Moral Outrage and God’s Sovereignty

Brothers and sisters in the Lord~

It’s been almost two weeks now since the tragic ferry disaster took place in the waters of South Korea. Some 250 16 and 17-year-old high school students have died and the grieving of the survivors (about 70 students), family and friends still continues on.

But there’s not just grieving. There’s also moral outrage. Why is that? One picture captures it well: the picture of the captain abandoning ship while hundreds of his passengers were still on board. People have responded with shock and anger. The president of South Korea described the crew’s actions as being “like murder.” I read one article which gave this example: “An aunt of one of the students victims told me how ‘ashamed’ she was that this could happen in South Korea. She is so upset, she just wants to leave the country.”

These reactions are raw, emotional and painful. And these reactions are justified. That the captain and his crew would be among the first rescued, leaving the kids to their doom? This is appalling. This—understandably—brings out a sense of outrage.

But why? Or maybe better asked, “Where does moral outrage come from?” Why do all who hear the news of this captain instantly feel that it’s terribly wrong for a captain to abandon ship to save himself, while leaving so many others to drown? On what basis does this moral outrage well up?

Well I tell you where it doesn’t come from first. It doesn’t come from the current post-Christian evolutionary mindset that is so prevalent in our world. The naturalistic, “survival of the fittest” view of mankind actually feeds selfishness doesn’t it? After all, there is no ultimate authority over us, no one-standard for truth. All is relative according to what “works”. And what “works” in a sinking ship is, “getting me off as fast as I can.”

But thankfully, that naturalistic worldview doesn’t always hold sway—even by those who ardently believe it philosophically. Why not? Because of the biblical answer to the question, “Where does moral outrage come from?” And what is that answer? The moral outrage comes from the moral stamp that all of God’s image bearers have. You see, there is a sense of right and wrong that is built into the very fabric of being human—in spite of the fall of Adam and Eve into sin.

And this is because, as Paul talks of in Romans 2:15, the work of the law of God is written on men’s hearts. We have a “conscience” that “bears witness” to right and wrong. Now, one’s conscience can be suppressed, it can be hardened. But at a certain level, all people have some sort of sense of morality.

This was seen vividly after what took place with that ferry. People didn’t have to be Christian to know that it was wrong for the captain to abandon ship. A poll was not needed to make sure outrage was appropriate. It was a moral outrage that came from the moral stamp that God has placed on all mankind.

Furthermore, the moral outrage also points to the need for the scales of justice to be balanced. There was a wrong that must be made right. The captain and any others who put themselves first or tried to cover up their wrongdoing should be brought to justice. And to that point, it sounds like many arrests have already been made and further investigation is taking place. People are crying out for justice. People don’t want anything like this to happen again.

But here’s the deal, can any justice given from South Korean officials really make the wrongs right? Not ultimately. No children can be brought back from the dead. The memories and nightmares will continue on. The flame of anger cannot fully be put out for those parents (and other relatives and friends) who lost their child.

So how should we think about this as Christians? Well, the answer that this question deserves will be too much for what I can tackle in this one article. So, let me give a brief answer now and then next week I’ll expand my answer to hopefully help all of us think through this important issue of justice—especially as it relates to the gospel.

As for my very brief (and incomplete) answer, let me say this: Only God can right wrongs satisfactorily. He is a righteous and just God who will “by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:7).

So as we see and experience wrongdoings in this world, we can rest assured that justice will be done. Hopefully, that includes the imperfect justice given by man, such that the captain of that ferry (for example) will never pilot again. But as we know, at the end of the day, human justice won’t fully satisfy. That’s where we can look to the justice of God, knowing He will indeed make all wrongs right.

“Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!” ~Revelation 16:7

Trusting in the justice of God~

Dennis