How do I know what to do when…? A simple suggestion for moral dilemmas.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/media/inline/how-your-moral-decisions-shaped-by-mood_1.jpgIt is hard to be holy in this day and age or to even know what ‘being holy’ looks like.  Everyday we face choices and decisions that are far more grey than obviously right or wrong.  So how do we know what to do?

How do we know what to do when we want to stand up for our colleagues but don’t want to lie about their mistakes?

How do we know what to do when we don’t want to judge our friends, but neither do we condone everything they do?

How do we know what to do when we want to pursue a career using our God given gifts, but we’re asked to compromise on the way?

Compromise is the key word.  Rarely are we faced with obvious, cut and dry moral dilemmas.  We’re unlikely to be asked to murder someone or steal something just like that.  Rather we’ll be asked to fudge the edges of the law, take a tiny step towards the line but not necessarily cross it, to do something that makes us feel uncomfortable but we’re not 100% sure why.

Here’s an example that arose from a recent conversation: is it ok for Christian artists to use nudity in their art?

Surely Christians are called to be pure and to live as examples of that purity steering away from the lewdness that can so readily saturate the world we live in.  The idea of a Christian we know painting something explicit, for example, can be shocking.  Yet can it ever be the case that just such a shock is needed to get an important point across?  I remember the anecdote of a well known Christian speaker swearing during an address and then challenging his hearers: “You care more that I just used the word **** than that thousands of children are dying around the world as we speak”.  What if a painting was drawn that exposed the denigration of women in our society or championed the rights of those who suffer from domestic abuse?

It’s pretty murky waters don’t you think?  Yet I want to be bold enough to suggest a simple rule for any Christian trying to get a handle on how to navigate the moral grey we find ourselves in.  It’s a rule taken from the apostle Paul writing about similarly grey areas of his own day…

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

How do I know what to do?  By asking myself not just “would God mind?”, but “can I actually do this for God?  On His behalf, in His name?”

We have to realise that ‘Christian’ doesn’t just denote something we do at the weekends, it is a term that defines the entirety of who we are and so qualifies everything we do.  I am not a Christian, a lawyer, a son, an Englishman, and a student (fill in the list as appropriate to you).  Rather, I am a Christian lawyer, a Christian son, a Christian Englishman, a Christian student.  Whatever I do and wherever I am, I do it and I am there carrying the name of Christ.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51bC2APLFLL.jpgAn example to elucidate the point.  Vincent Donovan, a Christian anthropologist, studied an indigenous tribe (the Masai) in east Africa and wrote about it in his book Christianity Rediscovered.  It is actually his report of a neighbouring tribe that I want to share.  This tribe were a dancing people, every aspect of life was accompanied by different dances.  Once they believed in Jesus, the eucharist became a huge celebration and one accompanied by dance.  Yet it began to shape their approach to every part of life.  They discovered that there were some dances they simply could not perform at the eucharist – it wasn’t right to dance like that in such a remarkable moment of unity with Christ.  But they recognised that if they could not perform a dance at the eucharist, then they couldn’t perform it at all. The eucharist was not just something they did, it was an expression of a relationship that defined who they were.  They were people of the eucharist.  They were Christian.

http://www.irisglobal.org/gallery/gal/24%20June%202010/IMG_8408.jpg

The same goes for us, for every Christian in every place across this earth.  We are defined by our relationship with Jesus Christ.  It’s a relationship that doesn’t stop once we leave the church building but remains in every aspect of life.  Think of the main aspect of your worship whatever churchmanship you’re from: taking communion, sung worship, prayer

ministry, whatever it is.  Now, every time you want to know what to do ask yourself this: could I do this for God, in His name, and in that place of worship?

So, whatever you do, whether in business, media, religion, education, politics, healthcare, family, or art, do it all for the glory of God in the light of the eucharist.

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “How do I know what to do when…? A simple suggestion for moral dilemmas.

  1. very simple yet very profound.It also respects the truth of our personal relationship with God that one may be comfortable with behaviour etc that another could not do by the same test
    So is there a place for Paul’s injunction not to cause a stumbling block? If there is, how wide is the circle that encompasses the ‘ other’ ? If it is too wide thus it render the original test unuseful?

    • Great question and an important one. It draws out the fact that we don’t act in a vacuum. Morality is not a purely individual matter but affects those around us. Yet the people around us are not abstract “others”, they are people we relate to. It strikes me that Paul, discussing the issues of eating food offered to idols, was talking about people he would sit down and eat with. He was saying don’t eat that food if you’re eating with a brother who struggles with it. When we’re asking the question “can I do this for God?” we’re not asking in principle or in the abstract, we’re asking about this action at this time in this place with these people.

      • Very perceptive and I see defining ‘others’ as ones we know makes for a more applicable test but is it as simple as that where more extensive communication means ‘others’ outside of our circle may be affected, especially for higher profile christians.

  2. Who is the ‘other’ when everyone seems to be able to see everything in the blink of an eye? It’s a good question. Only a few minutes after posting this blog post people from 3 different countries had viewed it. This is a big issue and I just want to give a one thought towards grappling with it. Namely, that there is a distinction between doing something purposefully designed for broad communication and doing something that many people simply could possibly see.

    When we do something that is designed to be communicated or broadcast etc then our audience and that publicity becomes part of the context for asking ‘Can I do this for God?’

    But I am more cautious about acting with every possible accidental/incidental hearer in view. It is too easy in this situation to not act or be restrained by a hypothetical ‘other’ and we quickly move our thinking into an abstract situation rather than the actual place, people and actions we’re living in. For example, I know that every sermon I preach on a Sunday goes onto our website and so literally anyone could listen to this. There is a degree to which I need to be aware that what I will say will be recorded, but if I try to avoid saying anything that could be misconstrued by anyone who might possibly listen then I will end up saying nothing.

Join the conversation - Leave a reply...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s