One thing I remember most about my childhood was how my mother would rail against “situational ethics.” Her interpretation of this societal plague was that people would modify their ethical responsibilities and obligations based on their presented situation. This was problematic because it meant that there were no ethical boundaries that could not be overridden by certain conditions. We don’t hear much about situational ethics anymore these days, mostly because the language has changed. Now we talk about “speaking your truth” or “doing what’s right for you” or some other nebulous wording.
The Problem With Moving The Goal Line
This is not a “them” problem – it’s an “us” problem too. As a Christian, I am constantly confronted with people who righteously believe that something is a sin in one circumstance but not in another. For example, the fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” Most people would agree that you shouldn’t kill people, right? Christians very often characterize themselves as “pro-life” because of this – it’s wrong to kill an unborn child. However, I’ve found that this pro-life stance does not extend toward the death penalty. If you should not kill – then the moral code is based on the action itself, not on the circumstances. If you should not kill an unborn child, then you shouldn’t kill a grown adult. By extension, you shouldn’t put policies into place that would cause the death of others either.
Lost In The Sauce
Besides the contentious abortion issue, one of the most widely ignored teachings of Jesus is loving about loving our neighbors. “Love your neighbor as yourself” was part and parcel to inheriting eternal life. Matthew 7:12 tells us, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” That is a tall order if you actually take it to heart without caveats. Treat other people as you would want to be treated.
Who Is My Neighbor?
How are so many Christians getting this wrong? Have they gotten lost in sauce? Do they think this applies only to other Christians? Did they forget the parable of the Good Samaritan? The most important part of that story is that the victim and the samaritan were social enemies. Yet, it seems that we often find ourselves trying to wiggle our way out of applying these rules according to the command and not the situation. We struggle to define who our neighbor is.
Luke 10: 25-29
One day an expert in the law stood up to test Him. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus said. “Do this and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words
I think Jesus used so many parables because a picture is worth a thousand words. He challenged people to witness situations that would go directly against what they wanted to do to make a point. The point being – His laws, His commands, His teachers were to be applied regardless of the situation. That’s why he clarified the commandments in The Beatitudes. It’s not enough not to kill – don’t hate either.
What’s Right Is Right and What’s Wrong Is Wrong
I got into an argument with an old family friend the other day. I called her out on something I thought was wrong, and she responded that it was all “just a joke.” It reminded me of a conversation I’d had with my mother as a child. I used to say witty, but sometimes mean or cutting things and then defend myself when reprimanded with, “It’s just a joke!” Mom sat me down one day very seriously and said, “Heather, you can’t just say mean things to get out of taking responsibility for them by claiming ‘it’s a joke.’ It’s mean. It’s not funny if everyone isn’t laughing. It’s not funny if it hurts someone.”
It was this argument that made me think about today’s post. I’ve certainly done plenty of wrong things in my life, but having a firm grasp of my beliefs has helped me to get back on track. How does one do that when the road changes according to the wind?
The Spirit Of The Law
It may seem ridiculous to be so literal in today’s day and age, but I can’t help but feel that what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong. Stealing a quarter or someone’s pen is still stealing. The theft does not stop being theft just because it’s something small. What is right, what is commanded, is not based on the situation – but on the One who gave the commandment. So, let’s all try to love each other and treat each other the way God intended.