Having just completed another lap around the sun, I find myself getting a bit more reflective. Of course, I could get drawn into the never-ending cycle of issues that provide fuel for our societal conversations. Remember when COVID was the only topic? Since then we’ve moved our passion to war, inflation, gas prices, food shortages, politics, and most recently, the horror of mass shootings. Sadly, we have no shortage of depressing issues to talk about. But I want to offer an even more important question.
Behind or perhaps underneath all the negatives that surround our nation and us as individuals is a very simple question we all must ask of ourselves. What kind of person do I want to be?
The answer will force us to delve into areas of philosophy, morality and society. We will need to ask which influences matter, what truth is absolute, and what our lives should look like.
For far too many, the answer to everything is “I just want to be happy.” And, to be fair, that answer has a long historical pedigree. As Americans we all learned that we have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But, sadly, the content of “happiness” in the 1700s was far different than it is today.
The fact is, happiness as a goal is dangerous if the means by which it is obtained is evil. For example, the pleasure a heroin addict enjoys is certainly not a healthy happiness. Neither are all kinds of other “happinesses” that can be enjoyed at the expense of morality. Adultery, theft, battery, along with gossip, greed and incivility, may bring a level of pleasure and happiness, but only to those whose hearts and minds are debased.
When our forefathers chose to include “the pursuit of happiness” as a founding principle, they meant the sense of wellbeing that stems from living the best and most worthy life one could achieve. In a very real sense, happiness was not to be pursued as much as produced. It was to be the fruit of a life formed by integrity, morality and nobility. To pursue happiness was to first be a person of substance, whose character, courage and care for others was evidenced in his or her demeanor and proven through his or her daily life. Simply put, such a person was recognized as being morally whole, whose ethics were a daily reflection of the moral truth that formed their core convictions.
To bring this to the issues of our day, it is right to say that those whose ethics are reprehensible, who, for example, aim bullets at others out of a fractured sense that evil is good, are simply acting out their own pursuit of happiness, as corrupt and toxic as it may be. They are doing what they want to do, having reformatted their consciences by replacing sane and civil moral laws with a monstrous set of warped convictions. At the heart of their toxicity is a depraved heart.
So, ask yourself: What kind of person do you want to be? Someone who hurts others or helps them? Someone who preys on others or protects them? Someone who makes messes or cleans them up, who seeks to control others or manifests the skill of self-control? And most importantly, someone whose moral wholeness is not for sale or someone whose convictions and ethics are as flexible as their selfish desires necessitate?
If you have read this column for some time you know where I stand. The writer of the biblical book of Proverbs gave this powerful advice: “Watch over your heart with all diligence from it flow the springs of life.”
In the author’s Middle Eastern world, water was life. That made guarding the spring a life priority. If the spring became polluted, sooner or later the water flowing from it would be foul, even deadly. But this proverb wasn’t really about a spring. It was a warning to guard the heart, the command and control center of the person. The heart had to be guarded against corrupt influences that would ultimately cause the life that flowed out from it to be toxic.
I trust you know where this is going. Our nation, our city and our families are watching as the springs of too many hearts are being polluted, and then we are surprised when toxic behaviors flow out of them. Be assured, we as a society need to do more to protect our families, friends and neighbors from the violence we see being unleashed all around us, and legislative action may certainly be part of the solution.
But let’s be real. Internal compliance is always better than external compulsion. What we need isn’t more pontificating, finger-pointing, or political bombasts. What we need is the courage to defend the truths that come pre-installed by our Creator on the human conscience and reprove those who would call evil good. It is time we admit that our national spring is being systematically polluted, and it is up to all of us to keep the waters of our national life clean, pure and life-giving.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.