When the books, The Classic Treatment and Situation Ethics, hit the shelves decades ago, Christians went crazy. And rightly so! Its thesis of these two books was that some moral absolutes could be set aside in certain situations if the outcome was love. The ends justify the means. Others expanded on this idea to say the “rightness or wrongness” of a decision depends on the outcome. This new pragmatism became the new litmus test of ethics.
Before you shake your head in disgust at this philosophy, I think all of us Christians are guilty of some form of situational ethics. Here’s how it works, subtly in real life – in my life.
Years ago, I was driving with my son-in-law and two of our grandchildren. We were late for an event, so I was speeding. My 10 year old grandson said, “Papa you’re going really fast. Won’t you get a ticket?” While I was a bit embarrassed at being “caught”, I carefully explained why I was speeding – it was so we wouldn’t be late.
My other grandson asked whether I had a radar detector. So, I then went on to explain self-righteously why I don’t use one. “I think it’s wrong to own a device for which the sole purpose is to circumvent the law. If you violate the law, you should accept your punishment,” I explained logically. (I was good!)
No sooner than those words were out of my mouth, I was pulled over by a state trooper for 15 over. I was busted! Even worse, it dawned on me that I’d actually been teaching my grandchildren that speeding was okay, if you were in a hurry and you didn’t use a radar detector like all those other law avoiding “sinners”. Pragmatism! Shame on me.
By the grace of God, I was humbled enough to apologize to my grandchildren for both my hypocrisy and my justification. “Unless it’s a true emergency – with blood involved, I should never speed and you have the right to call me on it”, I told them. (And, they have.) Perhaps even the “blood involved” exception is just another form of pragmatism. It’s complicated.
So, what’s your story?
Take a minute and think about situations in your own life when you occasionally bend the law – either man’s law or God’s.
Have your children observed you “fudging” on their age to get into a theatre?
When running late, have you gotten into the habit of calling your wife from your car and reporting that you’re closer to home than you really are?
Have you told your boss or a customer, or client, certain work was completed when in fact it wasn’t?
Have your children overheard you lying to someone on the phone as an excuse why you can’t do something?
Have you gotten into the habit of justifying your tardiness, blaming everything, but yourself for being late?
It is a temptation when, “everybody does it”. But, the only solution for Christians is stop doing it! I love this quote, but I don’t know the author;
“A person, who believes in absolutes, accepts the proposition that there are things which are inherently “right” and he “does right until the stars fall”. He does what he believes is right and is willing to accept the consequences of his actions, regardless of the outcome.”
And let’s not hide behind the, “Was it a sin to hide Jews in World War II and lie about it? ”question. Of course, there are greater good exceptions. But, the examples I’ve given have no such noble purpose.
If God has convicted you as you’ve read this blog, obey the 10 second rule. Make two pre-decisions; the first, confess whatever behavior it is that you know is either wrong, or unwise to God and make a decision to stop doing it!
The second thing? If anyone else has observed you doing it, especially your children, confess to them and apologize for your bad example. Trust me, they’ll respect you for it and it will make you more accountable in the future. Most importantly, you’ll have taught them a great lesson and won another skirmish in the battle against pragmatism and hypocrisy.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Matthew 7:24
Question: How has pragmatism caused you to compromise what you know to be right?