Each year I look forward to the Canadian geese migrating. The sound of their honking always causes me to crane my neck to see where they are. Their powerful flight and stately formation is a source of wonder no matter how many years I have seen it happen. Men call it instinct — this common, inborn pattern of activity and response. The geese know when it’s time to go. They are not made to survive the harsh northern winters. They would die if they didn’t obey their instinctive urge to fly south.
It is evident that they have within them the knowledge they need to survive and multiply. Unlike human beings, they have no choice about obeying their instincts. If they did, it would be plain why they have them — the ones who didn’t migrate would perish. If such waywardness spread among geese they would quickly be on the verge of extinction. They would have broken the covenant their Creator made with them. For animals that covenant could be expressed very simply: Do this (obey your instincts) and you will live.
The Son of God said, "Look at the birds of the air — they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them", and, "Not one bird falls to the ground apart from your Father." (Matthew 6:26 and 10:29) These are covenant words. In a covenant you bind yourself to another — to care, protect, and love them in every way. The instinctive knowledge within animals is evidence of the covenant between them and their loving Creator.
It is evident to human beings that this is the nature of God. The intricate web of life, the orderly roll of the days, the constant warmth of the sun, and the beauty of the stars all unmistakably speak of the great wisdom and care of the Creator. Yet it is obvious that human beings possess very few physical instincts. Babies hardly know how to do anything, and they take years to reach adulthood. Are we then without instinctive knowledge? Is there no covenant made with us, the one creature that can consciously choose or refuse to honor the Creator?
All of creation functions according to the instincts planted in them. They cannot tell you what they are, and we only discern them by observation. Consider what is in you as you act and think. You may not have thought about your responses before, but they reveal that you have something like instinct. It is not irresistible like the dictates animals unthinkingly heed, but rather a natural response that seems right to you in a situation. However, it serves the same purpose as instinct does among the animals, giving us the knowledge we need to survive and multiply. Beyond that, to obey this knowledge of what is good is what brings us happiness and peace of mind.
Have you ever noticed the respect given a pregnant woman? She is more apt to get a seat on the subway; the cashier in the check-out line gives her a warmer-than-required smile; she receives appreciation from strangers and friends alike. All of this simply because she carries a child in her womb. Have you ever noticed the joy that greets a child born into the world? It is a deep, unstoppable surge of emotion at the arrival of new life. Have you ever experienced the reality of these words:
"Whenever a woman is in labor she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she remembers the anguish no more, for joy that a human being has come into the world?" (John 16:21)
Have you ever been moved with compassion at the sufferings of someone else, especially a child? Crimes against and among youth are so terrible because it’s so unjust — they haven’t even had a chance at life yet.
Have you ever sensed that deep inside what you desired from another human being was trust, and acceptance, and love? Really what you long for is the covenant of marriage, to be able to mean it when you say, "Till death do us part".
Have you ever sensed the satisfaction from working hard to earn your own living? Is it really what you want — to be on easy street, with everything handed to you on a silver platter? Have you ever sensed the moral corruption of those who haven’t pulled their own weight?
Human beings have moral instincts, and these are just a few of them. They are evidence of the covenant God has entered into with all men and women: Do this (honor the instinctive knowledge of the truth within you) and you will live. In the same way that geese not flying south would ultimately bring destruction to their whole species, so our disregard of our moral instincts brings ruin to us and all those around us.
Unlike animals, we are accountable for what we do, because we have an ability to reason and a freedom to act far beyond them. Consistent with this is the great gift of the Creator to mankind — the conscience. This is the true source of our accountability, for it warns us before we do wrong. It is God's mercy to us that our conscience has the added power to condemn us if we go past that warning. That guilt is meant to soften the heart we had to harden in order to do what we knew was wrong. To continue to go against the voice of our conscience in spite of the increasing weight of guilt is to incur eternal judgment.
What exactly is this voice saying? What is this instinctive knowledge that God has inscribed on every human heart? It is the terms of an Everlasting Covenant that God made with Adam and Eve after the Fall, the boundaries of the conscience that would keep them and their offspring from the sins that would take them to the second death:
To the woman He said,
"I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth; in pain you shall bring forth children; yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." Then to Adam He said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it,’ cursed is the ground because of you. In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you, and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3:16-19)
These verses convey the essence of God's absolute moral standard for men and women. The woman is to desire her husband and give herself to bearing his children, not trying to escape the suffering of childbirth or the responsibility of caring for them. This creates a strong bond between the woman and her children, who grow up respecting her. Her husband’s love and respect for her also increases as he watches her go through the pain of childbirth.
The woman is to willingly submit to her husband's authority over her. The man is to lovingly rule over his wife, appreciating her desire for him and being faithful to her. He is to work hard to provide for his family, living off the sweat of his own brow, not trying to escape the suffering or the responsibility of being their provider. And they love and respect him for this.
There is no room within these boundaries for sexual relationships outside of the life-long covenant of marriage between a man and a woman. There is no room for the selfishness that usually motivates the choice to not bear children. There is no room for the wife to dominate or manipulate her husband. There is no room for the husband to be passive or lazy, or to be harsh or tyrannical. But there is much room for mutual love and care, faithfulness and diligence, loyalty and patience, kindness and warmth, endurance and fruitfulness. There is much room for happy, secure, righteous children who grow up to continue in the footsteps of their parents, within the boundaries of this Everlasting Covenant of conscience.
Tragically, beginning with Cain, there were many that forsook this covenant. By the time of Noah's generation, wickedness was so great that God was grieved that He had made man (Genesis 6:5-8). But He took hope in Noah’s family, who still held to the Everlasting Covenant. After the great flood He added to the covenant:
And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them:
"Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth... And surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man. And as for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it." (Genesis 9:1-7)
This includes a provision for human government to punish those who destroy human lives, which Israel received as law (as all nations will in which righteous men prevail):
If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the evidence of witnesses, but no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness. Moreover, you shall not take ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death... So you shall not pollute the land in which you are; for blood pollutes the land and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. (Numbers 35:30-33)
All good people will uphold this standard (even with their vote), for they value the image of God in their fellow man. Not only will they not murder (or withhold justice from murderers), but they will not knowingly do anything to ruin another person’s life. Still, as in the days of Noah, most people today do not uphold this Everlasting Covenant, and the tragic results are plain to see, as the prophet Isaiah foretold:
The earth is polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the Everlasting Covenant. Therefore, a curse devours the earth... (Isaiah 24:5-6)