It must have been in an 8th or 9th grade science class when we first witnessed a litmus test. Special strips of paper were dipped into liquids: when a paper came out blue, we knew the solution to be basic, or alkaline; those turning red, on the other hand, indicated an acidic solution. Though the full significance of “acid versus base” was lost on us at the time, paper turning colors in the water was pretty cool stuff for adolescents.
Over the years, “litmus test” has taken on another meaning—it is the primary criterion by which we determine the acceptability of a person, thought, or viewpoint. What is this judge’s view on abortion, and where does that candidate stand on border security? (Did you notice that even political litmus tests come down to red and blue?) We approach moral decisions the same way, i.e., some rely on personal feelings or reasoning, while others inquire of an outside Moral Authority.
In today’s scripture, God had clearly instructed the first couple not to seek the “knowledge of good and evil,” but Eve did anyway. Why? She went with her own feelings, desires, and rationale: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” In short, Eve applied the wrong litmus test, which led to a disastrous decision in the lab of life and an explosion spreading shards of sorrow, fear, and blame.
We all fall to the same temptation as Eve, don’t we, applying the moral criteria of our convenience at times? For some, the litmus test is simply what feels good to us. Others look outwardly and consider how a particular action affects another person, but stop short of inquiring of a holy God. But the true test in life has never changed, rather it is the same for us as it was for Eve—God’s Word. It springs from a fountain of wisdom deeper than any understanding of our own, and it proclaims a holy standard we cannot attain through subjective feelings or human reason. It is life itself and purest wisdom; we do well to subject our will to the entirety of God’s Word.
So we ask ourselves, Do I apply the right litmus test in life? Do I regard red strips as though they were blue, and blue as though red, if I don’t like the outcome? Am I willing to trust God’s Word with my life? Here is good advice for us all: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
Lord God, may your Spirit deepen my understanding, sharpen my mind, and strengthen my faith to take you at your Word. I pray this as your child in Christ Jesus. Amen.
[See today’s Scripture in Genesis 3:1-24.]