The Death of "Ought"

Growing up in the '60's and 70's, I remember the angst of my parents and grandparents about fads from long hair on boys to Woodstock to hippies. I admit I personally never felt cooler than when I finally owned my own pair of bell bottoms and my beloved wide white belt.

But even in the social upheaval that flowed from the Vietnam controversy and the "God is dead" movement, there were givens that, as a child, I never questioned: behaviors, responses, and manners I assumed everyone also understood about the way to act. There was a strong current of social norms that guided us.

Here are items I think we used to know we ought to do:

 Webster's 1828 Dictionary definition

Webster's 1828 Dictionary definition

  • We ought to have good manners
  • We ought to work hard, study, be respectful
  • We ought to be honest
  • We ought to help our neighbor
  • We ought to love our family
  • We ought to love our spouse and be faithful
  • We ought to stay married
  • We ought to love others as we love ourselves
  • We ought to give to the poor
  • We ought to NOT steal, murder, hurt others
  • We ought to honor our parents
  • We ought to respect our teachers
  • We ought to protect the children

But our current culture seems to have decided that the only thing we OUGHT to do anymore is what we feel like. Everyone gets to decide for themselves what the rules are. 

The problem is what we ought to do is frequently diametrically opposed to what we feel. Plus, without a solid right and wrong there is no standard for any "ought."

We have elevated tolerance to the highest value and removed the foundation from which we can make value judgements. The word “judgement” now sounds evil and the word “value” suggests immovable standards, which is bad because standards that won't move have the inconvenient tendency to get in the way of what we feel like doing at the time.

As we have lost the concept of ought, what else have we lost?

  • We have lost stable families and so now...

o   Kids growing up in broken homes

  • We have removed respect for authorities and so now...

o   Police are shot in the street
o   Teachers flee the classroom where they have no control

  • We have abandoned our respect and support of monogamy and so now....

o   STDs run rampant on college campuses
o   Date rape is out of control
o   Infidelity is no longer a public scandal (which lead to some of those broken families)
o   Pornography addiction is exploding along with all its negative consequence

It is easy to point the finger at the current trash on TV and the movie theater, but in reality those reflect our culture more than they steer our culture.

The death of ought has resulted, I think, from the lack of salt in our society. Our do-what-feels-good, everyone-for-themselves, flavorless society results from us, the Church, not doing our job.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.
— Matthew 5:13, NASB

It is time for the Church of Jesus to recognize our own sin, fall on our faces, confess, seek forgiveness, and apologize. Basically we are going to have to humble ourselves in sackcloth and ashes in the face of a holy, gracious, loving, just, merciful, righteous God. This is not the most popular message. But let's be honest here: the society has lost the concept of "ought" because the church lost its first. 

How do we get our OUGHT back?

  1. Confess the sin in our lives: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (I John 1:9. NASB)
  2. Repent and turn (and if we are really brave find some sackcloth and ashes.) Just listen to what a pagan king of Babylon said when Jonah preached in Ninevah: When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes.  He issued a proclamation and it said, "In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. "But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands.  "Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish." (Jonah 3:6-9, NASB) 
  3. Recognize that we can't make ourselves do what we ought to do: "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not." (Romans 7:18, NASB)
  4. In the power of Jesus, live in the light, faith, love, and salvation that only comes from Him: "for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness...But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation." (1Thessalonians 5:5,8, NASB)

Hey Church! (that is you and me, by the way)- we better start asking ourselves some hard questions. Are we salty? Do we give light?

If our communities are tasteless, it is because we aren't adding salt.

If our society is dark, it is because we aren't adding light.

God did not give the job of salt and light to Hollywood, or the government, or social clubs, or anyone else. He gave that job to His church. 

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
— Matthew 5:14-16, NASB

If we want to see a change in our world then it will have to start with us. And I honestly don't think we have time to lose. We OUGHT to be children of the day, TODAY.