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What’s in a Name?

20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! 21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!

Isaiah 5:20-21 (ESV)

Culture wars are fought upon the battleground of words. Even the greatest vice seemingly transforms into virtue when men alter ancient definitions. But those who defend fixed notions of right and wrong know better. Truth is non-negotiable because God has spoken long before the human dictionary is written. The Lord alone reveals what is good and evil. Everything else is deviance.

Isaiah labored through reigns of the five kings (Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, and Manasseh) and witnessed firsthand the devastating consequences of theological and cultural corruption. In chapter five, the prophet pronounced a series of judgments upon Judah during the reign of Jotham, who ruled the state during his father’s bout with leprosy and later succeeded Uzziah (2 Chron. 26-27). Although Jotham was not a particularly bad ruler, his monarchy did nothing to stem the tide of widespread moral corruption, which had been encouraged by earlier kings (2 Chron. 27:2).

The “woes” of chapter five relate to the particular sins of the time. Real estate fraud (v. 8), debauchery (vv. 11, 22), false worship (v. 12), and bribery (v. 23) mocked divine justice. Judah “despised” the Word of God (v. 24). Each instance revealed a systematic cultural agenda to disavow the Lord’s commands. The Holy One of Israel pronounced a coming nation-ending judgment due to Judah’s penchant for calling “good evil and evil good.”

A corrupt society can be identified by what it names things. Calling abortion “choice,” human cloning “therapeutic research,” and homosexual partners “parents” serve as but a few examples of a devious nomenclature. Such insubordination to the revealed will of God traces its lineage all the way back to the Garden. But another path is possible. By following the word of God, man can work faithfully to subdue and organize, as Calvin once put it, “this most glorious theater into which God has placed him.”

G. K. Chesterton commented on the dearth of public protest against sin. “It's not that we don't have enough scoundrels to curse,” he wrote, “it's that we don't have enough good men to curse them.” Only the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ can call back people to definitions demanded by truth. Without her, the world suffers from a kind of amnesia about reality, and forgets what God has called sin. Unless the leaders of God’s people speak out regarding the great sins and social ills of their day, a nation loses its conscience, inevitably labeling good evil and evil good.