Fascinating video above (source: What is morality? | Dan Ariely | Big Think). Here is the quotation from the video that I found most fascinating:
Now what does it mean about morality? So in the economic framework, people should be sensitive to the probability of being caught cheating, and the amount of rewards. We don’t find any of this. When we changed the probability of being caught, nothing changes. When we change the amount of the reward..., nothing happens.That last sentence bowls me over; read it again: "The moment that they contemplated their own morality, they became more sensitive to deviations from their standards and stopped cheating." It reminds me of what James writes:
Instead what we theorized is that people have a threshold. We all want to think of ourselves as honest people, and we can cheat a little bit. There’s like a fudge factor that we can cheat a little bit and still feel good about ourselves. So the idea that people cheat up to that level.
Now if that’s the case, what should influence the level of cheating? We said this threshold should go down if people think carefully about honesty; and it should go up if the activity is less likely to reflect on their honesty.
So here is what we did. We took one group of students and we said you have two experiments today. The first one is a memory experiment. And half of the people try to remember the Ten Commandments; half of the people tried to remember 10 books that they read in college... in high school. Then they went to another experiment in which they could cheat. Will the fact that some people try to remember the Ten Commandments influence how much they cheated? Absolutely. People stopped cheating. We didn’t detect any cheating after that.
And by the way, almost nobody remembers all the Ten Commandments. And it doesn’t matter how many commandments they remember. The moment that they contemplated their own morality, they became more sensitive to deviations from their standards and stopped cheating.
22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. ~ James 1:22-25Moral law is like a mirror - looking into it offers us a reflection of ourselves. Gazing upon that reflection, we become more aware of deviations and distortions - our disfigurement. The law "gives freedom" for it offers the opportunity to be freed from those deviations and distortions that make us and our actions so ugly.
The whole of Scripture bears out our need:
- Psalm 1:2, "[His] delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night."
- Deuteronomy 6:6-9, "6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates."
33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of IsraelNotice where it says the law will be written. Not just where it might be reflected upon and forgotten. The law will be written on the minds and hearts of people where it might truly transform. Upon the heart and mind, one might both reflect perfectly upon, and reflect ever more perfectly, that law.
after that time," declares the LORD.
"I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
(Jeremiah 31:33, emphasis mine)
This is why the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:3-4:
3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.God sent his own Son Jesus to die and pay the price for our distortions and deviations from the moral law. The took upon Himself our ugliness. To look upon the cross of Jesus Christ is to see all our transgressions of the moral law - iniquities, sin, violence, darkness.
As one songwriter beautifully put it:
Oh to see the pain written on Your faceIf the moral law is a mirror, then the cross is the most terrible of all mirrors. For upon the cross, we come to grasp what we have become. Jesus' body reveals to us how we appear to God. We understand the effect that our deviation from and transgression of the moral law has wrought upon our souls. Inside, all of us are ugly, dark, unsound, infirm, lacerated, broken, bleeding, suffering, and dying.
Bearing the awesome weight of sin
Every bitter thought every evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow
This is the power of the cross
Christ became sin for us
Took the blame bore the wrath
We stand forgiven at the cross
Just as terribly, upon the cross we also discover what our violation of the moral law has done to others. Our words, our thoughts, our actions - the things we have done and the things we have left undone - have beaten, bruised, torn, tortured, starved, lacerated, and killed. Upon the cross, Jesus shows us what our fellow man looks like when we are through with him.
Our reflection upon the moral law should drive us to look upon the most horrible mirror of the cross. Witness the fruits of your and my violation of and deviation from that law. The good news is that all that ugliness was displayed upon, but also forgiven at, the cross.
And now, we might live differently, in harmony with the moral law, as Romans 8:4 (referenced above) goes on say: "4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit."
The Spirit has written the law upon our minds and hearts as promised through the prophet Jeremiah. We might live according to - by the power of - the Spirit. The Spirit brings our minds, hearts, and lives into accordance with the moral law in a way we can never do ourselves. We are powerless to perfectly reflect upon, or to perfectly reflect the moral law - but the Spirit within us does just that.