Why is moralism so annoying? (And of course, there are times when it is far more than annoying and becomes disturbing, mean, unjust, insensitive, etc.) I’ve found myself cringing when someone states an opinion with which I agree, such as, “High school students shouldn’t get drunk,” or, “You shouldn’t spend lots of time playing video games or watching television,” or “You shouldn’t spend money on things that won’t last.” Sometimes it’s the content of the statement itself, and at other times it is simply the tone of voice. But at the end of the day, these statements annoy me because they consist only of opposition. They merely demonstrate a stand against something–materialism, wasted time, debauchery.
And what I’ve realized is that I don’t want to live life in opposition. I don’t want to live on the defensive. I don’t want to live against. I want to live for. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he writes, “Do not get drunk on wine.” Fair enough, but at this point, all he has articulated is what he is against. Thankfully, the verse goes on: “Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” It’s not so much that Paul is against debauchery as it is that he is for a Spirit-filled life. Life in the Spirit provides many of the same benefits as drunkenness (happiness, fun, less inhibitions in forming relationships), but life in the Spirit doesn’t lead to hangovers. It’s a win-win.
Or consider sexual morality. Much of the time a Christian view of sexuality is expressed only as what we are against, when the point to be made is what we are for. We are for intimacy, security, love, passion, family, faithfulness, goodness, grace. We are for a human model of the love God has for us, a perfect, sacrificial, eternal, covenantal love.
I see this same pattern with our children. While a well-placed, “No!” certainly has its role in our household, we try to encourage our children to strive for the good, rather than focus them upon not doing the bad. So, to William (over and over and over again): “Food is for eating, not for throwing.” “Chairs are for sitting, not for standing up.” Or with Penny, “Gentle hands,” when she pulls William’s hair. Penny is old enough now to tell us when she has made a “good choice” (thumbs up). Even William claps for himself when he sits down in the bath (only, I will admit, to stand right back up and then sit and clap again. We’re working it out). It isn’t perfect discipline, perfect parenting, but I hope that over time we will give Penny and William a sense of what life is about, what life is for. I hope we are giving them a sense of purpose and a love for that which is good.
Again and again, I come back to John 10:10, where Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” I believe that God wants to point us towards the good, and lead us away from evil. So I want the content and tone of my life to be emphatically for life, life to the full.