Lying to save life and biblical morality (Part V)

Fear Of The Future Or Faith In The Father?

By way of review, the fourth and final point made above in defending Rahab’s deception was that, “Potential consequences of any action must be carefully considered, and rigorously avoided if life-threatening. Since human life is considered most important, it needs to be protected even at the cost of truth.” In view of the fact that it has just been demonstrated that loving loyalty to God’s law of absolute truthfulness invalidates the humanistic belief of lying to save life, only the matter of “potential consequences” will be discussed in this section.

In setting the stage for retelling the story of Joshua 2, the writer of “In Defense of Rahab” made note of the strategic importance of the fortified city of Jericho, the first challenge the Israelites faced as they prepared to enter Canaan. The author alleged that “a failure here would spell psychological disaster for the invading forces. But a decisive victory would send shock waves throughout the entire area, unnerving less-protected leaders.”165 Later, expressing a similar concern for avoiding undesirable results, he argued that, had Rahab remained silent when asked about the spies, such refusal to speak “would have been fatal to the spies, for it would have triggered an exhaustive search of the premises.”166 Then, he contended: “On the other hand, to have disclosed the whereabouts of her visitors would have led to their certain imprisonment or death at an exceedingly critical time in Israel’s history.”167 Accordingly, reasoning that these consequences had to be rigorously avoided, the writer applauded Rahab for her daring deception.168

In a nutshell, the argument used above, says that Rahab’s use of deception was justifiable, for without it the spies would certainly have been captured or killed, resulting in disaster for the Israelites. This type of logic contradicts Romans 3:8, which “warns us not to say ‘Let us do evil that good may result.’”169 Incredibly, the article on Rahab never once mentioned that it was at God’s direct command that the Israelites were to cross the Jordan River, “to the land which I am giving to them – the children of Israel” (Josh 1:2).170 Thus, adopting an atheistic approach of totally ignoring God’s pivotal role in the lives of His people, the Rahab incident has been approached from a thoroughly humanistic perspective.

When it is seen that all “ethical systems can be broadly divided into two categories, deontological (duty-centered) and teleological (end-centered),”171 which are “mutually exclusive,”172 it becomes clear that the writer’s stress on results, makes this a teleological approach. This scheme stands in stark contrast to the deontological “ethic of principle,”173 which holds that actions are “intrinsically right or wrong regardless of their consequences.”174 In essence then, since teleology is dependent on the often changing circumstances of life, it amounts to an inconsistent, relativistic tactic; while deontology proves to be a trustworthy, principle-based method for making moral decisions.

It seems that the natural human reaction, when confronted with perplexing ethical difficulties or life-or-death dilemmas, is to attempt to project the future, and then to make decisions based on these consequential speculations. However, the person who has become “a new creation” in Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:17), is called upon to no longer be “conformed to this world” but to have a “transformed” way of thinking (Rom 12:2), and to “walk in the newness of life” (Rom 6:4), “according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:4). What this means in concrete situations is spelled out explicitly in instructions given by Jesus Christ: “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. . . . But be faithful, even if you have to die, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev 2:10 NCV). In brief, the challenge is: Do not operate out of fear of the future, but by faith in the Father!

This conspicuous contrast between “fear” and “faith” surfaces in the account of the storm on the Sea of Galilee. After Jesus had miraculously silenced the turbulent lake, He asked His disciples: “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” (Mark 4:40). The reaction of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, when faced with either the fiery furnace or forsaking their heavenly Father, exhibits precisely the opposite reaction. Though they believed that God was able to deliver them from death, they said to Nebuchadnezzar: “But even if He does not, . . . we are not going to serve your gods” (Dan 3:18 NIV). Commenting on such unswerving allegiance, Ellen White observes: “True Christian principle will not stop to weigh consequences.”175 For, “Christ’s ambassadors have nothing to do with consequences. They must perform their duty and leave results with God.”176 How then should moral decisions be made? Essentially echoing Revelation 2:10, Ellen White declares: “In deciding upon any course of action we are not to ask whether we can see that harm will result from it, but whether it is in keeping with the will of God.”177

Admittedly, statements such as these run counter to a culturally-conditioned, results-oriented, rationalistic mind. As one scholar astutely noted: “We want to be like the most High, subject to none. But can we calculate the eternal results or the rightness of our actions? We cannot predict even the next five minutes, much less the future.”178 When the biblical truth is acknowledged, that only the Creator can “tell from the beginning what will happen in the end” (Isa 46:10 NLV), people will begin to spurn speculating about possible consequences, and embrace the challenge of living for God’s glory (Matt 5:16), in complete conformity to His commandments.

Thus, the prescriptive teachings of Scripture, together with its exemplary testimonies, establishes a truly Christ-centered deontological approach as the only authentic biblical method for making moral decisions. Since consequential reasoning proves to be a “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Col 2:8 NIV), it needs to be roundly rejected. Instead, just as Jesus was “obedient to the point of death” (Phil 2:8), regardless of consequences, the dedicated believer is challenged to “think and act like Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5 NCV), fearless of the future, but “faithful, even to the point of death” (Rev 2:10 CJB).179

Conclusions And Implications Of This Study

This essay set out to make a Christ-centered, Bible-based, appropriately-applied examination of the issue of lying to save life. Utilizing published articles on the biblical narrative of Rahab as a springboard for discussion, an analysis was first made of the scriptural perspective of truth. It was concluded that, the God of truth and verity has made it an absolute binding moral obligation that people must communicate truthfully; so much so, that those who choose to copy Satan, “the father of lies,” will perish, while the redeemed who emulate Jesus, “the Truth,” will have eternal life. After having laid this basic groundwork, the specific issue concerning lying to save life was then considered at length. First, the concern regarding what ethical standards may be deduced from Scripture stories was addressed. It was shown that, only when the characters acted in harmony with God’s plainly revealed will in the Decalogue, and as exemplified in the life of Jesus, should they be imitated. Second, the matter of motives was examined. An exegetical inquiry into the biblical expressions, together with an overview of the standard dictionary meaning of deceit and related terms, revealed that irrespective of motives, to intentionally mislead someone is a violation of the ninth commandment. Third, the question of the existence of genuine conflicting moral obligations was investigated. After a brief historical survey, and an enumeration of the four major methods used by Christians to address ethical dilemmas, seven biblical principles were adduced. Based on a study of the essence and unity of the law, the example of Jesus, the fact of human freedom, God’s protection, the standard in the judgment, the great controversy, a proper delineation of the moral law, a trustworthy interpretation of the meaning of these commandments, and a repudiation of unbiblical societal expectations, it was concluded that it is totally impossible for real conflicts of absolute scriptural moral obligations to exist in God’s universe. Finally, the issue of the role of consequences in decision making was appraised. While, those who have argued in favor of lying to save life have opted for a speculative relativistic approach, it was demonstrated that the Bible’s principled position is a call to uncompromising faithful obedience, even in the face of death.

As has doubtless been observed, this research on the extent and application of truthtelling, has important implications for several other vital theological concepts. It impacts the nature of the character of the Father – a God of integrity, whose word can be trusted. It affects the perception of Jesus Christ, the essence of truth, and the believer’s example for moral living. It has a bearing on one’s view of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, One who has been sent to empower believers to successfully overcome any temptation. It has tremendous significance for the doctrine of revelation and inspiration, especially as it relates to the unity of Scripture, and the need for a biblically sound hermeneutical procedure to interpret its many intriguing stories.

In the final analysis, it appears there is no middle ground, no third alternative. On this issue of lying to save life, the choice is either to be conformed to the world or transformed by the Word; societal conventions versus scriptural commandments; to live in fear of the future or by faith in the Father! As Jesus put it: “Whoever is not with Me is against Me” (Matt 12:30 NLV).

Exerpt from Ron du Preez’s book Morals for Mortals. See book for end notes.