity, as well as the power and work of the Holy Spirit in the world and in the lives of people is given. Knowing this, God’s Word is sufficient for the Christian believer, bringing hope when facing all challenges, including evil and suffering in the world.
Christians believe that God inspired human authors to write both for their own time and historical setting and, in some cases, for future generations. The scriptures are the most authoritative source from which Christian morals and ethics can be learned (Horton, 2011). According to 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” The Bible serves as the primary authority and representative of God’s Word and will, (Horton, 2011).
The Christian Biblical Narrative
Christian believers who believe in the Bible as God’s Word believe that God created the universe ex nihilo(from the Latin meaning “out of nothing”), meaning God did not use already existing materials to bring the creation into existence. Genesis 1–2 describe the events of creation. (Grudem, 1994).
God created the universe to display his glory. The created world is of such magnificence and complexity that human observers stand in awe of what God has made. A sense of the grandeur of God, his power and creativity, is seen in creation. Creation also gives a sense of how worthy God is of worship and gratitude. In the creation, God provided an environment in which all of his creatures could prosper and enjoy a relationship with him. Psalm 29:1–2 says, “Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.”
When God first created humanity, he set them in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1 & 2). The Garden was perfect in every way and stands as a metaphor for the perfection that existed between God and God’s highest order of creation, human beings, fashioned after God’s own likeness. This was intended to be a life that served God’s desire to love and brought forth everything that was delightful and right for all time.
This Garden contained all plant and animal life necessary to sustain life in all aspects. In this perfect place, there was no pain, illness, or wrongdoing to cause anxiety or suffering. The first humans, Adam and Eve, enjoyed a life of peace and harmony with the earth, all animals, and with God. God and the first humans enjoyed a close personal relationship unmarred by sin and death. Life in the Garden overflowed with more than physical abundance; it was full of spiritual satisfaction, as nothing came between Adam and Eve and their Creator. None of the sin and wrongdoing that interferes with human peace and joy was present.
Human beings did not argue or hurt one another. They experienced no guilt or shame because no sin existed in the Garden to destroy God’s magnificent work. Instead, truth, beauty, and the loving ways of God saturated life in this glorious place God created for the benefit of humanity. The created order was truly good in every sense of the word. Unfortunately, this ideal state would not last.
Genesis 3 records the occasion on which temptation, sin, and death entered the
perfect world. Adam and Eve disobeyed God. God had told Adam and Eve to enjoy the fruit of every tree in the garden, except one: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God told Adam and Eve that they would die if they ate of the forbidden tree, but by obeying God, they would live forever in bounty and peace (Genesis 1–2). Here is how temptation and sin occurred. Genesis 3:1 says, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” ‘ ”
The enemy, known to Christians as Satan or the devil, came to Eve and tempted her to question God’s rule and commandment. The enemy called into question the truth of what God had told her. Eve gave in to temptation and ate from the forbidden tree. She then took the fruit to Adam and he ate. Both Adam and Eve were equally guilty of disobeying God. Immediately after they had eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Genesis 3:7). They sinned; guilt weighed them down and made them afraid of God (with whom they had shared a good and wonderful relationship), and they hid from God.
God found them hiding and confronted them with their sin. They admitted their disobedience, but now sickness as well as both physical and spiritual death infected the world. Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden and were sent to live in pain and toil (Genesis 3:23). They would eventually die, as all humans do today. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they effectively tried to become their own gods; they believed that they knew best what was right and wrong, with tragic consequences. Michael Reeves (2015) writes, “Adam did not do what God had commanded, precisely because he no longer loved the Father” (p. 36) in purity and perfection. Adam’s sin brought a distortion of love into the world that ultimately chose to do things without God. While Adam could still love, he and all humans after him could no longer love perfectly. This is known as the fall because humans fell from their sinless state.
The image of God (see Chapter 2) in humanity, while not destroyed, was distorted and broken, leading to subsequent generations of broken and sinful people. Historical and present ramifications of Adam’s sin, including murder, abuse, greed, and manipulation, show that humanity has had a significant problem with evil and sin. One must only watch the evening news to see the ongoing effects of the fall. In the fall, all of creation was influenced by death. The human body became susceptible to disease, aging, and death. The human mind became able to conceive of and carry out evil deeds. Lies, manipulation, murder, racism, and other attitudes of hatred and jealousy changed human life in devastating ways. The fall distorted the human ability to decide what is right and wrong. Sin became a prison from which humans could not escape on their own. Human attempts to rise above the fall have failed. Evil still exists both in the human heart and consequently in human societies. Humanity needed someone to take away the guilt and punishment of sin; they needed a savior to rescue them.
God did not leave His creation, including humanity, to simply receive His punishment and die in sin without hope. God sent his Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3) to deal with sin once and for all. The Incarnation occurred when Jesus was born to a young woman named Mary in the city of Bethlehem in the land of Israel. This is how God entered the world as a human (Reeves, 2015). Jesus grew up experiencing every form of human existence except one: He did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). In John 1:1–2, 14, the Bible describes both the eternal nature of the Son, the second person of the Trinity, and human nature of the Son in Jesus Christ:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. . . and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth [emphasis added].”
The means by which God redeemed his people from guilt and punishment for sin is through the Atonement .God is holy, which means that sin and evil cannot exist in the presence of God. God is pure and possesses no evil. The word atonement means that God became a man for the purpose of restoring people to relationship with God. The Bible teaches that all people have sinned and need God’s forgiveness (Romans 3:23). The punishment for sin is death, but God made a way of forgiveness by sending his Son, Jesus, to take on the punishment himself: Romans 6:23 says, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, God became a human being to bring back eternal life to those separated from Him by sin. How did the Son of God, Jesus, accomplish this?
Jesus Christ, God become a man, lived a sinless life. Christians believe that the Son of God’s life in human flesh was central to the plan of God to bring redemption to humankind (Horton, 2011). Jesus submitted himself to crucifixion at the hands of the Roman authorities who occupied Israel in the first century A.D. Rather than doom humanity to punishment for their rebellion and sin against him, God took the punishment on himself, in his Son, Jesus. 1 Peter 2:24 states, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed [emphasis added].”
The sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross is at the heart of the Atonement. He took the penalty for sins and suffered the punishment of death on behalf of all humanity. He was the perfect sacrifice, the sinless lamb who took the sins of humanity on himself (John 1:21). When Christ shed his blood, he made a way for people to enjoy reconciliation with God again and to have eternal life (Grudem, 1994). As the Apostle Paul stated in Romans 10:9, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Jesus, The Lamb of God
The roots of understanding that Jesus Christ is the sinless lamb of God who was sacrificed to save his people from their sins comes from the story of the ancient Israelites. For 400 years, the Hebrew people were held in slavery by the Egyptians (Exodus 1). God chose Moses, a Hebrew who had been raised in Pharaoh’s (the King’s) palace, to lead the people out of slavery. After inflicting many plagues as motivation for Pharaoh to release the slaves, all of which were unsuccessful, Moses told the Hebrew slaves to dress for their escape, sacrifice pure, spotless lambs, paint the blood of the lamb on the door posts of their houses, and take shelter inside. The blood of the lamb on the house would protect them from the death that would come that night and take the lives of all of the first-born livestock and children of the Egyptians as both judgement and punishment. After this final plague, Pharaoh released the Hebrews, but only temporarily. As they traveled, Pharaoh’s army chased the Hebrew people across the desert to the shore of the Red Sea. Pharaoh’s army drowned when the miraculously parted waters of the Red Sea collapsed on his men after the Hebrew people had safely escaped to the other side. This event is a foundational account for Jews today, as God provided safety through this symbolic blood anointing. Jesus Christ is said by Christians to be the perfect Lamb, sacrificed to set his people free from the slavery of sin and eternal death because of his symbolic blood shed for those who choose to trust in him.
Christ’s death constitutes a legal transaction in that he paid the condemning penalty for all sin. It is also substitutionary in that the sin for which he received punishment belonged to the entire human race. Substitutionary atonement lies at the heart of the Christian worldview, which reverses what was inherited by all persons since the fall.
The Resurrection completes the understanding of redemption. Three days after the death of Jesus Christ, God the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit, raised Jesus from the dead (John 20:1-10). The death and resurrection of Jesus are inextricably linked. Christians hold that both are of equal importance. In his resurrection, God demonstrated his power over death and “Hades” (Revelation 1:18). Jesus said, “Because I live you also will live” (John 14:19). Those who are in Christ possess eternal life and, although they will eventually undergo physical death, they will be raised up to eternal life by the Holy Spirit—the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11).
The atonement and resurrection serve as the core, or foundation, of Christian hope (Horton, 2011). This hope gives one confidence in the face of worldly challenges and empowers the Christian to live in love and new possibilities for service and mercy (Fortin, 2017). Although humanity continues to live in a fallen world, and this life contains suffering, God has promised his followers that through his grace and forgiveness, demonstrated in the work of Jesus Christ, their sins are forgiven. Followers of Christ will enjoy life with him forever because of the resurrection of Christ (Revelation 21; Horton, 2011). Through Jesus Christ and his saving work on the cross and resurrection from the dead people have access to new lives, an entirely new inner nature, not only in the present, but in the world to come.
The Christian worldview, informed by the Bible, looks forward to a new heaven and a new Earth. Not only will human souls be saved from death and given eternal life, but also the entire creation will be restored in Christ (Romans 8). In this restored condition, there will be no more sin, pain, death, war, greed, or sin of any kind. Rather, Christ will usher in a new world order, the fully realized Kingdom of God. Restoration is not a human-designed and enacted utopia, as all such attempts have failed and usually ended up in death. The restoration brought by and through Jesus Christ will be God-designed and Spirit-enacted. Christ will rule directly, and his people will join him for an eternity of joy and peace.
The Christian biblical narrative provides a clear, consistent, practical worldview that answers the major questions of life’s meaning and purpose. The three major worldviews encompass a range of ideas about how the universe exists and operates. They offer answers to life questions of the past, present, and future: How did human beings come to be? What purpose, if any, does life in the world have? Is humanity accountable to an outside being or accountable only to themselves? What lies ahead for the universe and human existence?
One’s worldview also determines how one understands whether objective good and evil, right and wrong exist. A worldview answers questions such as: Is it right or wrong to take the possessions of others? Is it better to care for those who suffer or simply leave them to their own devices? How are people to live a good and virtuous life? These remarks demonstrate the importance of formulating a good worldview. Christian worldview shapes how Christians are to act in the world.
How Do People Determine Their Worldviews?
This text uses six questions to help students determine their worldviews. These questions are designed to help them create a clear and coherent worldview. By answering these questions, students can understand what they believe about the world and adjust their worldviews to give it strength and clarity.
What is Ultimate Reality?
History shows that people have sought to understand ultimate reality since ancient times. The first recorded account for the search of ultimate meaning occurred some 5,000 years ago (Swidler, 2013). To consider ultimate reality, one must engage in the field of metaphysics . Metaphysics is the study of what exists and what the nature of existence is. How one answers this question will shape the entirety of one’s worldview, as they influence what one thinks is right or wrong, what a human being is, and whether or not human life has innate value.
Ultimate reality is the search for the highest authority—the overarching principle of the world and life. It is the primary source of what is right and wrong, good and bad. It is a person, object, or foundation beyond which no one can appeal for truth and knowledge. It is the answer to the questions: From where, or from whom, does the source of highest and final meaning come? What is really real? How one answers these questions necessarily shapes all subsequent questions about life and meaning.
For example, atheism holds that ultimate reality is found in the material world. This shapes how they view everything from ethics to the nature of human and animal life. This nonreligious worldview holds that the physical universe is the sum of existence. There is nothing beyond what science can measure using empirical research methods. In this view, human beings are the highest moral authority. Some believe that the human conscience is ultimate reality (Tolson, 2012). The human mind determines what is true or false, right or wrong. There is no outside or higher authority than the human mind.
Others believe that an energy exists that forms a unifying ultimate reality. Such a view of ultimate reality is not a person, but rather an impersonal force. The American form of Buddhism is one such worldview (Han, 2017). A still different view is pantheism, which believes that God operates in concert though nature. Pantheists attribute spiritual forces to nature and find ultimate meaning in the natural world.
There are others who look to a personal God. This is called theism. Christians believe that ultimate reality is the person of God, with whom they have an individual and unique relationship. Christians believe that one God created all from nothing. Humans creations are able to be in relationship with God and are accountable to God for how they live. God is the author of morals, for all that is right and wrong. Christians stand in awe of the creation, but they do not believe that the creation is God, as they see it is the product of God’s creative power. Human beings might be made in God’s image, but they are not divine. Human persons look to God for all of life, including the ability to work and make a living, love, forgive, demonstrate mercy, and show compassion. They also look to God for the ability to think and reason and explore the world around them, even to understand the workings and diseases of the human body and mind to help alleviate suffering. Christians also look to God for eternal life without pain, disease, or the existence of evil, and the hope that God will deliver on his promises.
What is the Nature of the Universe?
The nature of the universe is closely tied to the question of ultimate reality. One may see the universe solely as natural matter. Atheism usually believes that atoms make up all of the objects that exist in the world. Was the formation of the universe a purely natural process, unrelated to God’s action, or is it the result of a deity who created all that is, but then stepped away and has no more to do with the universe and those in it? This is the view of deism , which holds that God exists, but is completely absent from the workings of the universe and life.
Is the universe the result of a God who not only created all that is, but also rules over all? Theists believe that God is personal. For theists, existence consists of both the physical world and the spiritual world. Theism states that while humanity occupies the material reality of the earth and uses its resources, there is a greater portion of existence, which consists of the Spirit of God and the spirit of human souls interacting with one another. This is the view of the three major world religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
What is a Human Being?
In the atheist worldview, a human being is the result of purely natural biological and chemical evolutionary processes without God’s actions. In this view, human persons do not possess a soul that is eternally upheld by God. Their existence is limited to this life only, and after physical death, life is extinguished. There is no afterlife, ongoing consciousness, or existence. If this is true, it is arguably very difficult, if not impossible, to assign innate value or worth to human beings on the atheistic worldview.
In contrast, the Christian, theistic, worldview holds that human beings are a part of God’s creation. God caused humans to exist and desires to be involved in every aspect of their life. God instilled in each person what is called the image of God. God is Spirit; therefore, the image of God does not mean that people physically look like God. Rather, they have in their being attributes of God, which are freely given by God: the ability to love, forgive, reason, possess wisdom and knowledge, and enjoy a personal relationship with God (Horton, 2011).
What is Knowledge?
How does one know what he or she knows? Is knowledge strictly limited to the physical world? Is what one knows strictly the result of what science has discovered, or does knowledge come from both physical and spiritual/divine sources? Atheism tends to rely on a combination of empiricism, which states that knowledge can only be known through the senses and human reasoning to “know” the world. This view has limits. It cannot speak to issues of morality and ethics.
Theists look both to the natural sciences and to a deity for knowledge, believing that God has given humans the intellectual capacity to explore and understand the physical universe. This method of knowing includes both empirical discovery and knowledge that is revealed in sacred texts, such as the Islamic Qu’ran, the Jewish Tanakh and Talmud, and the Christian Bible containing the Old and New Testaments.
The Christian view holds that the empirical method can provide accurate knowledge of the physical universe. Humans’ ability to access this knowledge is in itself a gift from God. This is why Christians do not view science and Christianity as inherent foes; however, science has its limits. Science cannot speak to issues of morality and ethics, right and wrong. While science can design technology, it cannot answer the question of whether the use of such technology is morally right. Christians look to God for guidance. Although Christians do not believe that they can fully comprehend God, they do believe that what God has chosen to reveal about himself is true and sufficient for life and redemption. God has revealed Himself both through the creation (the grandeur, complexity, and power of God) and through the Bible (the personal, saving love of God through Jesus Christ).
The Basis of Ethics
Ethics form the basis of what is right and wrong, and how humans ought to think and act. How humans formulate their ethics depends on their worldview. If a person holds an atheistic worldview, then the basis for ethics will be human reason. This is generally true of all nontheistic worldviews. Without a knowable, personal deity to offer ethical standards or guidance, humans must decide for themselves how they ought to act toward others and nature.
This way of determining how to act is largely subjective, or relative to individuals or societies; however, subjective truths change based on the thought of the individual who holds them. For example, one group may decide that it is good and right to raid a neighboring society and take possession of its people and property. Truth, here, is subject to individual or societal desires and thinking; it is not guided or governed by an outside, or objective, authority. In this worldview, no truth is universal, and truth may differ from individual to individual and society to society. Subjective truth provides no solid foundation on which to base one’s worldview and life. It leaves its adherents to make morality up as they go through life.
Theistic worldviews hold a divine foundation for ethics. This means that Christians believe in objective morality. Truth is universal and applies for all people. For example, Christians ask the questions “What does God want me to do? What kinds of attitudes does God want me to have?” (Grudem, 1994). This is seen in the Bible passage from Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” This is an ethical mandate from God to humanity. Christians believe that truth is universal and applies to all people in all time and places. For example, killing other humans, stealing, and dishonoring parents are always wrong, while protecting the weak and attributing innate value and dignity to others are always right.
The Purpose of Existence
One may have many missions in life that bring purpose, such as finding a good job, living in a nice home, and taking care of family. The question, however, asks about an individual’s primary or highest purpose for living.
The answer to this question also hinges on how a person responded to the preceding question. In the atheist worldview, humans decide for themselves what their purpose is. Some who hold this worldview believe that life has no ultimate purpose and that any purpose that does not harm others is valid. This could be living to the fullest by enjoying as many positive experiences as possible, such as traveling the world, finding a loving friend or partner, and raising children to pass on the family name. Some pursue wealth and fame and want their names to live on after they have died. Some people live to serve others; they find satisfaction in helping people succeed in life in a variety of ways, such as becoming nurses or firefighters. They may or may not be motivated by conscious spiritual or religious reasons.
For theists, the purpose of existence is central to their view of God’s character and nature. For example, Christians see the highest purpose of life as serving and loving God, even as they experience similar desires of life. One Christian teaching tool, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, first published in 1649 and still in use today, explains this foundational belief in its first question and answer which reads, “Q: What is the chief end of man? A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
Under this overarching purpose, Christians believe that all activity should serve this purpose, which is demonstrated through one’s worship, vocation, relationships, and use of resources; it is a total reliance upon God. Because God is the creator of human beings, humans operate in greatest harmony and in greatest fulfillment when they honor God with their lives. Christians hold that a life lived loving, worshiping, and obeying God is the highest form of life possible. Flowing from this love and honoring of God comes love of people (Matthew 22:36-40).
Life in Christ, which means loving, honoring, worshiping, and obeying God through faith in Jesus Christ, includes all of life’s good existence in all that humans experience. This may also be seen in ordinary life while traveling the world, finding a loving friend or partner, raising children, firefighting, and in a health care profession such as nursing. However, these are not done only for the sake of personal gain and pleasure, but they also point to a still higher purpose, which ultimately brings tremendous benefits to one’s psyche, that is, the soul. A person receives personal satisfaction not only in what he or she does, but in the person that he or she is and becomes in Christ.
Christians similarly see in the Bible that the way God relates to human beings is through covenants, or binding agreements. A covenant consists of promises between two parties, and biblical covenants are uniquely made between God and humanity. God promises to do something for man (e.g., benevolence, care, salvation), and in return, people act in a particular way toward God (e.g., love through worship and obedience) (Horton, 2011). God reveals how humans are to act in the world through the Bible. When a man asked Jesus which of the commandments was the greatest, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40). This latter commandment is also an ethical mandate.
How Is Worldview Tested?
Many have not given much thought to their worldview and its implications. They operate under a set on unconscious assumptions that determine their view of the world. It is important, though, to think through what one believes to be sure that the worldview is reliable and true. There are three tests for determining the veracity, value, and utility of worldviews.
The Coherence Test
The coherence test evaluates the internal consistency of a worldview. The answers to the previous six worldview questions should be consistent with one another. The answer to one question should not contradict the answer to another worldview question. For example, someone with a naturalist view of the universe cannot logically state that humans are made in God’s image. These answers contradict one another. The naturalist perspective holds that only the physical universe exists. There is no god to assign value to anything, including human beings. The physical world does not speak to issues of value. The examination of the world reveals only the physical attributes of what is observed or measured. It does not reveal information about right or wrong or what is valuable and what is not.
In the naturalist worldview, persons decide what is valuable. They may say that the human race as a species has evolved over time to possess superior intelligence; therefore, humans possess value. However, this value cannot be an innate value because it is based on a human judgement. Persons may well change their minds about whether certain people do not have value, such as determining value for those who do not meet a particular IQ threshold. They may even change their minds about whether or not intelligence is the right category to be measuring for value, and perhaps value is more a matter of power, or wealth, or physical strength. This means that the value assigned to human beings by other human beings is not innate. For example, individuals could decide that physically or mentally challenged persons are a drain on society’s resources. Such thinking is not merely theoretical but is currently advocated by some. Professor Peter Singer’s view of human value allows that one may hold that mentally challenged infants are not truly human persons. His view permits the involuntary killing of mentally challenged infants (Pauer-Studer, 1993).
Innate value is different. It is not assigned by individuals or people; therefore, it cannot be removed by any personage or party. This value is given by God to every person based simply on a person’s existence (Reeves, 2015). Therefore, it is not consistent for an atheist to state that there is no God, but then claim that all beings have innate value. A strong true worldview is coherent.
The Correspondence Test
How does a person’s worldview correspond to what really is, to what human’s experience in the real world? For example, if one holds the atheist view of the world, which states that only the physical is real, true, and reliable, this person must ask if that view explains all of life. For example, an atheist worldview that holds to naturalism can explain how stars form in the universe. Such phenomena are observable and measurable by scientific instruments; however, can the atheistic worldview explain why evil exists? Can a worldview explain why people fall in love? Historically, love has been a far more powerful motivation for human action than simply a biological urge to reproduce.
Can one’s worldview explain why people feel guilty in the depth of their hearts when they have done wrong? They are ashamed of doing wrong, not just being caught. Humans view people who commit vicious crimes but feel no guilt as evil. Can one’s worldview explain why? Why is any person so concerned with right and wrong, good and evil? Science alone does not speak to morals and values, right and wrong, yet people know that morals and ethics exist and play a significant role in human life. Humanity concerns itself with issues of right and wrong each day. Everyone makes moral decisions. If one’s worldview states that only what can be known through empirical evidence is real and true, then one’s worldview does not explain the entirety of human experience, and it does not pass the correspondence test . If such gaps are found, then one might need to pause and rethink his or her worldview.
The Practical Test
The practical test asks the question, “How does one’s worldview work in the world?” Is deep and satisfying meaning found because of one’s worldview? Are the big questions of life answered:
· Who are we?
· How did we get here?
· What has gone wrong with the world?
· What can be done to make things right again?
Can one’s worldview provide rich and satisfying answers to these questions?
One’s worldview should provide meaning for life. It should give a solid foundation and intellectual framework for understanding life and interpreting the events that are experienced. For example, the news is filled daily with accounts of suffering and tragedy. One’s worldview interprets the meaning of these events: A shooter kills students who are exiting a school. An observer’s worldview may ascribe the shooter’s actions to natural phenomena alone, such as mental illness or a dysfunctional upbringing, or an observer’s worldview may ascribe the actions to evil, a moral failure due to the sinful nature of humanity, which introduced suffering and death into the world? Of course, both could be causes for the terrible event. One’s worldview gives an intellectual framework by which to make sense of life’s events.
The results of putting one’s worldview though these three tests will determine whether the worldview is reliable, true, and good. A consistent, clear, and practical worldview provides people with the intellectual means to evaluate what is right and wrong, how the world operates, who they are and what purpose their lives have. Answering these questions in a thoughtful, consistent way will help people to live meaningful and good lives.
Case Study: Death, Dying, and Worldview
Karen is a 29-year-old single woman with a younger brother, Max, and parents Louise and Bill. Karen lies in the intensive care unit of a Level 1 trauma hospital with a severe brain injury suffered during a car accident three days earlier. She is intubated and unconscious. Her body is battered and bruised, and her family has been at her bedside since her admittance.
Her parents and brother return to the waiting room of the ICU to speak with the doctor away from Karen’s presence. The attending physician, Dr. Alexander, tells them that there is no hope of Karen surviving her injuries. In his professional opinion, it is the humane approach to remove all support and let Karen die in an unconscious state. He asks them to think about their decision and leaves them to consider this grave step.
Alone, the family’s tension rises. Max paces back and forth while Bill and Louise sit next to one another holding hands. The family has swung between hope and fear, but now dread and terror seem to prevail. Max blurts out that they should do what the doctor advises. There is no sense, he says, in allowing Karen to suffer if the situation is hopeless. She has had a good life even though it has been cut short. Louise begins to pray softly, lowering her head and asking God for help. Max tells her to stop. If God cared, says Max, he would not have let this happen in the first place. Karen, he says, wasn’t religious anyway and would not want any prayers. She did not believe in magic. Louise protests that Karen was raised a Christian. Max responds that that was a long time ago, and since college, Karen had outgrown superstitious notions of God and miracles. The world is what we can see, feel, smell, and hear with our senses, Max states as he paces back and forth.
Bill puts his arm around his wife’s shoulder and tells Max that prayer will not do any harm. Who knows, says Bill, there might be a God, and if there is, isn’t it better to be on God’s good side? Bill tells his son to leave Louise alone. Louise cries harder and prays louder. She pauses and looks at both her husband and her son; she tells them that she knows there is a God and that he loves Karen. She says that although she cannot explain why this is happening to Karen, she has faith and believes that God is there in the room with Karen. She tells them quietly that Jesus died for their sins. If God loved them enough to send his Son to die on the cross to save them, God wouldn’t let them down, no matter what happens in the hospital. Louise looks up through tear-stained eyes and tells Max that God is still able to save Karen. Max leaves the waiting room, clearly frustrated.
Bill says that he doesn’t know what to believe; he just wants his daughter to be all right. He puts his arm around Louise again, as she continues to pray for Karen.
1. Based on what you have read, and the six worldview questions, describe the worldviews of each of the three family members and the physician. Specifically, how would each person answer the questions, “What is ultimate reality?” and “What is your basis of ethics?”
2. How would Christian spirituality and atheism address the issues the family is facing?
3. How might the nurse offer comfort to this family given the differences in worldviews between the family members?
1. Louise: Karen’s mother clearly believes in God and is a Christian, which comes under the general category of theism. Max: Karen’s brother seems to hold an atheistic worldview. He does not believe that God exists and refers to prayer as magic. Bill: Karen’s father’s worldview is unclear. He is neither a Christian nor an atheist. He is open to prayer, but as a kind of gamble just to be on the right side if it turns out that God does exist.
2. Postmodern relativists would hold that the decision of whether or not to remove Karen from life support is subjective; whatever decision the family makes will be right for them. There is no set path of right or wrong here. Christians would look to God and their understanding of what God has commanded to guide them in how to make this important decision. The answer could vary among Christians, some holding that God does not want them to use technology to keep Karen’s body alive when she has no hope of recovery. Others believe that the family should do everything they can to preserve Karen’s life. This would include Karen’s mother, who asks for more time hoping that God will intervene.
3. A nurse could begin by offering general compassionate care. The nurse could then ask Louise if she would like a hospital chaplain, or if she can call a clergy person for her. If the nurse believes in God, then the nurse could quietly encourage the parents to trust God and gently suggest that no matter what happens, Karen is in God’s care. Max, who does not believe in divine intervention, would need nonreligious compassion. The nurse could ask Max about his sister and say something like, “You love her very much. It sounds like the two of you are very close.” This could give Max an opportunity to share with someone the relationship he has with his sister.
The previous sections laid out a detailed picture of what goes into a worldview. It first presented the three major worldviews—atheism, pantheism, and theism—and highlighted important aspects of the Christian worldview. This led into the six basic worldview questions that any worldview must answer. Some of those questions included asking what ultimate reality is, what is the nature of the universe, and what is the purpose of one’s existence. One of the six questions addressed the basis for ethics—that is, having to do with what is right and wrong. This had to do with providing a foundation for ethics.
The focus of the next two sections is to think more deeply about what ethics is and the relationship between ethics and the Christian worldview. The first section dives into the field of ethics. It looks at what ethics is and what it is not. It also presents whether ethics is based on personal opinion or rooted in something deeper. This section also looks at how one can know right from wrong. With so many people seemingly holding conflicting moral beliefs, how can anyone know right from wrong?
The second section focuses specifically on the relationship between ethics and the Christian worldview. It looks more deeply at how humans are created to know right from wrong and how God is the basis for right and wrong. In the latter part of this section, the connection between Christianity, healing, and medicine is made. In a world filled with hurt, pain, and destruction, Christianity can shine a light and bring true healing and restoration.
The complexity of the world challenges one’s understanding of what is morally right and wrong. Some actions, such as genocide and rape, are clearly wrong while others, such as self-sacrifice and saving another’s life, are clearly right. But what about actions like terminating the life of a patient who is experiencing great pain and suffering? Or what about saving the life of a mother by performing an abortion? These are challenging moral questions where one needs an ethical framework in which to determine an outcome. The term ethics is often used rather broadly. It is sometimes used to refer to a company’s code of ethics, which are the rules employees of the company should follow. It is also sometimes used in reference to the law, as in, “It is wrong to kill an innocent person according to the law.”
This text will use ethics more narrowly. Understood here, ethics means a branch of philosophy that provides a systematic understanding of concepts of right and wrong, principles of moral behavior, and the intentions and actions of moral agents. The terms ethics and morality are used equivalently throughout the book. The definition rules out many examples of the way ethics is often understood, in which ethics is equated with the law, tradition, and cultural etiquette; however, ethics is deeper than these three.
Consider first the law. While most laws, at minimum, have a moral component, what is moral does not always make something legal. Exceeding the speed limit could cause an accident and harm someone. Yet, on freeways, it is not uncommon for cars to drive well over the speed limit without getting ticketed. Law enforcement sometimes allows drivers to exceed the limit because of the flow of traffic and other times not. While the limit has some wiggle room, the underlying moral component is the safety of all drivers.
Furthermore, what is legal does not always make something moral. For example, consider slavery. At one point in the history of the United States, it was lawful to own people of color as slaves. Surely the laws of that time did not make slavery moral. It was morally wrong regardless of what the laws said. Or consider a more contemporary example of abortion. Abortion is legal across the nation, but many think it is morally wrong. For these people, making abortion legal does not mean it is now somehow morally right.
Sometimes, even the law has nothing at all to do with morality. For example, in the United States, it is illegal to drive on the left side of the road because drivers are supposed to drive on the right side of the road; however, in England they drive on the opposite side of the road and it is illegal to drive on the right side. Of course, if one knowingly decided to drive on the left-hand side of the road here, they might endanger the lives of others and themselves, which would be morally wrong. But there is nothing moral about which side of the road a society decides one should drive on. A society’s decision about which side of the road they want people to drive is merely a matter of convention.
Next, consider tradition. There have been traditional cultural practices that are deeply immoral. The ancient Chinese practice of foot binding produces a much smaller foot by curling a young women’s toes under her feet and then tightly bound to produce a much smaller foot (Yen-Wei, 2015). It was typically done for reasons of beauty (Yen-Wei 2015). The practice causes major damage to the women’s foot and body. It should be quite clear that such a tradition was wrong and harmful despite being practiced for millennia. This is one of many examples of other comparable practices that are part of a culture’s tradition, but deeply harmful to the people of that culture making it immoral.
Images of Foot-Binding
Note. Adapted from “Foot Loading Characteristics of Chinese Bound Feed Women: A comparative Analysis,” by Y. Gu, Q. Mei, J. Fernandez, J. Li, X. Ren, and N. Feng, 2015, PLoS One, 10(4), p. 13. Copyright 2015 PLoS One. Adapted with permission.
Finally, consider cultural etiquette. Often in different cultures one’s manners are equated to what is morally right and wrong. For example, it is proper etiquette in some cultures to place the silverware on a specific side of the plate during mealtime; however, where the fork or knife are positioned does not determine anything specifically moral. One has not done something wrong by inadvertently placing the fork on the left side of the plate instead of the right side.
Notice that in all these examples, ethics is more than just what is legal, cultural, or conventional. Ethics is grounded in something deeper than all of these. Ethics is primarily about what is right or wrong, but rightness and wrongness are not ultimately dependent on what the law, culture, or convention says. Right or wrong may be reflected in the law or a culture’s values, but it is nevertheless deeper than them. It is also deeper than one’s individual subjective beliefs about the law, or cultural beliefs, or traditional beliefs. The next two sections lay out how ethics is so different.
The Is/Ought Distinction
Facts about the way things are or physical facts give descriptive information about the world. However, descriptive information alone cannot tell one what is the morally right or wrong thing to do. Moral facts do not simply describe the way the world is, but rather they prescribe the way the world ought to be. This is known as the is/ought distinction. The is/ought distinction in ethics says that no amount of descriptive facts can tell someone whether it is morally right, for example, to help a person in danger or morally wrong to break a promise. Descriptive facts merely describe the world while moral facts tell what one ought to do. Ethics, then, is about right and wrong. It is beyond the bounds of what science can determine because science can only describe what is the case, but it cannot prescribe what morally ought to be the case.
To illustrate, imagine a paratrooper dropped from a plane into Nazi Germany just after the German government surrendered to the United States at the end of WWII. This paratrooper comes across one of the concentration camps where the Jews were gassed and killed. No one from the outside world at this point knew what exactly these camps were like. There was no social media or even the kind of journalism of today’s news. When the paratrooper returns from war, he begins to describe what he saw down to the minute detail: the skeletal-like bodies of the starved Jewish prisoners, the stench of bodies just gassed and burned.
Critical Thinking Questions
1. If you were the paratrooper, what would a scientific description of what you saw mean about whether those things described were good, bad, right or wrong?
2. If you were the paratrooper, imagine what would be going through your mind and body. What feelings are present? Would those feelings alone determine whether what you saw was right or wrong?
3. Does it make a difference that these events happened years ago, in a different time, place and culture? Is what happened still wrong today? Think about why that might be the case?
Cleary such events make one recoil with anger and moral outrage. This event in human history was deeply immoral; however, where is the fact that “genocide is wrong” to be found? It is not merely in the descriptive details of what is being witnessed. The point is that no amount of descriptive information can say anything about the morality of an action. The fact that genocide is wrong is very different from what the concentration camp looks and smells like. This is because wrongness has to do with moral value; however, moral value is not something one can physically describe. Thus, something being wrong, such as genocide, states what morally ought to be the case (i.e., one morally ought not commit genocide) while something smelling or looking a certain way tells about what is the case (i.e., that is a starved body, or those are German soldiers fleeing). These are entirely different kinds of facts.
The examples of what ethics is and what it is not show that ethics is about right and wrong. It is not about cultural etiquette, societal convention, or what the law says. Ethics is much deeper than these things. Consider next a framework overview of ethics, and its relationship to worldviews.
The Worldview Foundations of Ethics
Recall that the question of ethics is one of the six worldview questions. As such, how one answers the other worldview questions will affect what one thinks about right and wrong, and vice versa. In this sense, one’s worldview is truly the foundation for thinking about right and wrong. In what follows, it will be seen that the question of what it means to be human is fundamental to ethics. In addition, this section will survey three general areas or subdisciplines of ethics—metaethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics—to see their influence on one’s worldview. The atheistic worldview will be contrasted with the Christian worldview to show such influence.
The Question of Human Nature
A fundamental question for ethics has to do with human nature—that is, what kind of a thing is a human being? This is not to be confused with what is often called the “sin nature” of human beings, which is a way to describe the human tendency toward evil and away from God. This is because the kind of thing something is determines whether it has a proper function and purpose and what that proper function and purpose might be. In regard to ethics, this question is really asking whether human beings have a proper function and purpose and, if so, what that might be. To put the point differently in terms of ethics, the question asks whether there is a way that human beings ought to live (i.e., proper function) and why (i.e., purpose). Are human beings merely the blind product of mindless natural evolutionary forces that happened over millions of years, or are human beings created with a special and unique purpose? An atheist who does not believe in the existence of God would likely say that human beings are purely the product of naturalistic evolution and are animal organisms like anything else, while a Christian would say that human beings are special and uniquely created in the image of God.
Which view one takes matters a great deal ethically. For example, an atheist who thinks that human beings are products of random chance evolution will likely think that morality is just about one’s survival and self-interest, very similar to how animals act. In this view, a person is simply an animal organism such that one’s proper function is that he or she ought to ensure survival and reproduction by any means necessary because there is no grander purpose in life other than seeking one’s self-interest before dying and ceasing to exist. However, the Christian who thinks human souls have been created on purpose by God will have a vastly different view of right and wrong. First, God has not only created all people, but he has designed them for specific purposes. Things that are designed have a nature that reflects their function or purpose. For example, when a skilled craftsman designs and creates a knife, the nature and design of the knife reflects its ultimate function and purpose, which is to cut things. Analogously, the nature and design of all humanity reflects their ultimate purpose, which primarily is to love God and enjoy him forever.
Second, when a human being lives in accord with his or her nature, the result is joy and flourishing. Joy and flourishing in this context do not simply mean happiness or selfish pleasure, but rather living in the fullness of what one was created to be, which certainly leads to a sense of wholeness and satisfaction and may include happiness and pleasure.
Consider that sometimes physicians describe the state of premature babies who are not growing, receiving nutrients, or otherwise maturing, as “failing to flourish.” In their weakened state, these children are not physically moving toward the proper function of their design, which includes, but is not limited to, physical growth, maturity, and health. In the same way, failing to live morally according to one’s nature will not lead to flourishing, but to a kind of damage to the person, or a failure to flourish in every aspect of one’s being and design.
In the Christian worldview, a human being’s nature is what describes the ways in which human beings can flourish in every aspect of their being. Thus, the way human beings ought to live reflects the kind of thing human beings are and the grander purpose of human life, meaning that human beings are creatures made in the image of God who ought to live in relationship with and in obedience God. Whether there is a genuine design and purpose for every individual, and how one can come to have knowledge of that design and purpose, are questions addressed in branches of ethics.
Metaethics includes the study of the nature and being of right and wrong, as well as how one can come to have knowledge of right and wrong. In this sense, metaethics asks questions of right and wrong that are deeper than what one might be used to asking, but that are nevertheless very important. Instead of asking “what is the right thing to do?” or “what is the wrong thing to do?”, metaethics asks questions such as, “does right and wrong even exist?”, “what kind of thing is right and wrong”, or “how can I know what is right and wrong”? These are deeper or meta questions of ethics.
A major issue in metaethics is whether morality is objectively true. In this sense, objectivity has to do with whether right or wrong is dependent on one’s beliefs, desires, or preferences about what is moral. Recall that right and wrong are not dependent on tradition, cultural norms, and the law. In the same way, it seems that right and wrong are not dependent on one’s beliefs, desires, or preferences, but are rooted in a deeper reality.
To give an example, imagine someone said, “I do not believe that violating one’s rights is morally wrong.” Even if one actually believes this, it is still wrong to violate another person’s rights. That is because objectivity has to do with the way the world is in reality. This is very similar to scientific claims like the earth is round or gravity is real. Imagine a person decided not to believe in the existence of gravity and jumped off a tall building believing he or she could fly. Not believing in gravity does not make gravity somehow not real. Morality being objective is like this. The alternative is that morality is subjectively true. Something is subjectively true if it depends on the beliefs, desires, and preferences of an individual or culture (see relativism).
Thus, there is an important distinction here between the reality of right and wrong and the knowability of right and wrong. Describing morality as being objective here is not the same thing as knowing moral claims are true. Gravity existed even before physicists discovered its existence. Likewise, morality existed even before there were ever humans on this planet. From the Christian point of view, this is because morality depends on God, and God has always existed, even before the creation of the world and human beings with it. Knowing whether something is true involves at least having a good reason for the belief something is true.
For example, one can know that it is wrong to violate another person’s rights because people have value, but people have value regardless of whether one knows this to be the case. It would be rather odd to think that people’s value depends on whether one knows people have value. Thus, metaethics investigates ethics itself and asks questions about the reality and knowability of right and wrong.
Consider first the atheistic worldview in relation to metaethics. Atheism states there is no personal creator that exists beyond the universe. For Atheism, the universe or the physical domain is all that exists. This means that most atheists are naturalists. Naturalists think the only things that exist are physical things like tables, rocks, and electrons. There are no ghosts, demons, gods, or souls. These are all nonphysical things and cannot exist in a naturalistic framework.
How might this affect an atheistic view of morality? For the atheist, morality must somehow depend on human beings because there is nothing beyond the world that forms the basis of morality. For atheists, the usual explanation for morality’s origin is human evolution. A common story is then told that as human beings evolved, they somehow learned to cooperate with one another to further each other’s long-term survival. Over time, people made agreements with each other that would further each other’s long-term self-interest. This resulted in the formation of societies and eventually civil societies. Because people cared about their survival—the central focus of evolution—civil society arose because it maintains members’ long-term survival through the means of mutual cooperation. According to this view, right and wrong came to exist simply because human persons began working together for the sake of survival (American Atheists, n.d.b).
Notice that, according to this view, morality is dependent on the forces of evolution and the beliefs, desires, and preferences of human beings agreeing to live a certain way. There is no independent source of morality that dictates what is right or wrong. And in order for individual people to want a civil society, there has to be something good about it in the first place. People, as individuals, must have recognized there is something independently good that makes them want to live in that society. Thus, one needs to presuppose that civil society is good before one agrees to live in it. Otherwise, how would one explain those parties whose preferences, beliefs, and desires were not to work together, but to dominate and rule over others at all cost? This story of evolution, then, does not adequately explain the basis for morality.
The Christian worldview, however, can appeal to God’s existence to explain the basis for morality. There is an independent source of goodness apart from physical creation that grounds morality—namely God. Morality is dependent on a perfectly good and loving God, not on human beings and the process of evolution. William Lane Craig (n.d.) makes this point writing,
If there is no God, then any ground for regarding the herd morality evolved by homo sapiens as objectively true seems to have been removed. After all, what is so special about human beings? They are just accidental by-products of nature which have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust lost somewhere in a hostile and mindless universe and which are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short time. (para. 17)
Craig is saying that only a being like God can provide the basis for the objectivity of morality. Evolution, on the other hand, has nothing to say about right or wrong. It cannot form the basis for the objectivity of morality. The “herd morality” (Craig, n.d., para. 10) is nothing more than what different hunter-gatherer tribes believed about the people of the tribe and how each person related to one another among the tribe. It had nothing to do with how one tribe should treat another tribe. It was merely about the self-interest and survival of a particular tribe.
Normative ethics is more straightforward about what makes actions right or wrong. Recall, the distinction was made between what is the case and what ought to be the case, or the is/ought distinction. Normative ethics deals with the ought part of this distinction and attempts to give an account of the correct moral system that establishes what one ought to do. Thus, if something is “normative” for someone, it means that this is something a person ought to do, otherwise they would be acting immorally. This has to do with the moral obligations and duties one has toward others.
There are several general theories that fall under this area of ethics. Utilitarianism is a theory that says that the consequences of an action are what make an action right or wrong. According to this theory, the “right” action would be trying to get the best possible consequences for the most amount of people, while the wrong action would be one that ends in bad consequences. By contrast, deontology is a theory that holds that what makes actions right or wrong are duties, principles, or rules. According to this view, actions are right and wrong in and of themselves, and the consequences of actions do not matter.
For example, most people think they have a duty to not lie or break a promise regardless of the consequences that may follow from doing so; however, imagine helping slaves escape to the North during the Civil War. Would it be wrong to lie to protect them if word got out of aiding them? A third theory, which is distinct from utilitarianism and deontology, is virtue theory, which holds that a person’s character is more important than both the consequences of an action or even duties and principles. According to this view, the right thing is not just a matter of getting good consequences or acting according to principles, but about becoming a virtuous person who acts out of genuine integrity. These are just some of the normative theories possible.
For any worldview, its normative views about how people ought to live morally will flow from its metaethical views about the reality and knowability of right and wrong. Consider then an example: Why ought a physician relieve the suffering of a patient? Or why ought people not be racist? Under atheism, given that all of reality is fundamentally physical and driven by the evolutionary drive for survival and reproduction, there does not exist an independent source of morality for how one ought to live besides evolutionary forces and the beliefs, preferences, and desires of human beings; however, this makes morality dependent on what human persons believe, think, or feel. Morality, then, becomes subjectively true. In this view, then, whether a physician ought to treat a suffering patient, or a person ought not to be racist depends on the subjective preferences of individual human beings or societies. Thus, the view that right and wrong depend on the subjective preferences of individuals or societies— as opposed to objective realities that transcend individuals or societies—is called moral relativism.
However, according to the Christian worldview, this world is created and designed by a good and loving God who is the transcendent source of goodness and love, making right and wrong objectively part of the very structure of the universe. It could not be the case, for example, that, at one period in time, slavery is morally right, but later it is morally wrong; or that in one society it is morally right to treat suffering patients, and in another society, it is wrong or optional to treat suffering patients based on socioeconomic status. Rather slavery was and always has been truly and objectively morally wrong, even if many did not recognize or believe it was wrong. In addition, treating patients who are suffering was and always has been truly and objectively morally right, even if many did not recognize or believe it was right.
To use an analogy, God’s universe has moral laws just like the universe has physical laws. These moral laws govern the behavior of his human creatures. God’s moral laws are normative for human beings in that they must live according to them. Just like humans must live according to the physical laws because they cannot be escaped, they must live according to God’s moral laws. Furthermore, as Creator, God has the authority to issue commands to his creatures, such as what one ought or ought not to do. Indeed, God is the creator of everything and is the one who brought the world into existence (Genesis 1:1), which gives God the right to issue commands to his creatures.
Applied ethics takes the conclusions of normative ethics and applies them to concrete situations, such as moral decisions in professional settings like medicine, business, and technology. Applied ethics tries to address important questions using the theories and ideas of ethics. For example, applied ethics would consider whether it wrong for a business operating overseas to bribe officials to get a building permit passed when that is the culture of many other parts of the world. Bioethics is one part of applied ethics that deals with the ethics of medicine and issues surrounding modern technology, such as human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research. For example, what should a person do when a loved one is on life support at a hospital and shows no signs of recovering? Should he or she “pull the plug,” as they say? Is it morally right to simply abort a fetus if it is very likely the fetus will have Down syndrome?
In regard to the atheist and Christian worldviews, the moral decisions that are made in real life will reflect the underlying worldviews. Thus, the subject matter of this text is ethical and spiritual decision making in health care from the Christian worldview. In order to understand such decision making, it is important to understand the foundations of Christian ethics.
Foundations of Christian Ethics
The previous section detailed all the ingredients that go into an ethical framework for one’s worldview. It highlighted what ethics is and what it is not, how ethics relates to human nature, and whether morality is objectively true. The following section builds on the previous by unpacking the Christian worldview in more detail. Specifically, the focus will be on what foundation the Christian worldview gives ethics and its explanation of the reality and knowability of right and wrong.
The Reality of Ethics—God’s Character as the Standard of Goodness in Scripture
The Christian worldview says that the reality behind morality is God; he is the ultimate standard of goodness. The Bible speaks of the goodness of God (Psalm 34:8; Luke 18:19; James 1:17), his lovingness (Numbers 14:18; Psalm 100:5; 1 John 4:8), mercifulness (Nehemiah 9:31; Ephesians 2:4), and justice (Deuteronomy 32:4; Romans 3:25–26). These traits refer to God’s character, displaying the qualities of what God is like. As Christian bioethicist Scott Rae (2009) puts it,
At its heart, Christian Ethics is a blend of both virtues and principles. Morality is ultimately grounded in the character of God—that is, the ultimate source of morality is not God’s commands but God’s character. The virtues, or character traits, that are made clear by God’s character and further clarified by Jesus’s character, are the ultimate foundation for morality from a Christian worldview. God’s commands are derived from his character. (p. 24)
Rae (2009) makes it evident that there is no other source of goodness apart from the character and being of God. Even God’s commands and the principles in the Bible themselves derive their goodness from God’s character. Thus, the objective reality behind right and wrong, which provides the ultimate standard of goodness and truth, is God himself.
While God’s character is primary because he is the source in reality of goodness and truth, it would not be very helpful for living life if human beings could not come to know God or his character. God and his character would still be a present reality, but if humans had no knowledge of him, it would be analogous to human beings who lived in the world with no knowledge of gravity or germ theory. These human beings might figure out ways of more or less getting along in the world without this knowledge, but the reality would nevertheless not change, and ignorance of this reality would likely lead to hardship, pain, suffering, and even death. Consider the person who ignores the reality of gravity and jumps off of a bridge or the person who comes into contact with the Ebola virus. Whether or not they believe or accept the reality of gravity or of viral infections, this reality will affect them.
The Knowability of Right and Wrong—Human Nature, the Bible and Natural Law
Fortunately, the Christian biblical narrative makes clear that the Triune God goes to great lengths to reveal himself and make himself known. Three things are true regarding the knowability of God and thus the knowability of right and wrong:
1. God created and designed human beings for the very purpose of knowing God.
2. God has revealed himself in a special and authoritative way through the Bible.
3. God has embedded into his creation a moral structure and design that can be discovered by anyone who is looking for it, whether they are religious or not.
Human Beings Created in the Image of God
Human creations can know what is right or wrong because they are created in God’s image, often referred to as the imago Dei. This means human beings bear certain marks of the divine in at least two ways: First, as discussed previously, they are created by design and with a purpose. Second, they have certain abilities, which include the use of reason and the ability to understand and grasp moral truth.
Explaining this further, God has designed human nature with a specific purpose and function such that it is oriented toward living a flourishing life. Flourishing does not preclude suffering and pain; indeed, God’s son, Jesus, was humiliated, beaten, and hung on a cross to die in order to reconcile the world back to God (Matthew 27: 24–56; John 3:16). Rather, a flourishing life is what Jesus called the abundant life (John 10:10). It is a grateful life filled with peace, joy, and serenity, even in the face of suffering and evil. In fact, many Christians experience suffering and persecution all over the world, and yet they flourish in their obedience and fidelity to Christ (Open Doors, n.d.).
It follows that morality is not a list of random rules or laws to make people feel guilty or to arbitrarily control them. On the contrary, right and wrong is just a description of how life ought to be lived; it is uniquely suited for human beings given the kind of things that they are. Acting immorally or against God’s standards would be akin to pouring chocolate milk into the gas tank of a Ferrari. Such action would destroy a perfectly good car because putting chocolate milk in the gas tank is treating it contrary to its design and purpose. Ferraris are not designed to run on chocolate milk. That is not the kind of thing that they are. In the same way, human beings are not the kind of thing that was meant to lie, cheat, steal, hurt others, or live apart from God. Positively, all persons were designed to function according to all of God’s commands and to reflect the characters traits and virtues of God, which include things such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23).
According to Christianity, barring disability or cognitive impairment, human beings were created with a mind that can reliably understand the world and what is right and wrong. The ability to think rationally and critically is a reflection of the image of God. Human beings are the only species who study things like philosophy, religion, and science. As discussed previously, ethics is not just a matter of feelings or emotions. While it certainly involves feelings and emotions, knowing right from wrong is still a rational activity. For Christianity, then, one’s human nature is tied to being moral and knowing what is right from wrong. This is essential to what a human being is (Besong, 2018). It is what makes human beings human. In addition to the design and purpose of human nature itself, God has provided two other sources for knowledge of right and wrong to rational beings created in his image: the Bible and natural law.
The Bible, a collection of 66 books comprised of the Old and New Testaments, is considered the sacred Word of God and a source of knowledge of right and wrong. The Bible is considered special revelation of God and his works for at least three reasons. First, it is special because God supernaturally inspired human authors to pen its contents, making it the most authoritative source of Christian morals and ethics (Horton 2011). The Bible serves as the primary authority and representative of God’s Word and will (Horton, 2011). Second, the Bible is considered special revelation because much, though not all, of its content includes truths that could not have been discovered by pure human reason. In other words, it contains truths that are beyond the limited intellectual ability of humans’ finite minds. Humans could not have known these truths by just thinking hard or doing science; rather, God has specially revealed them and made them known to human beings through the Bible. Third, it is special because it records the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who “is the radiance of the Glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). Thus, in the Bible, people can learn about the attributes, works, commands, character, and love of God.
While the Bible is the most authoritative source for knowledge of God and ethics, this does not mean that only Christians or those who accept the authority of the Bible can know right or wrong or live generally moral lives. The Bible is a special revelation, yet there is a more general revelation or source of knowledge of right and wrong that God has made known to all people, whether they are religious or not.
Natural law refers to moral rules or principles that are built into God’s creation. Such moral rules and principles are more general, can be known by all, and are not derived from Scripture. God’s universe operates according to moral rules and principles similar to how it operates according to physical rules. Everyone has the ability to know what these rules or principles are because everyone is created in the image of God and has a human nature.
Natural law is God’s general revelation of morality and expresses the most fundamental aspects of morality. It is called “natural law” because it is revealed through the natural world that God created and ordered, which includes human nature. Thus, the natural, created world is described as a source of knowledge in Psalm 104:14–15, and 24:
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart. … O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
Similarly, the Apostle Paul argues in Romans 2:1–16 that God has built into human nature a knowledge of the moral law such that those,
Who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires…even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them. (Romans 2:14–15)
Thus, human beings are equipped to understand basic moral rules that God has set up in his creation. One does not have to be a Christian or religious to know that premeditated murder is wrong or that actions like rape or genocide are morally abhorrent; it is evident that these things are wrong because such moral truths are built into God’s creation and “written on the human heart” (Romans 2:14–15).
Natural law should not be confused with naturalism, which says that only physical things exist. Naturalism would rule out God’s existence entirely. It is important to recognize that natural law has some limits. For starters, natural law does not lay out all of what God has for human beings in Scripture. Natural law may tell people that it is wrong to violate another person’s rights, but it will not tell people their need for salvation from their sins.
Additionally, because of the fall of mankind in Genesis, human beings are marred by sin. Sin distorts one’s ability to always know what is right from wrong or even want to do the right thing. Sin does not make it impossible to know about morality, but it does bring confusion with it. For example, sin distorts humankind’s effort to understand their need for reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ. Often, human beings think they can save themselves through human will and effort, without God, to overcome their deficiencies in life. Scripture shows this is deeply mistaken because human beings are tainted by sin and do not have the ability to reconcile themselves to God solely through human effort.
To sum up Christian metaethics, the foundation for the reality of ethics is the being and character of God. God himself is the standard of goodness, beauty, and truth. The knowability of this reality involves the fact that God created and designed human individuals to know him and provided two other sources of knowledge of right and wrong: the Bible and natural law. What exactly then does the Bible teach about what is actually good and bad, right and wrong, and how human beings ought to live?
Christian Normative Ethics
Human beings were created to know and love God in perfect relationship to him. More than that, they were meant to reflect the character and goodness of God in all of life. This is a description of the way things ought to be. Yet sin and the fall broke the intimate relationship with God and corrupted the character and heart of all humanity. In effect, sin and the fall are not the way it’s supposed to be. The Bible teaches that human beings ought to live in obedience to the commands of God and be transformed in their character to reflect the goodness of God.
In the Old Testament, morality is primarily connected to Old Testament Law or the first five books of the Old Testament, called the Pentateuch. This is summed up in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1–17), which form the foundation for the Old Testament Law. It is important to realize that there was no difference between law and morality in the Old Testament. In its history, Israel was a theocracy, which meant they were governed by the law of God in all aspects of their lives. Today, many governments, such as democracies, are governed by the rule of law, which comes from the will of the people, many of whom may or may not be religious. Such societies may be considered to be pluralistic in nature. As Scott Rae (2009) points out, “All morality was legislated. No distinction was made between law and morality, as one could find in a pluralistic society” (p. 30).
While the New Testament still focuses on the law of the Old Testament, it places more emphasis on virtues rather than principles. Virtues are those character traits that have to do with one becoming a certain kind of person. In the New Testament, one becomes more like Christ as a result of taking on the mind of Christ and his attitudes. For example, in Philippians 2:1–5, Paul writes that Christians are to have the mind of Christ and emulate the virtues of Christ, specifically Christ’s humility. One of the main virtues displayed in the New Testament is love. For example, when responding to a question about what the greatest commandment is, Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment” (Matthew 22:37–38). The Apostle Paul focuses on the true nature of love in 1 Corinthians 13, listing of all the characteristics of true love.
Virtue Ethics and Christianity
In ancient Greek philosophy, character traits such as compassion, intellect, and temperance referred to what Aristotle called virtue. Hence, an area of ethics called virtue ethics is often traced back to him. Aristotle thought that achieving virtue was the highest good for humans. For Aristotle, this is what determines right and wrong; to act wrongly is to fail to act in accordance with virtue, and to act rightly is to act in accordance with virtue (Aristotle, trans. 1998).
It is likely that Aristotle thought that goodness is something impersonal and abstract, whereas the Christian worldview sees God’s character as the standard of goodness, which is not something impersonal and abstract. According to the Christian worldview, to be virtuous is to act according to God’s standard of goodness and to become like the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus showed the way by fulfilling the law and dying in the place of sinful humans so that his followers could have the power to become loving and compassionate people. Aristotle, however, thought that human intellect and reason were enough for people to teach themselves that it is better to live according to virtue than not. The human condition is such that it does not have the ability to do this alone; God must come into a person’s life and restore it from the inside out. This is what virtue means from a Christian perspective.
In both the Old and New Testaments, it is clear that the commands given and the virtues described fundamentally reflect the character and goodness of God himself. In Exodus 20:1, right before God lays out the Ten Commandments, God said, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Here, the emphasis is placed on what God is like and then the commandments are given. Similarly, in the New Testament, during his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The principle to be perfect is based on God being perfect. This is not an exhaustive list, but it suggests that the commands and virtues presented in the Bible are good because their source is a compassionate and loving God.
Jesus summed up the Ten Commandments by noting that loving one’s neighbor was the “first and greatest” commandment (Matthew 22:37–38). The source of Jesus’ love is God’s everlasting love. All goodness and righteousness flow out of God’s love. In fact,
1 John 4 makes clear that the Christian God is more than just good or perfect in the sense of having never done anything wrong:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love…Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
In addition, the Bible speaks about the place of the most vulnerable in society. This has to do with justice toward those who are poor, weak, or oppressed. God is deeply concerned about how the poor and the weak of society are treated. In many of the Psalms, God is described as the rescuer of the poor and oppressed (Psalm 10:16–18; 35:10; 72:12–14: 82:2–4; 103:6; 140:12; 146:5–9). Interestingly, in the Old Testament (Isaiah 1:21–23; Jeremiah 5:26–29; Ezekiel 22:6–13, 29), a sign of spiritual decline in a society is a lack of care for the poor and weak primarily because that society has “given itself over to idolatry, a key evidence of which is institutional injustice” (Rae, 2009 p. 38). As for the New Testament, there are numerous instances of caring for the poor and vulnerable (Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:1–7; 9: 1–15; James 2:1–13).
A crucial aspect of the Bible’s teaching about morality is the person of the Holy Spirit. God’s spirit is evident throughout Scripture with more of an emphasis in the New Testament. The Holy Spirit helps Christian believers live in obedience to the commands of God such that they grow spiritually (John 13–17), produce the “fruit of the spirit” (Galatians 5:16, 22–23), and live sanctified lives (Romans 8). Without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Christian believers’ lives, the church would be a hollow religious structure, not a vital spiritual lifeline.
In God’s kingdom morality is not about arbitrary rules or laws, but about something deeper; it is about becoming more like the person of Jesus. Human flourishing means becoming more like Jesus and being transformed in one’s desires and motivations. This requires living a life of virtue through the power of God and the work of Jesus Christ who modeled an ethic of love, which is ultimately based upon God’s character.
Case Study: Facing an Ethical Decision
Imagine working in a hospital as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). A patient 26 weeks pregnant comes in complaining of strong abdominal pains. It turns out the patient is having strong contractions and delivers the baby early. The baby is alive and immediately placed in the NICU. The doctors realize that the baby has a rare brain lesion that is causing part of the skull to be exposed. The doctors do not think the baby will live a normally functioning life when fully developed due to the brain lesion. The doctors believe the baby could survive at the very most for two to three years if the lesion does not grow larger. As the doctors consult with the mother and the family, the mother makes the painful decision to end the life of the baby. Her reasoning is that it will not experience any quality of life and may die eventually. As a nurse on call, you are asked to help perform the procedure to end the baby’s life.
Now, suppose you are a Christian who values the sanctity of life or even from a different religion that values the sanctity of life. If you object to performing the procedure, you could potentially lose your job, but if you do not object, you could be violating your religious beliefs. Using what you now know of ethics and its relationship to a Christian worldview, address how you would respond.
Christian Worldview Responses
1. From a Christian perspective, is it ethically wrong to end the life of a 26-week old baby in this condition, based upon doctor recommendations?
2. In light of the presentation of ethics, how would someone who holds a virtue ethic respond? How would an atheist logically defend his or her actions based on their worldview?
1. Possible responses:
a. Because Christians believe in the sanctity of life and that all people are made in the image of God, then yes, morally speaking, it would be wrong to end an innocent life. Quality of life indications may be part of the medical decision-making process, but they never do away with or change the intrinsic value and dignity of human life.
b. Medical indications that a condition is terminal, likely terminal, or will result in severe disability create some of the most difficult and painful decisions in health care. In these situations, quality of life factors may influence the program of treatment or perhaps call for varying levels of palliative care. Comforting the sick, suffering, and dying is at the heart of the Christian call to love one’s neighbor. Nevertheless, loving one’s neighbor would never include the intentional termination of innocent life. Thus, while the Christian is called to be present and provide comfort and care in the midst of suffering and death, terminating such a pregnancy would not be justified according to the Christian ethic.
2. Possible responses:
2. Because much of morality is dependent on the mutual agreements of the interests of the members of society in an atheistic worldview, what is normative or right or wrong depends on what the social norms of society are. The social norms say that it is morally permissible to end the life of the baby if the baby will not experience much quality of life, but more pain and suffering.
2. A person who holds a virtue ethic would wonder what the virtuous thing to do is. Acting virtuously is acting like some model examples of virtuous people, such as Jesus, Gandhi, or Mother Teresa. It is doubtful that Jesus or Mother Teresa would be acting virtuously by ending the life of the baby. It is unclear what Gandhi thought of such scenarios, but perhaps he would have thought it would be compassionate to alleviate the suffering of a person who may not experience much quality of life. Or at least that is one way a virtue ethicist could argue.
Challenges to Moral Knowledge
A presentation of the different ways to have moral knowledge from a Christian perspective assumes that right and wrong exist and that it is actually possible to have knowledge of right and wrong. This is an extremely reasonable assumption to make, yet there are two philosophies that essentially deny this. The influence of scientism and postmodern relativism on contemporary society is the topic of this section. Both deny that one can have objective knowledge of right and wrong; however, both come with their own set of problems.
Scientism is the view that the best or only way to have any knowledge of reality is by means of the sciences (Moreland & Craig, 2003). To many, this statement seems to be obviously true and common sense; however, a closer look is needed. Scientism is a philosophy about what can and cannot be known; it claims that whatever is not properly scientific cannot be known, or perhaps does not even exist so that it could be known. It follows that the only way to hold true beliefs about anything is to know them scientifically. It is crucial to note that scientism is not the same thing as science.
Science is a good and powerful way of coming to knowledge of the world. Science’s focus on careful empirical observation, testability, and other well-known features have allowed humanity to travel to the moon, eradicate certain diseases, and develop nuclear technology. Nevertheless, scientism is not science; rather it is a philosophy about the nature and limits of science and what human beings can know.
If scientism were true, it follows that either knowledge of right and wrong would have to be scientific knowledge, or right and wrong cannot be known at all because they would not be scientific in category. However, scientism is false for at least two reasons:
1. Science has clear limits, and
2. Scientism is a self-refuting philosophy.
First, while science is a powerful way of gaining knowledge of the natural world, science is limited and is not the only way of gaining knowledge. For example, two of the many limitations of science is that it cannot be used to determine anything about ethics or how one ought to use the results of science (Understanding Science, n.d.). Recall the is/ought distinction presented earlier. Science falls into the category of is and is wonderful at describing the way things are, but it has no authority to tell people what they ought to do morally. Science cannot tell people whether or not they ought to love their spouses, keep their promises, or give to the poor. Even when it comes to ethical issues that involve science, science cannot determine what the right thing to do would be.
For example, science might be able to describe the nasty effects of a terminal disease on a person or explain the state of a person’s brain if that person is in a vegetative state, but science cannot determine whether euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide is good, bad, right, or wrong. Science also cannot determine how scientific data and results ought to be used. Science might enable the discovery of chemical processes or structures, but science cannot determine whether these discoveries ought to be used for creating biotechnology to engineer human DNA. Should the results of scientific research be used to create bioweapons for military purposes? Such questions are beyond the bounds of what science can answer.
Second, the proposition of scientism itself is contradictory because it cannot be proven scientifically. Philosophers call such propositions self-refuting because they invalidate themselves by definition, similar to someone claiming, “I cannot speak a word of English,” while speaking English. In trying to assert these statements, one is contradicting oneself. Remember scientism is not science; it is a philosophical thesis that claims that science is the only methodology to gain knowledge and that every other claim to knowledge is either mere opinion or false. According to Nicholas Rescher, “to take this stance [of scientism] is not to celebrate science but to distort it” (as cited in Moreland & Craig, 2003).
Scientism has wide-ranging negative effects in culture. Not only is science distorted, but when blindly accepted, scientism also denigrates the status of both ethics and religion.
Consider philosopher J.P. Moreland’s (2018) analysis:
[according to scientism] scientific knowledge is vastly superior to what we can know from any other discipline. Ethics and religion may be acceptable but only if they are understood to be inherently subjective and regarded as matters of opinion. According to scientism, the claim that ethical and religious conclusions can be just as factual as science, and therefore ought to be affirmed like scientific truths, may be a sign of bigotry and intolerance. (p. 26)
Moreland (2018) points out that if one accepts scientism, ethics and religion become merely subjective, private opinion, not objective knowledge about the world. This view of ethics and religion is the called postmodern relativism.
If one were to do a Google search of the term postmodernism , a variety of different definitions would come up involving fields such as architecture, literature, and art. For the purposes of this text, postmodernism is defined as a broad philosophical view that denies that one can have objective knowledge or truth about the world. Relativism is a subcategory of postmodernism that claims that anything called “truth” will simply be a matter of subjective preference, opinion, or perhaps the creation of cultures and societies. Every claim about the nature of reality is simply relative to either an individual’s preference or the beliefs of a society/culture. Another way to put this is to say that truth is invented by people—whether it is individuals or entire societies—instead of being discovered. According to this way of thinking, there is not genuine truth to be had or known, only subjective opinions or beliefs.
While certain questions—such as what is the best flavor of ice cream—are no doubt matters of subjective opinion, not all questions are; some questions are about objective truth and the real world, not simply matters of subjective opinion. Postmodern relativism thinks that truth functions like one’s favorite flavor of ice cream. Because flavor is truly relative to one’s preferences or tastes, there really is no objective truth about what the best flavor of ice cream is for all persons. In the same way, according to postmodern relativism, there is no objective truth about what is right or wrong; truth is left up to an individual’s or a culture’s beliefs, desires, and preferences.
This is most clearly seen when moral or ethical propositions about right or wrong are considered. It would be a serious mistake to claim that the propositions “murder is wrong” or “racism is evil” are mere subjective matters of opinion; however, that is what relativism implies. If all truth, including morality, is simply a human invention, then there is no standard for genuine truth, and it follows that there is no genuine right or wrong. This is false. Whether the Nazi party, made up of thousands of individuals, believed that killing 6 million Jews was a good thing, they were genuinely wrong. But it is not possible to be wrong unless there is genuine objective truth to be known.
The problematic nature of scientism and postmodern relativism is why understanding one’s worldview matters. Having this understanding allows one to get better insight on how to categorize reality and gives a proper foundation, which is ideal when considering how one’s worldview relates to such things as medicine and health care.
Resurrection and Moral Order in Medicine
The crux of the Christian worldview is Jesus’ resurrection. None of what Jesus did matters if he did not truly rise from the dead. It is the miraculous event that demonstrated Jesus was who he proclaimed to be. This is why the cornerstone of Christianity is Christ’s death and resurrection. In writing to the Corinthian churches (1 Corinthians 15), the Apostle Paul presents an argument that without Christ’s resurrection, the Christian faith does not make any sense; it is futile or in vain according to Paul. If Christ did not rise from the dead, then the Christian faith is meaningless (1 Corinthians 15:14). Paul, then, connects the resurrection of Christ to the fact that those who believe in Christ will rise from the dead, too. Christianity is all about the restoration of God’s creation. The restoration process means God is working to make things be at peace, both internally in each person, and in the larger, visible things of the world. God’s creation will undergo a transformation process where old things pass away, and all things become new. The New Testament describes this state as a “new heaven(s) and a new earth” (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1).
The new Heaven(s) and Earth, however, clearly refer to a future state. In the current state, God’s restoration is both continually beginning and always occurring. It will be brought to completion at this future and permanent state. The current restoration taking place is for those who have been reconciled to God based on the work of Christ on the cross and his death and resurrection. Reconciliation has to do with restoring peace between human beings and God after the fall. God’s perfect, life-giving and life-sustaining moral order will then be established where everyone can live in peaceful existence. In this time and place, there will be nothing in all of creation that will bring harm or death to human beings ever again.
In the Christian worldview, medical technology is considered a good gift from God insofar as God has created the kind of world that has a structure that can be discovered and manipulated to bring about good for human beings (Rae & Cox, 1999). However, for many in modern society, medicine is often seen as the true savior of life’s ills. Without it, people could not live the lives they want to live. With the rise of new medical technologies, medical interventions, and advancement in medical research, the human body can live much longer than previously anticipated. This is a great good that medicine can offer. Nevertheless, medicine has not been able to cure everything, including death and dying. Of course, according to Christianity, things are not supposed to be that way. When God establishes a new Heaven(s) and Earth, the whole of creation will be restored including one’s physical body. The hurt, pain, and suffering will be no more, as believers in God will also be resurrected with new bodies, experiencing fellowship with the God of the universe. Christ’s death and resurrection are a sign that there is now peace with God on earth as well as a sign that there will be peace with God in the new Heaven(s) and Earth through one’s own resurrection. Christ’s resurrection resulted in bringing sustaining and everlasting peace to all.
The relationship between Christianity and medicine reveals something very different about the approach Christianity takes to applied ethics. A Christian applied ethic takes seriously the idea that God cares deeply about dignity of life. Both the physical and spiritual are unified in the human body and should be treated with proper and due respect. Thus, issues such as the sanctity of life, the ethics of physician-assisted suicide, and the ethics of medicine in general matter a great deal from the point of view of a Christian applied ethic. Furthermore, a Christian applied ethic thinks there are objective answers to some of the challenging questions because there is objective moral knowledge.
Not all worldviews are the same and some will differ in how they address these issues. Of course, this does not mean it is easy. Christians need to do excellent work to demonstrate the moral considerations brought to bear on these issues. It just means that a Christian applied ethic will have a much different approach.
According to Christian ethics, God’s character is the foundation of ethics. This primarily means that because God is essentially good, God’s moral law is essentially good. The rightness or wrongness of God’s commands issue from God’s good nature. God set up the universe in a purposeful and orderly way that operates on natural law. These are God’s moral laws that are part of God’s general revelation which everyone can know and understand. This is because human beings are uniquely created with the innate knowledge and understanding of what is right and wrong based on their human nature. Christianity is first and foremost about becoming more like Christ, forming one’s character from the inside out. Scientism and postmodern relativism are two hindrances to this innate moral knowledge and understanding, as they each lead to a contradiction.
The thread that ties Christian ethics together with medicine is Jesus’ resurrection and God’s establishing reconciliation through his son, Jesus. This reconciliation will be completed when all those believers are resurrected and commune with the God of the universe in the new Heaven(s) and Earth.
This chapter has described the importance of holding a clear, coherent, and practical worldview. A worldview is the intellectual and philosophical lens through which one views and makes decisions about the meaning of existence, the nature of the universe, and one’s life and purpose. It provides meaning and purpose to help one live a good and productive life. Three worldviews were considered:
1. Atheism: the belief system which is defined by the lack of a deity. This worldview views the universe using naturalism, the understanding that the physical world alone constitutes what is real. There is no creator and humans create their own morality.
2. Pantheism: the belief that God and nature are one and the same, such that nature is god. In this view, God grows and changes as the world changes.
3. Theism: there is a God, and God created all that is. There is one God (rather than multiple gods). Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are examples of theistic religions.
Six worldview questions were considered, which assist in determining one’s worldview:
1. What is ultimate reality?
2. What is the nature of the universe?
3. What is a human being?
4. What is knowledge?
5. What is the basis of one’s ethics?
6. And what is the purpose of one’s existence?
Because it is vital to test one’s worldview to ensure that it is clear, reasonable, and functional, three worldview tests were discussed:
1. The coherence test examines whether a worldview holds together internally so that answers to the worldview questions or other aspects do not cause contradictions.
2. The correspondence test considers whether a worldview matches reality. Does it fit with how the world actually operates? Does it match what one experiences in the world?
3. The practical test asks how one’s worldview works in the world. This is the test of whether a worldview gives its holder satisfaction and hope. If a worldview brings hopelessness and despair, or cannot answer the deepest questions of life, then it is not practical.
The foundations of Christianity were discussed through the examination of key concepts, such as the Trinity, incarnation, and atonement. These concepts are foundational to the Christian worldview, help Christians understand and interpret events in the world, and provide answers to the six worldview questions. The key to understanding Christian spirituality and the Christian worldview is the Christian narrative .
The Christian narrative provides an overview of life and, again, provides answers to the worldview questions. Through an understanding of the four parts of the Christian narrative—creation, fall, redemption, and restoration—Christians understand who they are, why they are here, what went wrong with the world, and how the world will be made right again. All of these elements make up a worldview that passes the three worldview tests and provides a trustworthy understanding of life and its events.
At the end of this chapter, two sections were presented, revolving around the nature of ethics and its relationship to Christianity. The first section presented the difference between what ethics is and is not. It is not about one’s cultural attitudes, tradition, or what the law says. Ethics may inform these, but it is not the same as them. The is/ought distinction and human nature were also used as examples to explain the substantive nature of ethics.
Then, the three fields of ethics were presented. Metaethics dealt with questions about the nature of ethics such as whether morality is objective or not. Normative ethics dealt with the systematic moral principles that govern human behavior. And lastly, applied ethics dealt with how normative ethical principles are applied to concrete moral contexts, stem-cell research for example, or to any situation where right and wrong must be determined.
Ethics is a challenging but rewarding field. It applies to so many areas of life, it is easy to see how it applies in the world of medicine. From addressing issues of the objectivity of ethics to why certain ethical principles ought to be followed, to even how one knows right from wrong, ethics touches almost every aspect of life. The rewarding part of ethics is seeing how much deeper it is than things like culture, etiquette, or law. Most have a strong sense of what is right and wrong, but sometimes societal or cultural standards cast confusion on what is right or wrong. The pressure to conform to society becomes very strong even if some of the principles appear to be wrong.
This is why having a strong ethical foundation that allows for the possibility of moral knowledge matters. Christianity and its ethical framework rooted in the character of God provides such a foundation. God’s character forms the basis of ethics and human beings created in the image of God have the ability to come to know right from wrong through the Scripture and natural law. Scientism and postmodernism do not help clear up confusion. Scientism makes knowledge of things like morality, God, and historical facts impossible to know while postmodernism denies morality is objectively true. These factors create forces that are problematic for anyone. This is why understanding one’s worldview matters. It provides a foundation that allows one to get better insight on how to categorize reality.
In the final part of the chapter, the relationship between medicine and Christian ethics was presented. Christianity affirms the great good and benefit of medicine; however, medicine cannot cure death and dying, and it cannot address the spiritual needs of patients no matter how much it tries. Because of the resurrection of Jesus, both of these can be addressed. The present period addresses the spiritual needs of the patient who needs peace and reconciliation through God’s salvation work in history. The future period addresses the resurrection of believers and peace in a new Heaven(s) and Earth when all things are made new.
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Shafer-Landau, R. (2017) The fundamentals of ethics. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Applied Ethics: A part of ethics that applies the normative ethical theories and ideas to concrete moral situations such as bioethics, business ethics, and even journalistic ethics. Such issues applied ethics tries to address include ethics of embryonic stem-cell research, businesses exploiting employees, and conflicts of interest between news media outlets and their advertisers.
Atheism: (from the combination of A meaning “no” and theism meaning “of God”) A worldview, the central feature of which is a lack of belief in a deity. Atheism stands in contrast to theism. The philosophy of scientism tends to be atheistic, especially when it claims that knowledge is gained only through empirical evidence can be considered true. It denies the existence of God.
Atonement: A part of the section of the Christian narrative called redemption. Sin caused a breach between God and humanity. The work of Christ on the cross placed on him the punishment of our sin. Also known as substitutionary atonement, which occurred when Christ took the punishment due to humanity because of the condemnation of sin. The punishment for sin is death, eternal separation from God. Out of pure love and mercy, God sent his Son to take the punishment for all sin upon himself, essentially removing all condemnation. Jesus was a pure sacrifice and upon him the punishment of death fell. Through his death, humanity, by putting their trust in Jesus and what he has done, will be redeemed.
Bioethics: A part of ethics that is particularly concerned with the issues raised by modern technology, such as stem-cell research and human cloning. It also deals with the ethics of medicine and ethical issues in the life sciences.
Character: Features of individual persons that refer to good qualities, such as kindness, love, and mercy, or bad qualities, such as slothfulness, gluttony, and anger. These qualities affect the whole person in motivation, thoughts, desires, and an inner sense of well-being. They have to do with the inner being of the person not merely outer behavior.
Christian Narrative: The overarching Christian understanding of all of life. The Christian narrative contains four sections: creation, the fall, redemption, and restoration.
Coherence Test: The test of whether a worldview holds together internally so that one aspect does not contradict another.
Correspondence Test: The test of whether a worldview matches reality and fits with how the world actually operates.
Creation: The action of God creating all that is out of nothing.
Deism: The belief that a God exists who created all that is; however, this God is not involved with the ongoing rule or operation of the universe. God is not knowable or available for a relationship with human beings.
Epistemology: A branch of philosophy that is the study of knowledge. This includes examining the ways of knowing what is known and by what means knowledge was gained. Theists hold that revealed and discovered knowledge is gained from God who reveals himself both through sacred texts and the world. An atheist might claim that all knowledge is gained from empirical evidence and human reason.
Essence: The essence of something or someone is its intrinsic nature. The essence of God, for example, is spirit.
Ethics: A branch of philosophy that provides a systematic understanding of concepts of right and wrong, principles of moral behavior, and the intentions and actions of moral agents. Christian ethics decides what is right and wrong based on standards established by God. From the Christian worldview, ethics considers the question: What does God, whose character and standards are revealed through the Bible, conclude is right or wrong about a particular action.
Image of God: (Latin, imago Dei) The Christian doctrine explaining that all human beings, regardless of age, race, gender, religion, or any other qualifier, were created in God’s image and therefore possess inherent worth. This understanding is grounded in the biblical creation account in the book of Genesis that describes Adam and Eve, the first human beings, as created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27). Theologians have understood the imago Dei to be related to a variety of human attributes including rationality, sociality, moral agency, and spirituality; however, the significance of the imago Dei lies not in these properties, but rather in the inherent value of human beings.
Immanence: God’s interaction and closeness to the created order and the people in it. Christians hold that God’s immanence is demonstrated when the Son of God became a human being and lived as a man.
Incarnation: The act of God becoming a human being in Jesus Christ. In the incarnation, the second person of the Godhead, the Son, left his place in heaven and came to earth, born of a young woman named Mary, in the city of Bethlehem. The incarnation is a part of the redemption of human beings. Jesus grew to adulthood and atoned for the sins of humanity by his death on the cross.
Is/Ought: A distinction that indicates that there are two kinds of facts: those that state what is the case and those that state what one ought to do. For example, scientific facts describe what is the case about reality, whereas moral facts tell one what one morally ought to do.
Knowledge: The information about the world, who and what people are, how people are to live in terms of morals and ethics, how humanity came to exist, and where humanity is going.
Metaphysics: The field of study related to the nature of existence. Metaphysics asks questions about what kinds of things exist and the nature of existence.
Monotheism: The belief in one God.
Natural Law: The view that God set up the universe in an orderly and purposeful way. God’s human creatures are created to act in a meaningful and purposeful way. Human beings have a specific nature that guides and directs them to function in the right way. This right way is how God set up the universe with purposeful intention and design. When human beings operate outside the bounds of God’s law, there are repercussions and consequences. For example, if one engages in a repetitively harmful activity, such as doing drugs, one may become addicted and harm themselves. To be distinguished from naturalism, which is the distinct view that excludes things such as God, souls, or the nonphysical from nature.
Naturalism/Physicalism: A metaphysical viewpoint that understands the world, including human beings, as consisting of only physical matter. This view excludes the possibility of nonphysical elements such as souls, God, or a spiritual realm. Any seeming occurrence of nonphysical phenomena would be considered merely an illusion rather than a substantive reality. In this view, the physical world is the only source of reliable knowledge or truth.
Normative Ethics: A branch of ethics regarding what makes actions right or wrong. It attempts to give an account of the correct moral system that establishes what one ought to do. Thus, if something is “normative” for someone, it means that this is something a person ought to do, otherwise they would be acting immorally. Utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue theory are examples of normative ethical theories.
Objective Morality: Standards of right and wrong that apply to all people, everywhere, at all times.
Objective Truth: Truth that comes from an outside authority and applies to all people in all times and places. For example, the statement, “Murdering innocent people is wrong for everyone in every time and place.” In contrast, subjective knowledge is true only for the individual or for a particular group which has agreed upon the truth in question. We hear subjective knowledge in the statement, “That may be true for you, but not for me.”
Omnipotent: The Christian belief that God is all-powerful and may exercise his power in ways that please him. There is no limit to God’s power.
Omnipresent: The Christian belief that God is everywhere in the universe at all times. God is not limited to a specific location like human beings.
Omniscient: The Christian belief that God is all-knowing. God possesses all knowledge at all times. This includes knowledge of the universe and the living creatures therein.
Pantheism: The view that God and nature or the material world are one and the same. This comes from the Greek words pan and theos which mean “all,” and “God” respectively.
In the view of pantheism, a tree and God are one; they do not only work together, they are identical. In other words, nature is god. According to pantheism, trees and rivers are deities. In the pantheistic worldview, God is nature, such that God’s action is simply the natural operations of nature.
Polytheism: The belief in more than one God.
Postmodernism: The broad philosophical view that denies that one can have objective knowledge or truth about the world. Relativism is a subcategory of postmodernism that claims that anything called “truth” will simply be a matter of subjective preference, opinion, or perhaps the creation of cultures and societies. Every claim about the nature of reality is simply relative to either an individual’s preference, or the beliefs of a society/culture. In other words, whether it is individuals or entire societies, people invent the truth rather than the truth of being discovered.
Practical Test: The test of whether a worldview gives its holder satisfaction and hope. If a worldview brings hopelessness and despair or cannot answer the deepest questions of life, then it is not practical.
Redemption: The act of God who sent his Son, the second person of the Trinity to come into the world as a man named Jesus. Jesus allowed the punishment for sin to fall on himself, thereby freeing humanity to be restored to a right and loving relationship with God.
Relativism: The view that truth is not objective, but depends on the attitudes, beliefs, preferences, desires, and tastes of individuals or their cultures. This means truth is subjective. For example, whether one has cancer or not is an objective truth. If one has cancer, believing or desiring it to go away does not make it true that one does not have it. Relativism does not treat truth like that. The truth of something is dependent on what a culture believes, prefers, or desires.
Restoration: The restoration will occur at the end of human history when God makes the universe whole again. Everything will be made new and perfect as in the original Garden of Eden. This will be a time of great celebration. No longer will sin, sickness, suffering, and death taint human existence. This is what Christians refer to as eternal life or Heaven.
Resurrection: The act of God raising Jesus from the dead three days after his crucifixion. Christ’s resurrection demonstrates his power over death and guarantees that his followers will also be raised after death to live forever with him.
Scientism: The view that science is the best and only way to know things about the world. It says that in order to know something one must assess it only through the methods of science. For example, if one wanted to know whether God exists, scientism would say that this can only be determined only through what sciences such as physics, chemistry, or biology can reveal.
Scripture: The sacred texts that make up the Christian Bible: Old Testament and New Testament. This is the highest authority for Christians.
Sin: The state in which every person is born and lives, until redeemed by Christ. Any act of rebellion or disobedience against God, his ways, commandments, and character. Sin separates humans from God and puts them under judgment.
Spirituality: Spirituality is a dynamic and intrinsic aspect of humanity through which persons seek ultimate meaning, purpose, and transcendence, and experience relationship to self, family, others, community, society, nature, and to the significant or sacred. Spirituality is expressed through beliefs, values, traditions, and practices. This search for meaning in life is often found beyond physical reality and may include religious beliefs. Christian spirituality is the discovery of life’s meaning through a personal relationship with God as revealed in the Bible.
Subjective Truth: Truth that is subject to the interpretation of the individual. It does not apply to all people in all places and times, but rather, because it is the creation of an individual person or culture, it applies only to an individual person or culture.
The Fall: The occasion when the first human beings rebelled against God and decided to live according to their own will and ways. This is called sin, and this act fractured the relationship between God and humanity. Through their sin, the first created human beings brought suffering and death into the world. They also brought upon themselves punishment of eternal separation from God by which all humanity has inherited their fallen spiritual DNA.
Theism: The belief in a God who is approachable, with whom human beings are in relationship, and to whom the human beings are accountable. Christianity, for example, is a theistic religion. Christians hold that humans are accountable to the God found in the Bible and with whom they may have, particularly through Jesus Christ, a personal, saving relationship. Theism stands in contrast to Atheism.
Transcendence: The existence of God beyond the universe and his independence from all of the physical world.
Trinity: The Christian comprehension of one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is one in essence with divine attributes. The three persons of the Trinity possess the same divine essence. The three persons work in unity, while holding distinct personhood. The three persons of the Godhead work together in perfect harmony in the creation, redemption, and restoration of the world, including the redemption of human beings.
Ultimate Reality: The location or source of life’s meaning and purpose. Ultimate reality pertains to what is truly real and what truly exists. For Christians, ultimate reality is found in God. God is the foundation of existence, having created all that is. This means that, for Christians, ultimate truth about existence comes from God. For the atheist, ultimate reality might be human reason or the human conscience; there is no outside source of objective reality. For an atheist, human beings, by default, become the highest authority as to what is real and what actually exists.
Virtue Ethics: A normative ethical view that states what is right or wrong is a function of a virtuous character. A virtuous character is where the whole person is aiming at those good or bad qualities one should have. Either one is aiming at what is good, such as achieving human happiness or human flourishing, or one is aiming at what is bad such as achieving slothfulness or bitterness. The idea is that morality has to do with more than just outward behavior, it has to do with the whole being of the person, desires, thoughts, motivations and all. The most famous virtue theorist was the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle.
Worldview: The intellectual/philosophical lens through which humans understand and interpret existence and the events of life, which provides meaning and purpose for one’s being.