Monday, May 02, 2016

Nathan's parable

12 And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity” (2 Sam 12:1-6).

i) There are some very intelligent Christians, as well as some very devout Christians (and these are not mutually exclusive categories) who think lying is always wrong. I discuss this every so often.

ii) The walk of faith would be simpler if fidelity to God meant you always do what God commands, and never do what God forbids. I'd add that that's a good rule of thumb.

However, God hasn't made it that easy for us. For instance, there are times when Jesus condemns religious leaders because they didn't break God's law. Situations in which they had a duty to disobey God's law. Situations where they should teach others to disobey God's law. Seems counterintuitive, but Jesus does that on several occasions. 

As Jesus explains, it's not enough just to thoughtlessly obey God's commands. You need to ask yourself the purpose of God's command. If you take a command out of context, then there are circumstances in which obedience to the command is inappropriate. Indeed, where obedience is subversive to what the command intended. 

Therefore, Christians do have to take that into account. To be faithful to God, we must take into consideration the rationale for a particular command or prohibition. We must pay attention to the context so that we don't overgeneralize the force of the command. We deceive ourselves if we think rote obedience is equivalent to fidelity. Jesus didn't give us that option. We don't have that luxury. 

iii) Consider Nathan's disguised parable. The prophet Nathan resorted to subterfuge. First, he conveys to David the false impression that this is a true story. Moreover, he misleads David into thinking this story is about someone else.

The reason for Nathan's deception is twofold: David is dangerous. By broaching the issue in this roundtable way, Nathan catches David off-guard. 

In addition, the parable is an analogy. Once David agrees with the parable, David is trapped by the implications of the parable. Because the comparison is really about his own behavior. 

iv) The question, then, is whether lying is impermissible, but verbal deception is sometimes  permissible. On the face of it, that's an ad hoc dichotomy. I think examples like this illustrate the fact that lying is not intrinsically wrong, even though it's generally wrong. I'd say lying is prima facie wrong, but there are special situations in which what's ordinarily wrong ceases to be wrong. 

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