I have come to accept the varied interpretations of Biblical reading, even when different and of apparent contradiction and not of my own, to be of value if the reading is a genuine seeking of God’s light and not for some injurious purpose. I recognize such a reading to be valid if the reader comes away and says to himself, “I ought.” I do not say he should rest in his understanding. Good Christians are called to study and seek the higher truth. The Christian life is not a rest stop and each day a Christian recognizes a deficiency and seeks to become Christlike, God has achieved in him the proper response, the “I ought.”
I diverge when someone reads and understands the Bible to say, “you ought.” Here, I am not speaking of anyone who chooses to right a wrong or defend the innocent or assume a cause against an injustice. The phrase may be as benign as suggestion. I am more inclined to say what I intend rises above suggestion to the more authoritarian definition meaning must. God did not choose to grant me free will from one hand and take it away by the other. Must can only mean conform.
“You ought” has become a modern-day default communication between us. But then, didn’t modern man somewhere along the way decide to conform reality to his wishes, to subject matter, even truth, to his will? Have we not devised our own servile, justifiable convenient morality?
Alasdair MacIntyre in his book, After Virtue, defines one form of conformity as emotivism, a doctrine stating moral judgment is nothing more than an expression of preference, attitude and feeling. Run afoul with an emotivist and you will certainly become a victim of “you ought.” Since emotivism is merely preference, no common moral foundation exists to resolve conflict. Since power serves means, power becomes emotivism’s nutrition. Our present day divisiveness manifests in “you ought,” a power struggle between asserted and criterionless preferences.
Good Christians render unto God what is God’s. His response to God’s ultimate truth, to His working within him is to say, “I ought.” Our Lord, in his teaching, after expressing God’s truth, gave to each listener the final choice, the “I ought.” To those who had ears to hear, the way forward rested with each. When Jesus rebuked the Pharisees in Matthew 23, he defined the ultimate choice between the religious requirement to tithe and the more important matters of justice, mercy and faith. The distinction has deep meaning and implications for my faith journey. I ought to be more merciful, not whether you are.
Because I have fallen into the trap, years spent conforming reality to my desire, I have often said, “you ought.” The utterance made me feel better about my shortcomings. It was God that led me to say once again, “I ought,” the means by which my soul found strength against reality, by which I conform to God and not to man.
Just one varied interpretation.