Moral dilemmas and Christian choice

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ClayPot

Puritan Board Sophomore
I've been thinking a lot about moral dilemmas and the Christian response in certain circumstances. I believe there are true moral dilemmas for a Christian, though many situations posited as moral dilemmas are not.

One example of a moral dilemma (in my mind) involves 5 people tied to one fork of a train track and 10 tied to another. A train is coming, you don't have time to untie any of them, but you can flip a switch to change the fork the train goes down. Neither is a good choice. And one can argue here that neither choice would be a sin (I would agree), but neither choice is comfortable from a Christian perspective.

A classic moral dilemma is when the Nazis come into your house and ask where you are hiding the Jews. You can 1. Lie, 2. Tell them the truth, 3. Refuse to answer, which is not quite the same as 2., but effectively leads to them being found. While choice 3 doesn't technically violate any moral command (to my mind), it seems to me to be straining out the gnat and swallowing a camel. An even better version of this would be whether you would forge passports to help these Jews escape the country to safety. You would not only be lying because someone forced you into that position, but actively engaging in it to save life.

What are your thoughts about situations such as these? Are there any resources you would recommend to grow in understanding of situations such as these? If you would like to argue that truth is not owed to the Nazis in the example above, could you please point out why you believe this Scripturally? I've never actual seen biblical argumentation for this.

A couple of old threads on the topic:
http://www.puritanboard.com/f54/tragic-moral-choice-conflicting-ethical-norms-16466/
http://www.puritanboard.com/f50/lying-nazis-your-door-31096/
 
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waltongreen

Puritan Board Freshman
Gary DeMar on when lying/deceit is not sinful.

Is It Ever Right to Lie? | American Vision

It's an interesting perspective, but he seems to simply say what the Bible says and not get too theonomic even. Basically, midwives in Egypt, Moses' mother, and Rahab all obeyed God rather than men. Maybe it's not too much of a moral dilemma, but Rahab hiding spies is very similar to the Nazi scenario you mentioned.
 

jambo

Puritan Board Senior
If a policeman came to my door and asked if I was hiding an escaped prisoner and I said no, then I would not only be lying but also be guilty of aiding and abetting a prisoner. If on the other hand a Nazi came to ask if I was hiding Jews I would have no hesitation in saying no. This is done not to deceive but to save life. I would find it easier to live with myself if I said no rather than "Yes, they're hiding in the cupboard downstairs."

In the first situation, I find these situations nonsensical and are more like party games. No one will ever be in the situation you describe. If you are in a dilema you work on instinct at the time. When our youngest was young he asked me if our house caught fire which son would I save first. I told him I would die trying to save all three. Likewise with the train, I would run up the line waving my arms trying to stop the train and maybe even die trying to save the 15. It's not that you have the power to decide who dies but the opportunity to try and save life if you can.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
I suppose I just don't find these to be particularly thorny.

I've never been a fan of what I consider some sort of ultimate ethic where witholding of certain facts of dissembling the absolute truth is wrong in all circumstances. I believe wisdom requires a combination of a solid understanding of the Law of God and its general equity as well as respecting the notion of the light of nature.

Most arguments I hear for the "absolute" of "no lying of any kind" propose the situation as if we are acting in "faith" if we say "oh yes, the people you want to kill are hiding in my basement right now" and then expect that God will work some sort of immediate miracle to preserve the life of those for whom harm is intended.

I believe that it would be a violation of the 6th Commandment to put my life or the lives of any I was responsible to protect to answer direct questions with veracity.

Why not ask the question whether "counter-intelligence" is permitted. Was Joshua sinning when he laid in ambush for Ai by pretending to have his forces fall back again?

But maybe Joshua just didn't trust God enough.

I frankly have about as much respect for this idea as the fellow I once told that I would never drive a motorcycle because I don't want to increase the risk of being in some accident and leaving my family without a husband/father. He responded that he simply "had faith" that God would protect him.

That's not faith and I don't think it's "faith" when we ignore the light of nature and wisdom in general for some facile concept of "truth-telling".
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
What are your thoughts about situations such as these?

The first thought to come to mind is that the dilemma is wholly of man's making. If man did not seek to play God and to control outcomes he would not have these dilemmas.

The so-called dilemma comes down to this -- we either commit to a good action or a good outcome. The Scriptures are perfectly clear in condemning the idea of doing evil that good may come.

The fact is, we do not know the future. We cannot say what will become of our actions. Moreover, God has made promises concerning "the good" of His people. Surely it is our duty to commit ourselves to our faithful Creator in well-doing.

Finally, these hypothetical dilemmas only serve to turn moral responsibility on its head. The reality is, the individual is not responsible for the evil actions of others. If we do evil and suffer for it, we are to blame. If we do good and suffer for it, this is praiseworthy.
 

ClayPot

Puritan Board Sophomore
In the first situation, I find these situations nonsensical and are more like party games. No one will ever be in the situation you describe. If you are in a dilema you work on instinct at the time. When our youngest was young he asked me if our house caught fire which son would I save first. I told him I would die trying to save all three. Likewise with the train, I would run up the line waving my arms trying to stop the train and maybe even die trying to save the 15. It's not that you have the power to decide who dies but the opportunity to try and save life if you can.

I don't completely agree with this. The train situation seems contrived, but the first is a parent's nightmare and has certainly happened (but maybe not in that context). Thinking on it right now, one thing I failed to recognize is that there is a great difference between being physically incapable of performing a positive command (protecting your family), and intentionally breaking God's law (intentionally harming your family). You try to save as many as you can, but the outcome is likely unsatisfactory, regardless. Sort of like if someone's wife had an ectopic pregnancy and in order to save the life of the wife, the baby was killed. Instead of letting two people die, you did what you could to save one of them.
 

ClayPot

Puritan Board Sophomore
I've never been a fan of what I consider some sort of ultimate ethic where witholding of certain facts of dissembling the absolute truth is wrong in all circumstances. I believe wisdom requires a combination of a solid understanding of the Law of God and its general equity as well as respecting the notion of the light of nature.

I sympathize with this. It feels like mocking God to provide information that directly helps a would be murderer take a life and then to say that you did it because you feared God! But at the same time, I haven't been able to construct a Biblical case that lying is ever permissible. That is part of the reason for my initial post.
 
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ClayPot

Puritan Board Sophomore
The so-called dilemma comes down to this -- we either commit to a good action or a good outcome. The Scriptures are perfectly clear in condemning the idea of doing evil that good may come.

Reverend Winzer, could you please clarify? In the Nazi/lying example, would the good action/outcome be lying to protect the Jews? Or would it be silencing/telling the truth and trusting God to protect the Jews. I believe you meant the former, but I wanted to confirm that.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
The so-called dilemma comes down to this -- we either commit to a good action or a good outcome. The Scriptures are perfectly clear in condemning the idea of doing evil that good may come.

Reverend Winzer, could you please clarify? In the Nazi/lying example, would the good action/outcome be lying to protect the Jews? Or would it be silencing/telling the truth and trusting God to protect the Jews. I believe you meant the former, but I wanted to confirm that.

The good action is telling the truth. The feared evil outcome is the capture of those who are in hiding. Faced with a choice we should do the good action and leave the outcome to Providence.

Also, there is the hopeful outcome that the evil-doers will be convinced and converted by means of telling the truth. Through hearing lies an evil-doer might lose faith in the testimony of Christians, so lying would have the effect of weakening the means whereby the evil-doer might come to see the error of his ways.
 
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Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Faced with a choice we should do the good action and leave the outcome to Providence.

If I'm ever in danger of my life and need shelter, remind me to make sure my host doesn't have this sort of scruple.
 

Mushroom

Puritan Board Doctor
The so-called dilemma comes down to this -- we either commit to a good action or a good outcome. The Scriptures are perfectly clear in condemning the idea of doing evil that good may come.

Reverend Winzer, could you please clarify? In the Nazi/lying example, would the good action/outcome be lying to protect the Jews? Or would it be silencing/telling the truth and trusting God to protect the Jews. I believe you meant the former, but I wanted to confirm that.

The good action is telling the truth. The feared evil outcome is the capture of those who are in hiding. Faced with a choice we should do the good action and leave the outcome to Providence.

Also, there is the hopeful outcome that the evil-doers will be convinced and converted by means of telling the truth. Through hearing lies an evil-doer might lose faith in the testimony of Christians, so lying would have the effect of weakening the means whereby the evil-doer might come to see the error of his ways.
I believe he meant the latter, Joshua.
 

JimmyH

Puritan Board Senior
To my way of thinking telling the nazi that the Jews are hiding in your basement would be complicity in murder and therefore sin. Lying to the nazi would therefore be not only permissible, but an act of mercy.
 

Mushroom

Puritan Board Doctor
Maybe a response of "Pound sand, Judenhaeger!" would be appropriate, since it would result in your own sudden intimacy with a rifle butt and your family's quick conveyance in a cattle car to the nearest gas chamber. Whether any Jews were found hiding behind a false wall in your attic afterward would then seem quite inconsequential, and your scruples would still stand unmolested. After all, everybody's going to the place of their fore-ordination anyway, right? So why did Rahab need to misdirect? The spies would get to where God wanted them without her assistance anyway, wouldn't they? And why was she then lauded and rewarded for her efforts?

Quandaries, conundrums, and paradoxes all around!
 

ClayPot

Puritan Board Sophomore
To my way of thinking telling the nazi that the Jews are hiding in your basement would be complicity in murder and therefore sin..

This is actually something I thought about last night.

I don't think it is sufficient to simply say you are not responsible for the evil actions of others, so tell the truth. Otherwise, any "Christian" Nazi who rounded up the Jews but didn't actually kill them could have a clear conscience. The European church existing during that time has rightly been criticized for not standing up to the unbiblical, murderous agenda of the Nazi regime.

Instead of telling the truth to the Nazi soldiers looking for Jews, once could at least preach the gospel to them and rebuke their actions. More than likely you would be harmed and the Jews would still likely be found, but you haven't aided in murder.
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
I suppose I just don't find these to be particularly thorny.

I've never been a fan of what I consider some sort of ultimate ethic where witholding of certain facts of dissembling the absolute truth is wrong in all circumstances. I believe wisdom requires a combination of a solid understanding of the Law of God and its general equity as well as respecting the notion of the light of nature.

Most arguments I hear for the "absolute" of "no lying of any kind" propose the situation as if we are acting in "faith" if we say "oh yes, the people you want to kill are hiding in my basement right now" and then expect that God will work some sort of immediate miracle to preserve the life of those for whom harm is intended.

I believe that it would be a violation of the 6th Commandment to put my life or the lives of any I was responsible to protect to answer direct questions with veracity.

Why not ask the question whether "counter-intelligence" is permitted. Was Joshua sinning when he laid in ambush for Ai by pretending to have his forces fall back again?

But maybe Joshua just didn't trust God enough.

I frankly have about as much respect for this idea as the fellow I once told that I would never drive a motorcycle because I don't want to increase the risk of being in some accident and leaving my family without a husband/father. He responded that he simply "had faith" that God would protect him.

That's not faith and I don't think it's "faith" when we ignore the light of nature and wisdom in general for some facile concept of "truth-telling".

Not to pit you aginst Rev. Winzer but....;)

I have been thinking of this topic and just as we all hold to a "just war" does your post imply that there is sometimes a "just lie" in the mist of some circumstances, especially in a just war? For it is one thing to protect oneself from harm to which we are called to suffer by telling the truth, but another thing to protect our neighbor to which in your example of Joshua decieving an enemy (lying) for just cause.

PS. I totally understand that the reasons I cite can lead to the sin of lying in many circumstances I in no way endorse.
 
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waltongreen

Puritan Board Freshman
After all, everybody's going to the place of their fore-ordination anyway, right? So why did Rahab need to misdirect? The spies would get to where God wanted them without her assistance anyway, wouldn't they? And why was she then lauded and rewarded for her efforts?

Quandaries, conundrums, and paradoxes all around!

I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not. But we clearly believe that God uses secondary means to accomplish his fore-ordination. So, it is not that the spies would have accomplished what God wanted regardless of what Rahab did. Rahab's role was just as fore-ordained as the spies task. Now, this alone does not justify Rahab's action. Just as God's fore-ordination of "all things that come to pass" does not make "all things that come to pass" pure and righteous. So, just as Calvinists do not throw up their hands and say "God's will will be done in evangelism whether or not I evangelize," in moral dilemmas we cannot throw up our hands and say "God's will will be done in this dilemna whether or not I make a sinful decision." Obviously, God's will will be done, but we desire to discern the right decision.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
If I'm ever in danger of my life and need shelter, remind me to make sure my host doesn't have this sort of scruple.

Before the kind man takes one under his shelter he will probably like to know that the refugee can be taken at his word.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Before the kind man takes one under his shelter he will probably like to know that the refugee can be taken at his word.

In which case, the ethic would demand that the Christian make plain that he will not lie in order to save the refugee's life before the refugee agrees. Otherwise, the Christian has undertaken a tacit agreement to do all that is necessary to protect the innocent.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Before the kind man takes one under his shelter he will probably like to know that the refugee can be taken at his word.

In which case, the ethic would demand that the Christian make plain that he will not lie in order to save the refugee's life before the refugee agrees. Otherwise, the Christian has undertaken a tacit agreement to do all that is necessary to protect the innocent.

A morality of entitlement would lead us to believe that beggars can be choosers. There is no place for the ethics of grace here.
 

Elizabeth

Puritan Board Sophomore
I would never drive a motorcycle because I don't want to increase the risk of being in some accident and leaving my family without a husband/father. He responded that he simply "had faith" that God would protect him.

But wait one moment...do we hold our(or anyone's) days in our hands, in our actions? Do we not have faith each and every day, upon awaking, that God will protect us? I would not get on a motorcycle either(or a bike without a helmet), but I do have faith that God will give me my appointed lot each day. Some good, some ill, but ultimately all blessed in His providence. I don't think we can protect our families, as much as we'd like to. God may call us home soon, or any of our children, or the refugees we are hiding. It is all in His hands, not ours.

I'd probably just hide with my refugees. :)
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
A morality of entitlement would lead us to believe that beggars can be choosers. There is no place for the ethics of grace here.

Can a beggar choose to kill to defend the life of another?

Or as asked before.

Is "counter-intelligence" is permitted. Was Joshua sinning when he laid in ambush for Ai by pretending to have his forces fall back again?
 
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Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
A morality of entitlement would lead us to believe that beggars can be choosers. There is no place for the ethics of grace here.

Among many reasons why I suspicious of attempts to use the ten commandments as a basis for categorical imperatives.
 
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