Foreword for David Baggett and Marybeth Baggett, The Morals of the Story: Good News about a Good God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2018)
Malcolm Muggeridge said that the depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable fact, even as it is the most intellectually resisted. In that one statement he summed up an inescapable reality as it comes up against an “impenetrable” human pride. The truth is that our own capacity for self-deception proves the ends to which the human mind can play tricks when running from God. The quest for explaining the human condition continues, but oftentimes we do not like the destination to which we are driven because we hate to give up our autonomy.
The fact is if a worldview is to be justified, then it must not only meet the tests for truth in correspondence and coherence but also ultimately have a meaningful explanatory power of the undeniable realities of life. One of those realities is the existence of morality; that is, a moral law. If we want our lives to flourish, we must pause first to consider such deep questions, for in truth, they are inescapable.
As human beings, we have the capacity to feel with moral implications, to exercise the gift of imagination, and to think in paradigms. We make judgments, rightly or wrongly, according to the way we each individually view or interpret the world around us. Even if we do not agree with each other on what ought to be, we recognize that there must be—and that there is—an “ought.” For example, we all ought to behave in certain ways or else we cannot get along, which is why we have laws. In short, we ascribe to ourselves freedom with boundaries.
When we assume an “ought”—a distinction between right and wrong—we assume a moral law. And when we assume a moral law, we assume a moral law-giver. You may ask, “Why does assuming a moral law necessitate a moral lawgiver?” Because every time the question of morality, such as the problem of evil, is raised, it is raised either by a person or about a person—and that implicitly assumes that as persons we have intrinsic worth and therefore the question is a worthy one. That intrinsic worth cannot be prescribed if we are merely an accident of evolutionary processes bereft of an ultimate purpose. By contrast, the only reason people have intrinsic worth is that they are the creations of One who is of ultimate worth. That person is God.
In a nutshell, positing a moral law without a moral lawgiver would be equivalent to raising the question of values while denying any value to the questioner or the object of the questioner. As such, the question self-destructs for the naturalist or the pantheist who denies God’s existence or humanity’s essential dignity and worth. The question of morality can only be justified within the theistic framework, as David and Marybeth Baggett so ably argue.
The authors show throughout their book how “Christian theism can explain a wide range of moral phenomena exquisitely well … which counts as evidence in favor of its truth.” Their tone and approach are gracious and winsome, for they understand that the though the “gospel is glorious news” and a “message of hope and liberation, it frequently invokes specters of bondage. What promises forgiveness, sounds instead, like condemnation. Good news is heard as bad.” The cure seems worse than the malady.
That is why the Baggetts have taken the time to show that morality is ultimately personal, for it is grounded in a “personal and eternal God.” They underscore, “Few questions are larger or more existentially central than what God is like” and reveal how morality points to a good, just, and merciful God.
The psalmist wrote of God, “To all perfection I see a limit, but your commands are boundless.” True fulfillment and boundless enjoyment come when we do life God’s way. Who would have ever thought of ascribing to the laws of God boundlessness? But you see, when we enjoy something for the purpose for which it is created, there is boundless enjoyment.
The Christian faith affirms the existence of a loving and all wise and good God. Likewise, his moral law stands as a consistent, contradiction-free expression of God’s character: holy, merciful, and abounding in love. Thus, when we violate his moral law, we bring contradiction into our lives, for we thwart the very purpose for which we were made: to know Him and enjoy Him.
In these pages, the Baggetts set the stage for a narrative that engages the mind and heart, provoking both laughter and serious contemplation. With wisdom, wit, and charity, they invite their readers to discover that true freedom comes when we know the Giver of all truth, goodness, and beauty. Here we find liberty, not to do as we please, but rather, to do as we ought—and so to live in harmony with God, ourselves, and one another. I highly recommend their book and believe you will find it inspiring and life-transforming.
Ravi Zacharias, author and speaker