Illustrations Regarding Moral Agency, Moral Law and Moral Accountability
(NOTE: This illustration follows the previous information associated with chapter one of Change the World. It is recommended that the previous posts be read.)
Years ago, on my way to work, I traveled a road that ran along the outskirts of a housing development. It was a road that one could comfortably travel at 45 m.p.h.; however, the speed limit was 25 m.p.h. due to the nearby neighborhood. It was a struggle to honor the speed limit, especially when running late. With this backdrop, imagine the following scenarios and questions.
- Do I have the ability to observe and obey the speed limit?
Though, admittedly, it was a challenge, it went against my tendencies, the answer is a definite, “Yes.”
- If I travel at 25 m.p.h. and pass a police officer stationed along the road, can he legally stop me and give me a ticket for breaking the law?
Unless you, like some students throughout the years, would like to offer a wisecrack intended to provide comedic relief, the obvious answer is, “No.”
- If I travel at 25 m.p.h. and pass a police officer stationed along the road, can he legally stop me and give me a ticket for breaking the law because he could tell that I was having a struggle keeping the speed limit?
- If I travel at 45 m.p.h. and pass a police officer stationed along the road, can he legally stop me and give me a ticket for breaking the law?
Surely, the officer is within his legal limits to do so.
- If I am traveling at 25 m.p.h. and there is an irritated driver behind me wanting me to speed up, is it possible, with this added external influence combined with my internal tendency, to observe and obey the speed limit?
The added pressure might increase the difficulty but does not cause me to drive faster. In fact, some people might choose to drive slower just to irritate their fellow traveling even more.
- According to the above scenario, if I continued at 25 m.p.h. and the two of us pass a police officer stationed along the road, can he legally stop me and give me a ticket for breaking the law?
Even with the added pressure, if I am traveling at the appropriate speed, the answer is, “No.”
- If I were to yield to the pressure of this influence and speed up to 45 m.p.h., does the officer have a legal right to give me a ticket?
Even though I was responding to an external influence, I chose to speed up and am therefore, accountable for my behavior.
The above distinctions should be rather self-evident and easy to understand. Accountability involves some level of willful, self-involvement. The following and final scenario has been, for whatever reason, slightly more challenging to students. It is important to see how causation changes moral accountability.
- If the driver following me became so frustrated that he placed his front bumper against my rear bumper and began to literally, physically push me down the road, does the police officer, having accurate facts, have a legal right to give me a ticket?
The answer is, “No.” Why? Because I was an involuntary victim of causation. I was not willingly participating in the act. If I had voluntarily devised and cooperated with this scheme, I would be subject to the penalty of the law but being a subject of causation that was beyond my control, with which I was not a willing participant, makes a meaningful difference.
The Christian community, operating from a Biblical foundation, should be the guardians of such important moral truth. Many, from the foundation of modern, secular psychology, have obliterated the concept of moral agency and, too often, the theological perspective from which many Christians operate, fails to provide needed correction.
“For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach.” (Dt.30:11)
“Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.” (Eze.18:4)
“The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.” (Eze.18:20)