I will not tell you who to vote for. In fact, I will not even tell you if you should or should not vote, although I have an opinion. But I will entertain the idea of how we should think about ethical thinking and voting.
In this election cycle, some wish to say that there is only one way while others say there are many ways. Others say that any way is okay while others say there is no way! And then there are some who say, “ Who cares?” Most agree that voting and morality are connected. But then some say that you cannot legislate morality. Of course you can. The issue is whose morality you are seeking to legislate. And so, we are back to voting again.
For Christians, there are real moral choices that need to be made, but that does not mean that people always hold to the same answer. The question I’m concerned with is, “How do we make those choices?” I’m considering the process, not so much the product. Although the end does not justify the means, the means do determine the end.
Let’s forget for a moment the issues of voting or who to vote for and focus on a clear example such as the legitimacy of lying. Norm Geisler has provided a clear rubric of the options.
- Lying is Neither Right nor Wrong – There are No Norms (Exclusion of Norms – Antinomian)
- Lying is Generally Wrong – There are No Universal Norms (Exceptions of Norms – Generalists)
- Lying is Sometimes Right – There is One Universal Norm (Exclusive Norms – Situationalists)
- Lying is Always Wrong – There are Non-Conflicting Norms (Escape the Norm – No Real Conflict)
- Lying is Never Right – There are Many Conflicting Norms (Excusable from Norm – Real Conflict)
- Lying is Sometimes Right – There are Higher Norms (Exemption from Norm – Hierarchical)
These options represent theories of ethical decision making. Some are not true and not worthy of the Christian’s consideration. However, there is no universal agreement on the remaining views. As Helmut Thielicke said, “In a fallen world there are moral dilemmas. With moral dilemmas, there will be multiple options. Often, there is a biblical defense for more than one option.”
The options have been explained in both philosophical consideration and theological articulation.
Unqualified Absolutism – Non-conflicting Norms
Definition: There are no real, only apparent moral conflicts. (Sin is always avoidable. We never sin to avoid sin.)
Problem: Should Rahab and the Hebrew midwives have lied? (Ex. 1; Heb. 11)
Solution: Don’t lie (sin). Trust God for third alternative.
Conclusion: There is always a right way to do right, without real moral conflict (ought to implies can do).
Sin is always wrong.
God is totally sovereign.
Belief / trust in God is always right. (Heb. 11:1-2)
Does God always save the faithful from moral dilemmas? (The 3 Hebrew children did not expect God to bail them out in Dan. 3)
If God will always act to solve the apparent issue, then this leads to passivity. (Is it wrong to leave the lights on at home to deceive thieves? Is not the intention for deception? What is a “spy” to do in the midst of trying to do good for his country?)
Implications for voting? Neither or No one.
Conflicting Absolutism – There are Conflicting Norms
Definition: There are real moral absolutes. A person is guilty if he / she breaks God’s rules no matter which you choose. Therefore, choose the lesser of the two evils.
Description: Abortion is always wrong – murder. But if the choice is actually between the life of the mother and the life of the baby, take the life of the baby for the life of the mother and confess the sin.
Defense: The Law of God is absolute (Ps. 19:7, 119:160; Ex. 20:7; Matt. 5:48; I John 3:4). Sin is unavoidable because man is depraved and must sin (Eph. 2:3; I Jo. 1:2-2:2). Forgiveness is available (I John 1:9).
Deficiency: Is it true that “I am morally obligated to do evil?” Is it true that I am personally responsible for that which is personally unavoidable?
Implications for voting? Vote for an immoral candidate and confess to the Lord.
Graded Absolutism – There are Higher Norms
Definition: Whenever norms conflict one is morally right in breaking the lower norm in order to keep the higher. You are exempt.
Higher and lower moral laws exist.
(Matt. 23:23) “Weightier matters of the Law”
(Matt. 5:19, 22:31) “Greatest” and “least” commandments
(John 19:11) Greater Sin
(John 15:13) Greatest Act of Virtue
(Matt. 22:34) Greatest Commandment
Unavoidable moral conflicts exist:
- (Gen. 22) The “law” says do not kill, but the law giver said kill.
- (Judges 16:30) – Divine approval of Samson’s suicide
- (Ex. 1) Hebrew midwives lied to save lives
- The Cross – The innocent should not be punished for sin not committed (Ezekiel 18:20), but Christ was punished (Is. 53; I Pet 2:24; 3:18; II Cor. 5:21).
- Obey civil law or God (Acts 4-5).
No guilt is imputed to us for the unavoidable.
Logic: God does not hold a person responsible for doing what is actually impossible – it is impossible to avoid the unavoidable.
Scripture: God commends those who did the highest good (Abraham in Gen. 22; Dan. 6; Ex. 1; David and the show bread in Matt. 12:3)
SUMMARY: In real unavoidable moral conflict, God does not hold a person guilty for not keeping a lower moral law so long as he keeps the higher law.
Love for God over love for man (Lk. 14:26 – Love & Hate; Col. 3:20 – Love Parents; Matt. 22:36 – Greatest Commandment)
Obey God over Government
- Obey law: (Gen. 9:6; Rom. 13:1; Titus 3:1; I Pet. 2:13)
- Disobey Law: (Dan. 3,6; Acts 4,5; Ex. 1)
Life-saving (mercy) over Truth Telling
- Don’t lie: (Ex. 20:16; Eph. 4:25; Prov. 12:22, 19:5)
- Lie: (Rahab – Heb. 11:31; Josh. 6:17; midwives – Ex. 1:20, 21, God blessed them)
Implications for voting: You can vote and you should vote for the best of the worst, and you are exempt from guilt.
So what are we to do? We must realize:
“Do we not have to accept the facts that under the shadow of forgiveness different decisions are possible and different loyalties and liberties may exist?” – Helmut Thielcke
We must demand the time to think and develop the habit of thought. However, it is the word of God that must be our guide.
Until He comes for us,
Fred Chay, PhD
Grace Theology Press