By Pr Isaiah White
There is a subject in Christian ethics known as Ethical Dilemma. Ethical dilemmas are situations where values contradict each other.
It is a situation where none of the moral alternatives override the other. Philosophers sometimes call this a moral paradox. In an instance where the ethical prohibition is: “Thou shalt not kill,” but killing might be the only way some lives are saved, what do you do and why?
In other ethical dilemma incidents, it is not about what you do, but how do you do it.
Genesis 12:10-13 reports: “Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land.
“And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “Indeed I know you are a beautiful woman. Therefore, it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, This is his wife; and they will kill me, but they will let you live.
“Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.” Based on this passage, Christians today struggle with two sets of questions.
The first is about Abraham and his wife; did Abraham lie or not? Some say Abraham proposed to Sarah and she had a choice to accept or reject it.
Others insist that the proposal to lie demonstrates his character. The second set of questions demands an ethical lesson from this situation.
Did Abraham lie for a better value cause? Does the end justify the means (teleological ethics), overriding the existing values and duties of an individual (deontological ethics)?
If Abraham’s lie saved the family, then it should be justified (the end justifies the means). The question is; whether Abraham’s duty to tell the truth was not violated and if it was by his act of lying, doesn’t that make him a liar? This is what an ethical dilemma is.
As Christians living in this world, it is likely that once in a while, we will find ourselves in compromising situations. In such circumstances, we are faced with choices that conflict with our value systems.
J.I. Packer, an English-born Canadian theologian states that there are cases of conflicting duties in which “Love’s task … is to find how to do the most good, and the least evil … love for persons must arbitrate between the conflicting claims of moral principles.”
We shall, he says, “Insist that evil remains evil, even when, being the lesser evil, it appears the right thing to do; we shall do it with heavy heart, and seek God’s cleansing of our conscience for having done it” (J.I. Packer; Situations and Principles, and B.N. Kaye and G.J. Wenham eds; Law, Morality and the Bible 1978).
God, the Holy Spirit is our only hope in such situations. For He alone will provide the wisdom we need to do the right thing without compromising the truth.