The Human Need for a Moral Compass
The human mind is an unstable agent when it comes to making moral choices. This is not an empty statement. In fact, much of the research being done in the fields of modern social psychology and behavioral economics provide ample support for this fact.
Take for instance the research paper on Psychological or Moral Licensing written by Stanford researchers Daniel Effron and Dale Miller. The paper explores the theory that people often give themselves permission to exhibit morally questionable behavior if they feel that they can do so without discrediting themselves.
Another interesting concept on the irrationality and moral short-sightedness of the human mind is presented by Psychologist and Behavioural Economist Dan Ariely. Ariely suggests through his research that humans are predictably irrational and make decisions that are influenced not by what is right or wrong but rather by what will help them achieve the best outcomes for themselves.
While much of this research can be uncomfortable or even embarrassing to accept the truth is that as human beings we lack an intrinsic moral compass. We don’t naturally do the right thing unless there is something in it for us or unless it makes us feel good which is a potentially dangerous matrix for decision making.
But the concept that the human psyche is riddled with inconsistencies and eccentricities is not new. Neither is it something that behavioral psychology has just discovered through its reams of research. In fact, the Bible chronicled the pitfalls of the human condition long before science had any clue about it. Not only does the Bible chronicle it but it also provides the solution to the problem, something that science hasn’t been able to come up with.
The Bible explores the true condition of the human heart in detail. Jeremiah 17:9 says “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?” That verse highlights three key points that summarise one of our biggest problems.
Firstly, that the human heart is deceitful, meaning we lie to ourselves on a regular basis. Secondly, the human heart is also wicked, meaning sinful, meaning selfish and only out to take care of number one. And thirdly none of us are aware of the reality of our condition. We need someone to sit us down and tell us the facts and even then, we may not be willing to listen.
Interestingly verse 20 of the same chapter provides insight into who is able to provide us with the moral direction and guidance we so desperately need. The verse reads “ I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give to every man according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings”. God is the only one who understands the motives and intentions of the human heart.
The Bible clearly outlines that not only is the human heart deceitful but that deceitfulness also renders us incapable of making right choices. Which means that we need a moral guide and compass outside of ourselves if we are to correctly navigate the minefield that is the human experience.
God had provided just such a compass to the human family in the form of the Bible. While we are told that “There is a way that seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12), we are also told that “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalms 119:105). Psalms 119 goes on to describe the many ways in which the Word of God is able to preserve and guide us.
Firstly, it is able to provide us with the moral direction that we need “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed unto thy commandments.” (Psalms 119:9) and also “Blessed are the undefiled in the way who walk in the law of the Lord (Psalms 119:1).
Secondly, it is able to save us from embarrassment “Oh that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes! Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments” (Psalms 119:5-6).
Thirdly it is able to give us wisdom beyond our years “I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation I understand more than the ancients because I keep thy precepts” (Psalms 119:99-100). The list of benefits to be gained from the word of God is exhaustive.
If it’s been a while since you’ve picked up a Bible and read it, then it might not be a bad idea to pick one up today. Not just to thumb through it but to search its pages for the answers you need in your life today. God’s word has a power that can reach into the darkest recesses of turmoil and shine light into that blackness. May it shine a light in your life today.
Suki Goonatilleke lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and two daughters. She is passionate about winning people for Jesus and has served in full-time ministry at Gateway Adventist Center. Her current ministry endeavors include being a stay-at-home mom by day and writer by night.