You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in Your Word. Away from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commands of my God!
Psalm 119:114-115 NIV
Self-determination is a strength as long as it is not just about self. Here the poet is expressing a tough-minded resolve not to go with the crowd, not to take the popular line, but to stand out and face criticism for choosing what is right, over what gets the approval of others. Some choices bring disapproval from those close to us. That can feel like betrayal. But people take moral decisions in different ways; some take a quick route to their decision, while others take a longer route, and may not arrive at exactly the same place.
The Black Lives Matter campaign is an interesting example of how this verse might play out in life. Many if not most, were quick to support a movement that began as a stand against racism and brutality. The early adopters were assertive: everyone should such clear moral issues, no one can remain silent about racism.
When some did remain silent, or reflected more deeply, they were criticised. They were, by their silence, racist and discriminatory. A few courageous voices ventured to suggest that ALL lives matter to God. Harsh, unjust treatment of any kind should be condemned. This brought anger and accusation from some Black Lives Matter campaigners. It was politically incorrect — and worse. One of those things one was not allowed to think or say. And so a protest about injustice started to morph into its own injustice, where no alternative view, or even a more nuanced expression, was acceptable. So had Black Lives Matter itself become a racist movement?
That debate continues, but a Christian who find considerable support in God's word for the sanctity of human life and justice for all individuals, regardless of race, may need to be courageous in saying "Away from me" to those who police thoughts and expressions according to their own narrow agenda. It takes determination not to simply go with a movement that is gaining pace, but to insist on widening the boundaries and seeing a bigger picture.
Ethics, like sociology, is a notoriously 'fuzzy' discipline and what is acceptable in one age and culture looks unacceptable from a later or different viewpoint.
Here's an example: Western first-world thinking sees democracy as THE mark of civilisation; dictators must be removed and elections introduced. To those who have grown up with democracy (modern democracy is only 400 years old and votes for all much more recent), no other form of government is acceptable. However, in tribal cultures — Lebanon is a topical example — the way votes are cast invites corruption and extortion: you are compelled to vote for those who allow you to operate your business or dwell in a neighbourhood.
Colonial rule was a form of dictatorship, and in a post-colonial age, it was therefore oppressive and wrong. It is easy to forget that it brought better living standards, health care, education, opportunity — and just governance as well.
The kingdom of God is a rule and order that is not democratic, or man-centred, but God-centred. So that, technically, comes under the label of dictatorship.
But the 'dictator' is uniquely good. We don't get to vote, but the desires of our heart are important to heaven. We don't get automatic riches, possession or sustenance, but good things come to us as we put God's order first, Matthew 6:33. We don't get badges of honour, status or titles, but we get spiritual gifts and the Holy Spirit's guidance.
The world's way of doing things will always oppose God's rule and reign. We will always have to contend for its unique values — with our own God-submitted self-determination.