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Trade Paperback
250 pages
Jul 2003
Tyndale House

The Absolutes

by James Robison

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Time after time mankind is driven against the rocks of the horrid reality of a fallen creation. And time after time mankind must learn the hard lessons of history—the lessons that for some dangerous and awful reason we can’t seem to keep in our collective memory. HILAIRE BELLOC (1870—1953)

Unless a man become the enemy of evil, he will not even become its slave but rather its champion. God Himself will not help us to ignore evil, but only to defy and defeat it. G. K. CHESTERTON (1874—1936)

Oftentimes, to win us our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray us in deepest consequence. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (1564—1616)

Evil Is a Horrible and
Present Reality

The reality of evil exposes the
bankruptcy of relativism.

No sane person who watched the unfolding horror at the World Trade Center or saw the destruction at the Pentagon could deny the reality of evil in the world. In those terrifying moments, our perspective changed. The nation was jolted out of its complacency by the sheer wickedness of the attacks. Almost immediately our vocabulary—including that of otherwise politically correct journalists, politicians, and law enforcement officials—became downright theological. The tension and uncertainty of possible further attacks dramatically adjusted our priorities.

The events of September 11 reminded us once again that evil exists in the world. In the glare of such purposeful brutality and devastation, the shabby ambiguities of relativism no longer seemed adequate. Out of the rubble of Ground Zero, the truth of the absolutes began to reemerge with extraordinary poignancy and power: Our beliefs and our actions matter. Life and death matter. Justice and injustice matter. Right and wrong matter. The absolutes matter.

Throughout human history, the existence of evil is a reality that people have had to take into account—in dealing with one another, in commerce, in passing laws, and in building civil societies. Because the world is infected by sin and populated by sinners, evil wreaks havoc on our best-laid plans and our sincerest intentions. The existence of evil is self-evident. Its effects are the most basic observations of both anthropology and sociology. No one ever has to teach a child how to do wrong. It doesn’t take a bad environment to teach someone how to be cruel, selfish, or perverse. No one needs a role model to learn about greed, pride, or dishonesty. Sin is inbred in us.

Our natural inclination to sin is no petty or trivial matter. Evil is destructive. It runs roughshod over everything and everyone—including the person who perpetrates the evil. Left unrestrained, evil morbidly embraces death. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”1

The consequences of unrestrained evil are all too familiar to us. We have seen their tragic end far too many times over the course of the last century. The memories are carved on our hearts with a dull familiar blade—a blade variously wielded by Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, and Saddam Hussein. Indeed, the gruesome results of evil clutter the pages of human history. Every great society has had to take evil into account—and decisive, principled action has been the only proven remedy. In response to evil, the bankruptcy of relativism and appeasement are clearly evident. What is needed is a return to the absolutes.

The absolutes are the principles that undergird our most basic assumptions about life. They are the underlying foundations of common sense, the standards by which we determine the difference between right and wrong, truth and falsehood, essential and trivial. They are the truths that support our truisms. They form the bedrock of our civility. The absolutes are the fixed points on the horizon by which we navigate the river of life.

Nineteenth-century historian and philosopher Robert Goguet argues that the genius of the Constitution was that it took the necessity of the absolutes fully into account:

The more [the founders] meditated on the biblical standards for civil morality, the more they perceived their wisdom and inspiration. Those standards alone have the inestimable advantage never to have undergone any of the revolutions common to all human laws, which have always demanded frequent amendments; sometimes changes; sometimes additions; sometimes the retrenching of superfluities. There has been nothing changed, nothing added, nothing retrenched from biblical morality for above three thousand years.2

The founders, fresh from the experience of the Revolutionary War, were well aware of the consequences of moral disarray. They knew that in order to build cultural consensus—let alone a nation—they needed an identifiable, objective standard of good. Although many of them were not practicing Christians, the priority they gave to biblical morality was a matter of sober-minded practicality.

John Jay, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court, affirmed the necessity of having a standard of virtue to ensure the proper maintenance of civil stability and order:

No human society has ever been able to maintain both order and freedom, both cohesiveness and liberty, apart from the moral precepts of the Christian Religion applied and accepted by all the classes. Should our Republic e’er forget this fundamental precept of governance, men are certain to shed their responsibilities for licentiousness and this great experiment will then surely be doomed.3

The founders recognized the futility of creating and implementing a system of laws without a foundation of absolute principles. Constitutional provisions such as the separation of powers, mixed government, checks and balances, jury trials, and civil rights were all predicated on the notion that people are bent toward chaos if left to their own devices. Laws were designed with the understanding that in a fallen world both sin and sinners must be restrained if justice is to prevail. For a system of law and order to succeed, the difference between right and wrong must not only be defined, it must also be accounted for in the very fabric of our relationships.

Abandoning the Absolutes

During the waning days of the twentieth century, as a society we began to contradict many previously held assumptions about life by turning the absolutes upside down. According to our topsy-turvy logic, “bad” came to mean “good,” and “good” was a label that every status-conscious teen desperately wished to avoid. Some people began to take pride in things that once would have shocked, shamed, and silenced us. As the apostle Paul said, “Their future is eternal destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and all they think about is this life here on earth.”4 Breaking traditions, violating conventions, and upsetting taboos became fashionable. Rebels were seen as heroes, whereas true heroes were either forgotten altogether or became the object of cynicism.

The relativists recast certainty as intolerance. Virtue was considered a potential liability, if not an actual vice. Orthodoxy was labeled as radical fundamentalism—giving fundamentalism a negative connotation—while heresy was praised for its honesty, courage, and ingenuity. Society began to question whether there was any such thing as a standard by which we could judge truth from falsehood or right from wrong. Judgment and discretion were abandoned for fear of being found guilty of judgmentalism and discrimination. Thus, adherence to absolutes no longer seemed reasonable, normal, and practical, but small-minded, mean-spirited, and insensitive. Even the gentlest reminder of their relevance served as an unwelcome distraction to our “politically correct” society.

In dismissing objective standards upon which right and wrong were judged, our culture came to value all ideas as equally valid and good. As philosopher Richard Weaver observed, “That it does not matter what a man believes is a statement heard on every side today. This statement carries a fearful implication: It does not matter what a man believes so long as he does not take his beliefs seriously.”5 To a great extent Americans have not taken their beliefs—or any one else’s, for that matter—seriously for quite some time. As a result, we have become embroiled in a running battle over the meaning of values and truth. In the face of an increasingly subjective or “relative” mind-set, it has become harder and harder to forge consensus, build community, nurture families, uphold freedom, and develop trust.

Ravi Zacharias shared the following observation in his important post-September 11 book titled Light in the Shadow of Jihad:

The relativist who argues for the absence of absolutes smuggles absolutes into his arguments all the time, while shouting loudly that all morality is private belief. Alan Dershowitz, professor at Harvard Law School, spares no vitriol in his pronouncements that there are no absolutes and that that’s the way it is. “I do not know what is right,” he contends. It all sounds very honest and real, until he points his finger at his audience and says, “And you know what? Neither do you.” So it is not just that he does not know what is right. It is also that he knows the impossibility of knowing what is right so well that he is absolutely certain that nobody else can know what is right either. There is his absolute.6

Zacharias later added that Professor Dershowitz, “who denies our ability to define good, says with equal vehemence that he does recognize evil when he sees it. Fascinating!”7

Are All Ideas Equally Valid?

In practice, relativism is an attempt to create “out of the mosaic of our religious and cultural differences, a common vision for the common good.”8 But that is just so much wishful thinking. After all, if “everything’s relative,” who decides what is and what is not a part of the common vision? Who defines honesty, or loyalty, or justice—or any other ideal, for that matter? Under relativism, the public opinion poll becomes the voice of virtue—subject to continual update and a certain margin of error.

Perhaps the most destructive trait of modem relativism, so common in our culture today, is the brash and cavalier attitude it has toward the existence of an objective standard of goodness and morality. In the name of civil liberty and cultural diversity, the conscience of the individual is elevated to the role of moral compass. What’s good and true for me might not be good and true for anyone else. Of course, if all ideas are deemed equally valid, there can be no action or idea that is objectively “worse” (i.e., more harmful) than another. Reaching that logical conclusion, however, forces people to fudge the reality of good and evil, because the existence of an objective standard would negate the assumptions of relativism.

To disregard objective standards in the name of liberty only serves to undermine that very same liberty. First, by denying the existence of evil, relativism by definition precludes the ability of a society to restrain evil. How can we legitimately criminalize something that might just be the result of a difference in values? You can see how relativism quickly becomes a self-defeating philosophy. It should be clear that unrestrained evil is the enemy of all free societies.

Further, relativism cheapens our freedom by seeking to bestow liberty as an unearned, undeserved, and unwarranted entitlement, ignoring the fact that with great privilege comes great responsibility. Throughout the history of our country, freedom has been bought with a price-through moral diligence, virtuous sacrifice, and ethical uprightness in opposition to objective evil. Relativism shuns the idea of sacrifice because it implies that no idea is more valuable than another. Unless the sacrifices and responsibilities of freedom are recognized, however, those freedoms will be neglected and then lost, because people only truly value those things for which they have worked or sacrificed.

As Thomas Paine so aptly said, “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; ‘tis dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as Freedom should not be highly rated.”9

By confusing liberty with license, relativism threatens our freedom rather than upholds it. Also, by its very nature, relativism weakens the common vision and destabilizes the common good by its emphasis on the primacy of the individual. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the brilliant Russian novelist, historian, and Nobel laureate, was alarmed by this drift in Western cultures and offered a stern critique:

Fifty years ago it would have seemed quite impossible in America that an individual be granted boundless freedom with no purpose but simply for the satisfaction of his whims. The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless. It is time to defend, not so much human rights, as human obligations.’10

According to political analyst James Q. Wilson, those who embrace relativism end up disguising their wrongheaded thinking in a cloak of reasonable-sounding euphemisms:

Many people have persuaded themselves that no law has any foundation in a widely shared sense of justice; each is the arbitrary enactment of the politically powerful. This is called legal realism, but it strikes me as utterly unrealistic. Many people have persuaded themselves that children will be harmed if they are told right from wrong; instead they should be encouraged to discuss the merits of moral alternatives. This is called values clarification, but I think it is a recipe for confusion rather than clarity. Many people have persuaded themselves that it is wrong to judge the customs of another society since there are no standards apart from custom on which such judgments can rest; presumably they would oppose infanticide only if it involved their own child. This is sometimes called tolerance; I think a better name would be barbarism.” 11

Although relativism purposely blurs the distinctions between good and evil—so much so that one might wonder if there is any distinction at all—every now and then a tragic event will snap us to attention, bringing back into stark focus the great chasm between right and wrong, righteousness and wickedness, good and evil.

Waging War against Evil

If freedom is to survive, we must re-engage with the truth of the absolutes to govern our lives and our society, and we must steadfastly resist the forces of evil. The testimony of history is that evil will always be a present and horrible reality. And as long as evil exists, there is potential for destruction. Although we may never completely eradicate evil, we can keep it from destroying everything that is good and right in the world.

I believe that God has given us an example—in our own bodies—of how righteousness and goodness can prevail over the forces of evil. Inside your body right now, germ warfare is being waged. Your natural defense system protects you from the attacking forces of bacteria, viruses, and other nasty invaders, even though some of them may still be present in your body. As long as your immune system remains strong and no destructive intruders gain a foothold or overpower your defenses, you will experience good health. But as soon as a rebellious cell takes over—be it cancer, a virus, or the destructive elements of arthritis that degenerate the body’s natural joint lubrication— disease, discomfort, and sometimes death are the result. Sometimes, like with HIV, it isn’t the virus itself that causes disease, but the virus suppresses our defenses, making us vulnerable to other aggressive organisms. In society, such things as violence, sensuality, and depravity in our entertainment media can make us numb to the destructive effects of violence, sensuality, and depravity in real life. Environmental factors, such as allowing a neighborhood to become run-down, can create an atmosphere where crime will breed and flourish.

Everywhere in life, there are deadly forces looking for opportunities to overcome all that is good. Like arthritis or cancer, these forces can be hidden, subtle, progressive, and degenerative, gradually wearing down our defenses and causing friction, or they can strike suddenly and catastrophically like an epidemic.

The destructive forces of greed ate away the integrity of Enron, which led to a spectacular collapse that affected shareholders, employees, and the accounting firm of Arthur Andersen.

Unhealthy forces of self-interest have led at times to support dictators and thugs with our foreign policy and foreign aid, leading to a loss of freedom and a profound suspicion of the United States in certain parts of the world, while leaving millions starving.

Deadly forces of inequality and prejudice led to the institution of slavery in our country’s history, the effects of which still linger 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. We need a strong prescription of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation — coupled with compassionate concern and assistance for those who are still in need—to finally heal the disease of injustice.

As we seek to treat these “illnesses” in our society, we need to make sure that the remedy is not worse than the disease. For example, we can take an antibiotic to combat a bacterial infection in our bodies, but in the process we also destroy the good bacteria that keep our digestive systems in tune. If we don’t restore the proper balance, we can be susceptible to other problems. Likewise, when we apply legislative remedies to social problems, we run the risk of killing off natural safeguards and private initiatives that might actually be more beneficial.

Often the best way to counteract the forces of evil is by strengthening that which is good. So we might try to bolster our immune system by taking vitamins and other supplements, exercising, and watching what we eat. The same principle can be seen in the field of agriculture. If the farmer concentrates more on killing the weeds than on growing the crops, the result is likely to be damage to both. But if the farmer grows good, healthy, vibrant crops, they tend to choke out the weeds—or at least the weeds that do grow are on the fringes of the field or between the rows where they’re more easily contained. Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience with your lawn. A well-watered, healthy lawn is more resistant to weeds, and those that do grow are readily eliminated.

In our society, if we would strengthen everything that is good, raising our standards to conform to the absolutes, focusing on providing water, nourishment, and sunlight to the value system that produces life—if we would pour our time and energy and other resources into positive action that benefits people of every description—we would produce a bumper crop of goodness in our society and the influence of evil would be pushed to the margins where it could easily be controlled. Our laws must be just and enforced. Our military and defense must be as strong as possible and diligent to protect our shores and interests against evil’s fierce assault.

We may always have red-light districts and areas of crime in our communities, just as there will probably always be terrorists and others bent on destruction in the world, because the forces of evil are tenacious and persistent. But we don’t have to give in. Would we like to eradicate every weed and deadly germ? Yes, but we can’t. However, we can isolate those negative factors while we continue to impact the lives of those caught up in destructive behavior and vices with the transforming power of love and truth.

We must be diligent because the moment we begin to give ground to the forces of evil, the moment we stop looking out for one another—especially the poor, the weak, and the disadvantaged—evil will creep in like a fox in the henhouse or a wolf among the sheep, and destruction will be the inevitable result.

Breaking Evil’s Deadly Grip

We live in a spiritual world, and we are undeniably spiritual beings. Evil powers in the realm of darkness can affect and even control the actions of people. The crucifixion of Jesus, the only perfect person ever to walk the earth, was the work of spiritual forces of hatred and darkness. The nature of such spiritual control was revealed in Jesus’ prayer on the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (emphasis added).12

This implies, very clearly, that individuals are not only out of control on occasion, but they are far too often under the control of evil forces. The Bible refers to these powers as evil spirits, tormenting spirits, unclean spirits, seducing spirits, deceiving spirits, spirits of bondage and murder and destruction. It is important to realize that not all destructive spirits are as obvious and despicable as those responsible for the tragedy of September 11 and other atrocities. Seducing spirits are often subtle, sophisticated, and in some ways attractive. They can control professors, politicians, artists, and even religious leaders, including Jesus’ own disciples. Although all evil spirits are ultimately destructive and deadly, they most often use subtle deception as the means to bring about the bondage of their subjects. The entertainer, teacher, or leader who undermines the relevance of absolute principles is no less demonically manipulated than the terrorist. Although the negative impact is less obvious and may take much longer to be revealed, the damage is just as real and just as destructive.

Merely recognizing the problem of evil is not enough. We must seek to free our hearts and minds from the deadly grip of evil forces beyond our control through the power of prayer. We must evaluate all areas of our lives—both personally and as a nation—and turn those areas over to God. We must examine our own hearts individually and nationally by asking questions like the following:

  • Do we sacrifice the well-being of others while trying to ensure our own personal well-being?
  • Do we guard our economic interests while giving too little consideration to the interests of others?
  • Do we adhere to business practices that exploit rather than assist others?
  • Do we disregard the true value of human life, including the unborn? (The consequences of this practice are more severe than words can ever communicate.)
  • Do we fail to protect the rights of those with whom we disagree?
  • Do we place more value on material gain than character development and spiritual maturity?
  • Do addictive practices and appetites control us?

Consider the prayer of the psalmist David: “Search me, 0 God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”13

In this lifetime we will never be free from the struggle against evil and the negative effects of those who practice it, but we can battle and overcome much of the evil we encounter, especially in our hearts, through the power of prayer. In the prayer recorded in John 17, Jesus prayed not only for the immediate protection of His disciples, but also for all who would later believe in Him as a result of their testimony. This includes us. We can be protected from the adverse effects of the evil one, but we must continue living and abiding in the spirit of Christ’s prayer. We ask not only to be delivered from evil, but also to be protected from evil’s deadly effects. In Christ, there is hope and help because He came to overcome the evil one and set free the captives. Our freedom as a nation will be secured only as individuals experience release from the grip of evil and begin to walk in personal liberty.

The Bible teaches that believers in Christ and those who receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit will have spiritual discernment. This gift enables individuals to identify the spirit that often controls a person’s actions. Consider the importance of accurately reading the hidden intentions of a potentially dangerous person. It is well known that some dogs can recognize the spirit of fear or evil intentions in human beings and immediately go on guard or point. If a dog can recognize evil traits in people, surely God-given discernment—an indispensable asset during these perilous days—can safeguard us against harm.

President George W. Bush has rightly referred to those behind the attacks on our country as “evildoers,” and he no doubt has the unanimous agreement of sane thinkers and peace-loving people throughout the world. But we must not forget that supernatural powers are influencing those who are caught up in evil, and supernatural power of a different kind will be required to break, not only the threat of terrorist attacks, but also the grip that evil has on the hearts of so many people.

Our Government Is Not the Answer

I’ve had the privilege of spending time with George W. Bush before and during his governorship in Texas, as well as for brief periods since he was elected president. Through close observation and open, honest dialogue, I have come to believe wholeheartedly in his commitment to Jesus Christ, his character, his courage, and his calling. But even though I personally admire and appreciate the president and have confidence in his leadership, and even though his decisions and the counsel of his advisers will, in many ways, determine the path and progress of our personal and national liberty, freedom’s hope does not rest upon his shoulders. His ability to make the right decisions will largely be determined by the faithfulness and prayers of those who understand the importance of the absolutes.

I had occasion to visit with President Bush on his ranch in Crawford, Texas, one month prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks. That day, more than a dozen people were killed in Israel by a terrorist attack, and the president and I briefly discussed the rising tension in the Middle East, but little did we know that only a few weeks later terrorism would come to our own shores.

At the conclusion of my visit, I asked President Bush how I could best assist and encourage him. He replied by repeating something he had said on numerous previous occasions: “James, there is not one thing you or anyone else can do that is of greater importance than prayer, and I mean that.” Before I left the ranch, he and I prayed together, asking God for wisdom, direction, and a spirit of peace to guard our hearts.

I count it a deep privilege to be able to pray with and encourage our president, especially during these strategic times. I’ve long had a sense in my heart about George W. Bush’s divine destiny and responsibility, and I pray continually that God will impress him with the significance of the role he has been chosen to play in human history. He has a unique opportunity to reshape world thinking and redirect the greatest nation in the world. I believe that is God’s purpose for President Bush, and that now is the time. We must all pray for our president, and especially that he will never compromise his God-given convictions. Although his public approval ratings have soared to all-time highs, and he has even gained the approval of many former critics who have acknowledged the wisdom of his approach to the terrorist situation, his lasting effectiveness will be determined by his ability to inspire the nation to return to the rock-solid principles of the absolutes.

Although it is not the government’s responsibility to share spiritual truths, it is the responsibility of our leaders to maintain our vigilance and our strength as a deterrent to terrorists and rogue nations:

  • Our law enforcement and intelligence gathering agencies must set aside past tensions and work together for the good of the nation. Our commander in chief must receive good information and wise counsel.
  • We must maintain the best equipped and strongest military in the world, and we must develop a defense system and missile shield far more effective than our present one.
  • Our borders must be made more secure, and we must diligently enforce our immigration laws.

As important as these measures will be in the years to come, we must not place our hope of lasting security in the might of our military or our defense shield. Our response as individuals and as a nation to the principles shared in this book, to the Word of God, and to God Himself will ultimately determine the future of our freedom. No political party, no president, no leader will save us.

They can certainly contribute to a positive move in our nation toward the absolutes, or they can impede our progress; but our future will be determined by our proper response to the absolute, unshakable principles of God. We must love people. We must love the Lord, and we must be serious about demonstrating our faith through acts of righteousness and compassion.

The forces of evil have launched a direct attack on the truth of the absolutes, and all of human history bears witness to the deadly consequences of this assault. The Bible declares that evil “prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for some victim to devour.”14 It desires to destroy everything that life is intended to be, and it seeks to devalue human life and diminish our freedom. Evil is an ever-present reality, and it is only as we recognize absolute truth and the supreme authority of God that we will be able to determine evil’s intent and properly deal with its perpetrators. Prayer is without a doubt the most vital factor in overcoming the evil that lurks around us. “Pray, too, that we will be saved from wicked and evil people, for not everyone believes in the Lord. But the Lord is faithful; he will make you strong and guard you from the evil one.”15

Excerpted from:
The Absolutes
By James Robison
Copyright © 2002
Published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.