Elizabeth Fritzl has had a hard life. She ran away 30 years ago, when she was 12, to escape her father’s sexual abuse and was brought back home by the Austrian police. Her father, Josef, was a friend of the Major of Amstetten, a respected man in a community that had chosen to forget his previous conviction for rape. Josef made sure she would not run away again by constructing a specially made cellar where she spent the next 24 years.
Some of their children first saw the light of day in April last year. The surviving twin, Alexander had the doubtful privilege of living upstairs with father and grandmother.
At his trial the court was told Fritzl used his daughter Elizabeth, “like his property” after imprisoning her. In an uncanny way this is reminiscent of societies where children were considered to be the property of their parents. In the ancient world, child sacrifice was a relatively common way of showing one’s respect for the gods. It was the ‘right’ thing to do. Yet in that context the Old Testament scriptures make it clear that God considers such behaviour as morally detestable (Leviticus 20:1-5).
In the postmodern world of today the truth is said to be different for everyone; in other words you are free to make up your own ethical rules. Even in these circles there is a deep-seated sense that some things are just wrong – not merely ‘wrong for me’, but objectively, universally, deeply wrong. I doubt if you could find anyone this weekend who will say that what Fritzl did would be ‘wrong for me’, but maybe it was ‘right for him’.
But if that is the case then we have to ask the question, what makes such things universally and objectively wrong? If we’re going to acknowledge that morality transcends my own beliefs and my own culture then the only possible origin for such a transcendent moral order is God. For if we think about it, there simply isn’t anything or anyone else other than God who can underpin a morality that is objective, timeless and universal. To put it bluntly: if we want to claim that Fritzl’s actions were wrong absolutely then we have to also acknowledge that only God makes that so.
Its time to jettison the popular notions of postmodernity and the “New Atheists” and listen to the One who speaks to us today through Jesus. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:1-2).