Does the Bible teach situational ethics?


Clarify Share Report Asked July 01 2013 Mini Anonymous (via GotQuestions)

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Shea S. Michael Houdmann Supporter Got Questions Ministries
Situational ethics is a particular view of moral ethics that holds that the morality of an act is determined by its context. Situational ethics states that if there is a right and wrong, it is mere...

July 01 2013 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini Daniel Carlson Pastor of the Community Bible Church in Aguila, Arizona
S. Michael Houdmann’s overview of “situational ethics” is to be highly commended. It lays down the general principles of truthfulness based on biblical guidelines.

However, he concedes (in another article, entitled: “Question: Is it Ever Right to Lie?”) that lies or deceptions at times appear justified, in that they produce a favorable result. Case in point:

The Egyptian midwives lied to Pharaoh about the birth of the Hebrew male babies, which undoubtedly saved their lives (Exo. 1:15-21). 

Rahab lied to protect the Israelite spies, sending Jericho's soldiers on a wild goose chase (Joshua 2:5). [Her actions were even justified in the New Testament (Heb. 11:31; Jas. 2:25)].

Houdmann also justified the repeated deception of Corrie ten Boom in hiding Jews in a secret room in her house, thus sparing many of them from the Nazi soldiers. 

He states, “In an instance such as this, where lying may be the only possible way to prevent a horrible evil, perhaps lying would be an acceptable thing to do… In an evil world, and in a desperate situation, it may be the right thing to commit a lesser evil, lying, in order to prevent a much greater evil.”

There are other instances in the Bible of justified deception: From birth, the Lord had consecrated Jeremiah, promising to deliver him from his enemies. At one point, to spare his life, he deceives some officials regarding a conversation he had had with King Zedekiah (Jer. 38:24).

When Saul’s officers were hunting David, he flees, and his wife (and Saul's daughter), Michal, places a dummy in David's bed and tells the messengers that he is seriously ill (1 Sam. 19:12-17).

David also deceived King Achish of Gath by pretending to be insane. Once again, this ploy spared his life (21:13). 

In another case, God Himself tells Samuel (when he was to anoint David as king instead of Saul) to say that the purpose of his mission was to offer a sacrifice to the Lord, thus sparing Samuel’s life (1 Sam. 16:2).

Deception is an essential part of war strategy. Elisha misled the army of Syria who came to capture him. Concealing his identity, he promised to lead them to Elisha but instead brought them right into their enemy’s camp (2 Kings 6:19).

Jael offered shelter and protection to Canaanite General, Sisera. But when he was fast asleep, she drove a tent stake through his head. His army suffered defeat and Jael was praised as “the most blessed of women” (Judges 5:24).

Richard Wurmbrand, in “Tortured for Christ,” and Dumitru Duduman, in “Through the Fire Without Burning,” (both Romanian pastors), tell of being forced by their Communist tormentors to reveal the names of fellow pastors and coworkers. But they were both warned by a ministering angel not to disclose any names.

In a show of compliance, Richard wrote down the names of some pastors who were deceased or had fled the country. Of course, they were rewarded with severe beatings for their defiance.

Richard Wurmbrand, a Lutheran minister, spent 14 years in Communist torture chambers. He would never lie to protect his personal safety, but he would never put other believers in jeopardy by his disclosures—even if it meant lying through his teeth. He weighed the options carefully: To betray his brethren under the pretext of “always being truthful,” or to protect them from harm's way by “deceiving the enemy.” He chose the latter.

God honored both Wurmbrand and Duduman, eventually bringing both of them to America (where they met for the first time).

And, of course, Corrie ten Boom, author of "The Hiding Place," and "In My Father's House," is a classic example of continual lying and deception for the purpose of saving Jews from the Nazi gas chambers. Her life was constantly in danger, but she trusted in the Lord to watch over her. Although she spent time in horrible concentration camps, the Lord, in His perfect timing, prearranged her release, and she spent many fruitful years teaching the Gospel of Forgiveness, and is now living in her Father's House.

November 06 2014 1 response Vote Up Share Report

Mini Janet Austin Lover of God. Right to the Soul, author
Situational ethics is a difficult topic to discuss. I think it can be Biblical at times for some of the very same reasons that Michael Houdmann thinks it cannot. 

(Note: First let me say that I think Michael Houdmann is excellent with the majority of his answers, and he makes many excellent points in his answer to this question, but I disagree in part.)

For example: Michael Houdemann says “The Bible does teach absolute truth, which demands that right and wrong are predetermined by a Holy God. And love - God's definition of true, honest, real love-leaves no room for selfish or impure motivations. “

It is for that very reason that I believe situational ethics is Biblical. 

Keeping that in mind, think through this situation. My 95-year-old mother has Alzheimer’s. She forgets and mixes up many things in her mind. If I were to correct her all the time it would make things worse so at times I lie to her. I call these love lies. 

Specific example would be that one sibling lives overseas and doesn’t communicate with my mom so I communicate with my mom as if the messages are from him or the pictures I send her are from him. It makes my mom feel loved by him. It also makes me sad not to take credit for doing the nice things, but I think making her feel good is the point (rather than caring about whether or not I am getting the pats on the back that I would like). 

That to me is situational ethics following the Biblical teaching of love. Although I lie, which is against God‘s will, I believe that is the right thing to do because the motive is love and God is love. 

I feel like Jesus gave us an example about situational ethics when he healed someone on the Sabbath. It was all about love.

January 14 2021 1 response Vote Up Share Report

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