Words of Hope: Moralism or Morality

I am reading about the form versus the formless. Dad and I discussed this often. He had a big journey in his life toward understanding this concept. It is the movement out of formalized moralism into true morality. Formal moralism emphasizes the externals and makes moral judgments based on appearance, behavior, order, rules, etc. True morality focuses on inner obedience, truth, love, and honesty. How often do we see someone who meets and checks all the right boxes but has a hardened heart? Formalized moralism is represented in a superior point of view, the certainty of being righteous and correct. True morality is fully prostrate before God; understanding the most profound gravity of presumption, assumption, judgment, and condemnation of others can be grounds for the darkest forms of wickedness. I think of Jesus explaining this as the Pharisee looks heavenward and thanks God he is not like other people who are clearly sinners in his eyes.

In contrast, Jesus exalts the humble heart of the tax collector, who was praying for God’s mercy. Formalized moralism wants to be right and claims to know the inner story reserved for God alone. True morality seeks to understand, listen, and learn more. Formalized moralism represses sin, hides it, and goes deeper and darker through this repression. True morality seeks to uncover sin in wise ways through appropriate and safe methods for more profound healing, grace, and restoration.

I love that my Dad built a home that was founded on true morality. Sometimes at camp, he wanted to gravitate toward moralism with his heavy-handedness on the form—no hats, no jewelry, no this and that. He began to see how some of the best coaches ever had tattoos; others had nose rings—things he would have disliked on coaches. Through interactions with these coaches, he saw their hearts, and he watched their incredible ability to teach and connect with kids. Formal moralism makes conformity and regulations higher than love. True morality always puts God’s love front and center.

To some who were confident of their righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:  “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 18: 9-14