Author: Ron Graham
But What is Right?
—Who defines right and wrong?
Most people want to do what is right. But how do we know what is right? Who defines what is right? Each individual? The world? God? We need to know, because it is a very serious mistake to be wrong about what is right.
1 Doing wrong and calling it right.
"Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter" (Isaiah 5:20).
It's a common thing for people to insist that some principle or deed is right when it has long been established as wrong. If you hold that it is still wrong, then you are marked as the wrongdoer because you won't change with them. They who are wrong make themselves out to be right; whilst you who are right are called the evildoers.
Peter reminds us of how the world lives in "sensuality, lusts, drunkeness, revelries, drinking parties, and lawless idolatries. They are surprised that you do not run along with them into such destructive excess. So they malign you. They shall give an account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead" (1Peter 4:3-5).
In the public media, most kinds of sexual immorality and other excesses are presented and promoted as normal. The governments pass laws to grant people the “right” to do wrong. This gives wrong an appearance of respectability.
People can call evil good, and promote it as progress, but it's been evil since antiquity. It is still evil despite all the attempts, ancient and modern, to make it good.
When the works of “darkness” are exposed by their “bitter” consequences, then people will turn against them. The darkness that is today called light will again be called evil —until a later generation comes in thrall to it again and believes that wrong is right.
2 Doing what's right in your own eyes.
The verse with which we started this lesson is followed by this: "Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight" (Isaiah 5:21).
This verse tells us why people call evil good, and good evil. It's because they do what is right in their own eyes. Moses laid down a principle for those who were about to enter the promised land:
"You shall not, any more, do as we are all doing today: every man doing what is right in his own eyes" (Deuteronomy 12:8).
But generations later, (in the time of the judges) "every man did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6). They were ignoring the prohibition that Moses had made law.
The reason for that prohibition is simple: "Every way of man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts." (Proverbs 21:2). The Lord judges what is right and what is wrong. We don't. So we should not be doing what is right in our own eyes.
3 Doing what's right according to God’s word.
Josiah became king of Judah when only eight years old. "He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the ways of his ancestor David. He did not turn to the right or left" (2Ki 22:1-2).
"The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them" (Hosea 14:9). We are not to do what is right in our own eyes, but what is right in the sight of God.
God chides Israel, "You say, “The way of the Lord is not right”. Hear now O Israel: Is it not my ways that are right, and yours that are wrong?" (Ezek 18:29).
David sums it up for us in these lines: "Good and upright is the Lord. So he teaches sinners in the way. The humble he guides in what is right, and he teaches the humble his way" (Psalms 25:8-9).
A Lesson from Eden
The first two humans were told by their Creator that it would be wrong for them to eat the fruit of a certain tree. "You shall not eat of it or even touch it, lest you die" (Genesis 3:3).
But in Eve’s eyes, the tree was good and desirable. "The woman saw that the tree was good for food, a delight to the eye, and desirable to make one wise" (Genesis 3:6). And so she ate.
In Eve’s eyes it was good to eat the fruit. But in God’s word it was forbidden. She ignored God, called evil good, and did what was right in her own eyes. Adam joined her. People have been doing the same ever since, and they won't live happily ever after.