So Who’s Right?

Which is right?As I was editing yesterday’s post about “The Lady or the Tiger?” I realized the story posed an ethical question. It’s a test of values really, challenging us to ask what we would do if we were faced with the dilemma the young princess in the story faced.

No matter what she chose, she was not going to be with her young man. But did she love him enough to let him go, enabling him to find happiness even if she could not? In other words, did she love him enough that she would sacrifice for him or would she demand that he sacrificed for her?

Is there a right answer? Clearly, yes. Someone who loves, gives sacrificially.

The Bible actually sets up a two-tier standard of right. Tier one–love God with all our being. Tier two–love other people in the same way we love ourselves.

Jesus said that’s the whole law in a nutshell.

But what happens when there’s a collision of values, when loving God and loving people seem to be mutually exclusive? I think, for example, of the story Corrie ten Boom told about one of her sisters during a Nazi raid of their home.

They were hiding a handful of young men in a space accessed through a trapdoor under their table so that they wouldn’t be conscripted into the Nazi military. When the soldiers stormed into the room, they asked, Where are the young men? Corrie’s sister had a firm conviction about not lying. Put on the spot like this, she nervously laughed, and said, “They’re under the table.” When the soldiers looked under the table and saw no one, they thought she was making fun of them and stormed off rather than searching the house.

Interestingly, others in the house didn’t think she’d done the right thing. They felt she’d put the men in jeopardy by telling the truth.

In a similar circumstance, with two Israelite spies hiding on her roof, Rahab lied to the men looking for them. Nowhere in Scripture is she reprimanded for the lie. In fact, in the book of James she’s commended for hiding the spies and sending them out another way.

The midwives in Egypt similarly lied, it would seem, when they explained to Pharaoh why they weren’t killing the Israelite baby boys.

Jonathan lied to his dad in order to help David escape Saul by saying that David wasn’t eating at the king’s table because he’d asked permission to go visit his family.

These three examples from Scripture seem to suggest that the higher law of protecting life supersedes that of telling the truth. This would be consistent with what Jesus said to the Pharisees about His healing people on the Sabbath. Quoting Scripture, He made a case that it was right to do good even if it meant breaking the Sabbath.

The most shocking example of all is when Jesus cites David’s lie to the priests about needing food because he was on an urgent errand for the king. The truth was, he was running for his life away from the king. The priest gave him the bread set out as part of their worship ceremony–bread only the priests were to eat according to Levitical Law established during the exodus–in other words, the law God gave them.

Jesus acknowledged the law but that David’s need trumped it. The shocking part is that as a result of his lie, the priest helped him. Saul then used that fact to accuse all the priests of siding with David in rebellion against him, and had them killed.

We’re talking seventy men. Killed because of David’s lie. And Jesus said the priests were right to help him, to give him what was not lawful to give.

You can see the dilemmas. In some instances, the lie seemed to save people. In the Ten Boom sister’s case, the truth saved people. And in David’s case the lie cost people their lives, though he and his men were saved.

What’s the right thing to do? Lie to save lives? Trust God as Corrie’s sister did and tell the truth? Is there a moral right? Or is there only a moral “it depends”?

I don’t think there’s any doubt that there’s a moral right. The problem is in the execution. We are to love God, then love people. When the two seem to be in contradiction, we are to do good.

But what does “good” mean? Sometimes “good” is discipline, as in the case of a naughty child who sneaks into the kitchen and steals cookies right before dinner. Good requires that the child learns, though undoubtedly she thinks good means letting her have cookies any time of the day or night, whenever she wants them.

All this philosophical pondering actually has an impact on how we view our government and our part in it. If there is a moral right, then we should be advocates for it in our democracy.

No system of government will establish God’s rule on earth. Only Jesus returning as King to take His throne will establish God’s governmental rule on earth.

Nevertheless, if “we the people” are behind the government, then it seems to me we, the people of God, should be making our choices as citizens based on moral right. We may be outvoted, but that doesn’t change our responsibility to advocate for moral right and to choose it whenever we can.

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Published in: on July 18, 2013 at 5:43 pm  Comments Off on So Who’s Right?  
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