Increasingly we see in modern society things that have been traditionally understood to be evil defended as good. Likewise, when someone speaks out against these objective evils and in support of things that are good, beautiful, and orderly, those things (as well as the person defending them) are labeled as evil and oppressive. Why is this?
What Does ‘Woe to Those Who Call Evil Good and Good Evil’ Mean?
Isaiah 5:20-21 points out the dire state of those who call evil good and good evil. The prophet might as well have written this in our current era, as this is exactly what we see all around us. The operative philosophy of modern society is radical subjectivism.
The Modernist cannot abide the existence of objective truth, and thus denies its very existence. Once one denies the existence of objective truth, it is a very small step to rejecting objective morals, ethics, and goodness.
In viewing truth not as objective reality, but subjective preference, they move moral and ethical considerations to the arena of the purely speculative, to the subjective and abstract. Truth then becomes a matter of individual preference or belief and does not need to be grounded in reality.
Thus, one cannot possibly make any truth claims with regard to morals and ethics, which means goodness is also a matter of personal opinion or preference.
Or, so they will argue, we cannot condemn another culture or people on the basis of morality, since morals are purely cultural, and just because we hold to a different morality, this does not mean the morals (or lack thereof) of another culture are objectively wrong or evil.
Undoubtedly, if one then raises the issue of the Holocaust, these Modernists have absolutely no ground for saying the actions of the Nazis were evil. After all, it was just their culture at that time, or their sincerely held belief that Jews were dangerous.
The intelligent person can see why this line of reasoning (such as it is) is absurd. Most Modernists will quickly say the actions of the Nazis were evil, and rightly so. But in doing so, they are forced to admit that objective, absolute morals exist.
And yet, they will persist in their errors with regard to most other issues. For example, biology clearly demonstrates the reality of two genders throughout nature. And yet, the Modernist will argue that gender is fluid, as in their view the concept of gender is purely a social construct.
In this example, we see how objective truth is actually ignored (biology) in favor of subjective ideology — what is preferred by the individual. Truth is properly defined as “that which is in accordance with fact or reality.”
In other words, any truth claims regarding nature, ideas, actions, or beliefs must be predicated on fact or reality — the way things really are. Truth cannot be claimed solely on the criteria of emotion, desired reality, or even sincere belief.
If I sincerely believe, or emotionally desire that gravity will not work on me when I jump from the top of a skyscraper, truth (reality) is unaffected. Gravity will most assuredly work on me, and I’ll plummet to the ground and die a horrible death.
Reality does not bend to the desires, whims, or ideologies of anyone. The Relativist worldview is clearly self-refuting, since if the truth were truly relative, then its claim that truth is relative would itself be a relative claim.
That in turn means we are free to ignore the claim, since it is not objective and absolute, and is really quite meaningless.
What Is the Significance of the Phrase ‘Woe to Those Who Call Evil Good and Good Evil’?
What is behind all of this confusion is more than just Modernist ideology. There is something much deeper at work in the minds of men that causes us to act in ways that are self-destructive. In Christianity, we call this the Fall.
When the serpent came to Eve in the Garden of Eden, his first tactic was to sow doubt in her mind with regard to truth of what God had told her (Genesis 3:1-23). Then, once doubt had been sown, he replaced truth with a lie.
In this case, she and Adam would be like gods. Subsequently, Eve went to Adam and repeated the same doubt and lie to Adam. Adam, unlike Eve, was not deceived but made a conscious decision to follow his wife willfully.
Thus, it is that Adam is truly responsible for subverting truth (reality — the way things really are) and allowing falsehood and sin to enter the world. As the federal head of humanity, it was his responsibility to keep the Lord’s commandments (Genesis 3:17-19).
Since that point in human history, every last person born has had a proclivity to sin, a proclivity to reject the truth in favor of what makes us happy in the moment, what feels good, and what we prefer to be real.
This rejection of the absolute nature of truth has led to many miseries and wars, and much suffering and discord (Romans 5:12). The worst part of this rejection of truth is that it separated us from the Lord.
However, God loves us intensely, such that He prepared a way for us to bridge that gap between Himself and us so that we can see the effects of the Fall reversed. He sent His Only Begotten Son, Jesus, to be the Messiah, the Savior of all humanity (John 3:16).
Through our acceptance of the objective truths of the gospel, and our personal commitment to serving our Lord in faith, we are able to have a loving relationship with God again; a relationship based on truth.
What Does ‘Woe to Those Who Call Evil Good and Good Evil’ Mean for Us Today?
In this relationship, we recognize the objective nature of His commandments, including His moral and ethical law, even when we might prefer something else.
The Christian is, above all else, firmly established in reality, because they are firmly established in God’s truth, which reveals the way things really are in our world, both the good and the evil.
All truth is God’s truth, and all truth is absolute and objective. It doesn’t have to conform to your feelings, desires, ideologies, etc. It is, like the Creator, eternal.
Bible Verses on ‘Woe to Those Who Call Evil Good and Good Evil’
Psalm 35:19: “Do not let those who are wrongfully my enemies rejoice over me; Nor let those who hate me without cause wink maliciously.”
Ephesians 5:11: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”
2 Timothy 2:15: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
For further reading:
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J. Davila-Ashcraft is an Anglican priest, Theologian, and Apologist, and holds a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from God’s Bible College in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a recognized authority on the topic of exorcism, and in that capacity has contributed to and/or appeared on programming for The National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, and CNN. He is the host of Expedition Truth, a one-hour apologetics radio talk show.