Who Determines Right?

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In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judg. 17:6; 21:25)

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The book of Judges is a depressing read. Its stories of treachery, murder, rape, civil war, and general lawlessness paint a dark picture of a society in decline. 

But the chaos was not the product of random bad luck. Twice the author highlights the root cause of the social breakdown: "everyone did what was right in his own eyes." When everyone claims the privilege of determining what is right for him or her, selfishness reigns supreme. The law of the jungle takes over, and woe be to those at the bottom of the food chain. 

Survey the entire history of humanity, and all our self-imposed suffering boils down to one simple question: who gets to determine what is right and wrong? 

Is it those who have the power? Ask the victims of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot how that strategy worked out for them. Despotic power is a deadly drug that few can resist. 

Perhaps we should trust a board of expert technocrats who rule based strictly on science? But science tells us only what "is," not "what ought to be." Science is subject to politicization--and power trips--just as much as any other field of human endeavor. 

Surely majority rule provides a more equitable approach? It sounds reasonable, until you realize that "the majority" has played a role every mass genocide in history. The crowd is not always right. 

If history teaches us anything, it’s that humans are not capable of making up their own rules. The very concept of human rights is a mirage if all we have to go on is human ingenuity. We need guidance from some higher power outside of ourselves. 

Israel during the Judges period had such an authority figure: God (Judg. 8:22-23). But God was too abstract, too distant. It was their desire for a more incarnate ruler that led God to give them a king. A handful of their kings were decent men who served the nation well (e.g., David); but most were corrupt and/or incompetent. The nation paid a terrible price for their leadership.
"Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the hearts" (Prov. 21:2). Until we can humble ourselves to recognize God as the final arbiter of truth in our lives, we will continue to make destructive choices in our lives. And we will drag down a lot of other people with us.