Thursday, April 02, 2015

Responding to an objection

Steve Hays has already responded to this post about whether it's ever okay to lie. I wanted to quote one particular section of the original post (not Steve's response) and comment on it:
But this takes us back to the Jews hiding in the living room. What then? Well, when scheming up hypothetical ethical dilemmas, you have to remember that hypotheticals are literally problematic. They are contrived precisely because they expose a supposed weakness in a person’s argument. So if you are going to play the hypothetical game, remember that God is sovereign, and with that comes his promise that every instance of temptation he will always provide a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13)… and that escape is NEVER going to involve sinning. God does not open your escape hatch through sin. In fact, in the context of 1 Corinthians 10, sin is the very thing that God gives you an escape from. Thus, in any hypothetical moral dilemma you need to remember that there is an unstated contingent—namely, God will give you a way out that does not involve sin.(emphasis in original)
As Steve's already pointed out, this is hardly a hypothetical given that it literally happened that Nazis asked people if there were any Jews on their premises and people actually did have to decide whether to lie or give them up.

 In any case, when I first read this article earlier today, it sparked something in the back of my mind that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Tonight, as I was preparing to wind down for the evening, it finally clicked into place what I was reminded of:
Then the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the Lord gave them into his hand. And he struck them from Aroer to the neighborhood of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim, with a great blow. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel. Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow” (Judges 11:29-35, ESV).
Now most Christians that I have corresponded with and read on this topic agree that Jephthah's vow was stupid, evil, and should have been broken. Instead, he sacrificed his daughter rather than break his vow. The reason I bring this up in this discussion, however, is because I have to ask: how exactly did God provide a way out for Jephthah here? If the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 10 being presented is correct (and I do not believe it is), then there should have been a way out for Jephthah to not have to sin by breaking his vow whilst still sparing his daughter's life. But it seems plain to me that Jephthah's only option was to either sin by breaking his vow or sin by committing murder, and obviously murder is a worse sin than breaking a vow, so the vow should have been broken.

This passage in Judges was not included for us to emulate Jephthah's behavior. The entire book of Judges is predicated on the reality of the concluding verse: "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25). So I think we have a circumstance here where plainly we are told that if the only options available are to sin small or to sin great, the right thing to do is to sin small. And obviously, it goes without saying that Jephthah's original vow should never have been uttered--that was the initial sinful action. But given the reality that he had set himself up in a lose/lose situation, the moral action would have been for him to have taken the punishment for breaking the vow instead of carrying out evil on his daughter.

Now, if this is the case in the circumstance where we can put some culpability upon Jephthah for his rash vow, let us keep that in mind when we think of the classic Nazis asking if you're hiding Jews. If it be a sin to lie in that circumstance, then we ought to be willing to take the punishment for the sinful lie instead of sinning by handing over those whom we have an obligation to protect.

But again, I maintain that it is not a sin to lie in such a circumstance, and it is Rahab that shows that. The article I'm responding to concludes: "Rahab is always held out as an example of faith for siding with God’s people, and is never held out as an example of lying for the glory of God." There's only one problem with that. James commends her for the actions she took, said actions being...lying: "Rahab the prostitute [was] justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way".

It is Rahab's action of sending the spies and their pursuers in different directions that is the basis for James to conclude she was justified here. While it is true that the Bible sometimes reports events without stating a moral judgment at times (Jephthah's story is an example of one such time, in fact), I cannot see any way in which it is possible to separate out Rahab's actions in saving the spies from her lie. The lie is the only reason that any of the things she did saved the spies. Without that lie, the spies would have been found and killed. There is no way around that simple, brute fact.

Again, this type of event is not going to be frequent (thank God). But when it does happen, there's no need to burden someone's conscience by making a sin out of what is actually the morally good thing to do.

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