September 14 – Difficult Choices

September 14 – Difficult Choices

1 Corinthians 10:13

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Practically speaking, how does a Christian, committed to the absolute nature of the whole law of God, face a situation in which these laws seem to conflict? When Christ tells us to preach the gospel and the government tells us to be quiet, what do we do? When spies (such as with Rahab, or Jews in Germany during WWII) who are God’s people are in my home and the police come to arrest them, do I betray them or deceive the authorities? When the same God who commands, “Thou shalt not kill” also commands to destroy a whole people, what does the soldier do?

Christ himself tells us that David did well — not a bad but forgivable act — in violating the law by eating the showbread in an emergency (Matthew 12:3-5). When the priests profane the Sabbath, Christ does not say they are forgiven, but rather that they are blameless. If the Pharisees only understood these things, they would not have condemned the guiltless disciples who did on the Sabbath a lawful thing that otherwise would have been unlawful. How does one decide when to keep the law and when to violate it?

Define the law carefully. The first step in solving this dilemma is to define the particular activity precisely. Is it truly a sin on biblical terms? For example, many people feel that all deception is a form of sinful lying; all killing is a form of sinful murder; all civil disobedience is a form of sinful lawlessness; all work on Sunday violates the Sabbath law. However, these definitions are not only naïve; they are not biblical. When a soldier kills, he is not necessarily committing murder. When the government taxes, taking some of my possessions by force, it is not stealing. It is important to insist that the Bible itself define what kind of deception, if any, is legitimate; what kind of killing is legitimate; what kind of taking by force is legitimate; what kind of civil disobedience is legitimate. We are not free to decide. The Bible itself, giving the command, must be allowed to define the limits of that command.

The faith way of escape. Normally there is a third alternative when we face a moral dilemma. Scripture promises that God will provide a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13). Often, this is the way of faith. We must choose to do right and trust God with the consequences. As Brother Lawrence said, “I hope that when I have done what I can, he will do with me as he pleases.”[78] Such is the utter God-confidence and childlike trust of an obedient child. God who is love, infinite in wisdom and power, can be trusted to handle the outcome of our obedience.

When we define the ethical choice in biblical terms and seek for the third alternative, the way of faith, most dilemmas are solved. I personally have never experienced a moral dilemma that was not resolved by biblical definition and choosing to trust God with the consequences. As a result, in counseling, I would not advise a troubled person to do more than this. However, some have been in positions in which a choice must be made between two actions, both of which they consider wrong. How should the choice be made?

If one feels he must make a choice and do what the Bible describes as breaking a law, he should make the choice in line with biblical precedent and confess the sin as a sin.

  1. Making the choice according to a biblical precedent. There is a biblical hierarchy of both virtue and sin. So, if a person concludes he must make a choice between two apparently sinful alternatives, he should certainly choose the lesser of the two evils, not the greater.
  2. Having made such a choice, however, one should confess this as sin. Ask God’s forgiveness. This does not necessarily mean that God judges it to be sin. The early disciples disobeyed the law, saying to the supreme court, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Apparently, God did not consider this civil disobedience sinful. It was not “the lesser of two evils” but the “higher of two goods.” Suicide is wrong, but is the soldier in a bunker who clutches the live grenade to his belly to save his comrades guilty of sin? “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

God may have a different evaluation of a given act, and in the end this “tragic moral choice” that one feels compelled to make may be judged by God as a righteous act, not the lesser of two evils. In the meanwhile, however, it is important, lacking the perspective of God, to confess as sin what one believes may be sin. Whatever is not of faith is sin. In this way, one upholds the law and refuses the situationist’s policy of universalizing the procedure as the norm of ethical behavior.

Do not make an exception normative. If you feel in conscience before God that a choice must be made, you should do so only with the firm conviction that this is a rare exception, not to be repeated and certainly not to be made the basis of daily choice. While there are problems to be solved, we must stress the reasons for utterly rejecting the current choices in morality as being untenable, unbiblical, and unworkable. This morality is a meticulously crafted castle founded on sand. It will fall and shatter those who live in it because it was not built on the rock of God’s revelation. Our task is to unmask the deception and rescue the deceived.

[78] Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God (New York: Revell, 1895), 36.

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