In our culture today, children are awash in intense violence and killing on television, in movies, in video games and on the Internet. And many of them are being raised without a value system to speak of.
In his book, “Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong,” author William Kilpatrick recalled a time when, as a college professor, the subject of the Ten Commandments came up in class. He decided it would be helpful to list them for the purpose of discussion. However, the class of graduate students, working together, could not come up with a complete list.
And in a survey conducted by the Barna Group that asked Americans to describe the basis on which they make moral and ethical decisions, four out of 10 teens and three in 10 adults said they do whatever “feels right or comfortable in a situation.”
The moral foundation of our culture will continue to erode unless something dramatic happens in our country – something that is nothing short of a nationwide spiritual awakening. That is because the source of our problems is deep down inside. It is the problem of the heart.
The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT)
The heart is wicked. Humanity is not basically good; it is basically bad. Really bad. And if you believe that people are basically good, then you will have a hard time explaining a lot of things going on in our world today. On the other hand, if you believe that people are basically bad, as the Bible teaches, but also believe that people can change, then you have an accurate assessment of humanity and a certain hope.
James summed it up clearly in his epistle:
“What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.” (James 4:1–2)
James poses a passionate rhetorical question: “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you?” He answers it with a second rhetorical question that takes us to the heart of the subject: “Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?”
The answer is yes, that’s right. That is where they come from. In fact, this is the answer to all of our questions about conflict in our families, in our culture and in our own lives. It comes from within.
I know we would like to blame it on other people or other things. But really, the essential problem is inside us.
James used a word that is worth looking at: “desires.” It is translated from the Greek word, hēdonē, on which our word “hedonism” is based. The belief of hedonism is that the chief end of life is to have fun. All I want to do is have some fun. I’ve got the feeling I am not the only one. … That is the hedonist’s anthem. Good times are all that matters.
So James was saying, “Don’t your fights come from your own desire for pleasures that battle within you?”
It is important to know that pleasure is not, in itself, a bad thing. We might get the impression from some Christians that pleasure is bad, that Christians must wear bland clothes and speak in a bland way and live a bland life.
But that is not the way of Christ. I think the Christian life is the most pleasurable life around. But we don’t get our pleasure from the same things our culture does. The Bible speaks of true happiness that comes from God (see Psalm 16:11 for example). People who live for God experience the ultimate pleasure.
Here is what it comes down to: There is nothing God tells me to avoid that is good. If he withholds it from me, then it is because it would only harm me. So everything I need he will let me have. Everything that is good I can have. And if it is not good, then he will hold it back. As the psalmist wrote, “The Lord will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right” (Psalm 84:11 NLT).
God knows everything. He is looking out for our best interests and not to make our lives miserable. But if we allow pleasure to be our driving force in life, if we are living for the moment – for the fun, for that rush – then life is going to end up in misery and ruin.
It has been said that the best cure for hedonism is an attempt to practice it. If we go out and chase after what we think will bring us pleasure, then eventually we will come to the same conclusion that King Solomon did: “I said to myself, ‘Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the “good things” in life.’ But I found that this, too, was meaningless. So I said, ‘Laughter is silly. What good does it do to seek pleasure?'” (Ecclesiastes 2:1–2)
That is so true. If our own pleasures and gratification become the focus of our lives, then conflict will result, and our lives will be in turmoil. It will be the source of all of our problems.