Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Back to moral Reasoning and Ethics--Not finished with this topic!
(Written on August 3rd because today--Wednesday--I'm flying to Philly for the Philadelphia Writer's Conference).
This morning, as I watched Alias, season four, on the treadmill, SpyDaddy said something to Syd that went like this: “Sometimes a comforting lie is better than the awful truth.”
And immediately my mind went back to our discussion of ethics. Was he right? My gut instinctively says no, and I thought of all the people in Scripture who lied (Rahab, the Egyptian midwives, etc) and who were apparently blessed.
Then I thought of David, the “man after God’s own heart.” We know God loved him and blessed him, but David committed murder and adultery, and there’s no way that God could want us to emulate that behavior.
Accidental Poet asked if the example of the three ways to handle a question like “Have you hidden Jews in your house?” (posed by Nazis in WWII) was a case of situational ethics. If you missed my response (given in the comments), I said that situational ethics is relativism—when values change according to the situation. Situational ethics, or relativism, would say that lying is right in one situation, and wrong in another.
Sadly, too many Americans live by this credo—it’s okay to tell your employer you’re sick when you want to go to the beach, but wrong to lie to the IRS. Or, depending upon your feelings about the government, maybe you think it’s right to lie to the IRS and wrong to lie to your spouse. Or, depending upon your spouse, you think it’s right to lie to your spouse and wrong to lie to your kids . . . you get the picture. We live in a country of shifting stand.
In our example about the Nazis, where I gave three biblical examples, lying was wrong in each case. In the first case, it was wrong so you wouldn’t do it. “Yes, I have hidden Jews in the basement,” you would say, and then you would have faith in the sovereignty of God.
But God knows our frame, that we are weak, and so there’s option B: “No, I haven’t hidden Jews,” you’d say, then you’d close the door and ask God to forgive you of the lie. You’d have been choosing the lesser of two evils.
Or, option C, you choose the greater good: “No, I haven’t hidden Jews,” you’d say, counting it better to save their lives than to keep your conscience clear. (And you’d have to ask forgiveness for the lie, anyway).
I think we’d all have to agree that option A is best. In my book THE TRUTH TELLER, Lara Godfrey and her son are being pursued by an evil genius, so for five years she lives under an assumed name and establishes false accounts, false identities, everything. But she realizes that this is not a godly life, so she tells the truth . . . and pays a price for it. But God is faithful, though she does go through a LOT of grief for her decision.
Once I read a book by the late Grady Nutt. He proposed that Peter was like Barney Fife and Jesus was like Andy Taylor. He said that on the night Peter denied Christ, maybe we are wrong judge him quickly—after all, if you look carefully, Peter denied at the gate, then at the courtyard, then by the fire. Peter didn’t run away. He was sneaking in, maybe playing “Barney” or “Spy Disciple” and trying to figure out what was going on with Jesus. And maybe he was so crushed when Jesus saw him and the cock crowed because he didn’t have a chance to explain why he was cursing and skulking about.
Ah . . . I think here we may have an example of ethics examples B or C. Peter was lying, maintaining a deceptive cover, perhaps for a noble (in his estimation) purpose. But the end result was the same—he was crushed. No matter what his motivation, Peter realized that 1) Jesus had known what he was going to do and 2) Jesus was disappointed in Peter’s actions.
“The truth shall set you free,” Jesus said, and it’s so true. Once we start lying, we begin to live lives that are false . . . and we ultimately injure those around us. And sometimes, perhaps, it is better to remain silent about the family skeletons than to tell all and unburden ourselves.
SpyDaddy got it wrong. A comforting lie isn’t better than the awful truth. And Sydney soon discovers this for herself.