Don’t Try to Make Sense of It

In the coming days, some of us will face jolting moral quandaries.

A couple of days ago, Mr. T mentioned the Trolley Problem, a popular test of ethics. I’m not going to spoon-feed any answers to you; what matters is that you give thought to your own moral priorities. On the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with considering your own answer to such dilemmas; on the other hand, don’t waste time with something thrown in your face by people seeking to destroy your faith. Some stuff proposed as moral and ethical tests are themselves the product of immoral souls. You’ll know in your heart when you need to take something like that seriously.

I can also help you by offering biblical examples to common questions. For example, the Bible endorses assassination as a valid option for dealing with serious political problems. That’s not the same as recommending you go on a murder spree until you are caught, but it does leave the door open when you sense God moving you in that direction. If you aren’t prepared to hear Him command such a thing, you may miss an opportunity to bring Him glory. You have to understand that a distinctly political act such as assassination is not outside the boundaries.

And yet it remains wholly unlikely for most of us. We have a very tough time untangling ourselves from the common run of thinking about anything regarding politics. It’s common for the American mind to run to extremes, to buy into false dichotomies. We are either deep into a certain set of rules, or we refuse to get involved at all. It’s very difficult to understand doing something for the glory of God and never mind whether it makes sense politically. You have to act from the heart.

One of the best ways to train your brain to serve the wisdom of your heart is to ask those ethics questions. Where would you draw the line to change your answer? And there’s nothing wrong with imagining yourself in contexts you see in fictional entertainment or picturing yourself in the place of someone whose actions put them in the news. Sure, you could deceive yourself, but the exercise is not wasted. Sooner or later your heart will tap on your shoulder and get you to realize you aren’t what you are socially conditioned to admire.

By the way, there’s a flaw in the Trolley Problem: As the article notes, it hangs on the assumption that an action is morally judged by its consequences. That’s not how the Bible looks at things. On the one hand, we do consider the consequences. On the other hand, we know that moral questions are not confined to that. We are not slaves of Aristotelian epistemology. You have to trust your heart before you get into such situations so that you’ll be able to react without any time to reason.

As stated, the Trolley Problem ignores a very real moral issue: The people on the trolley may have put themselves into danger in defiance of their own hearts. We would like to have mercy, but some train wrecks are not our business, not something God wants us to worry about. If I have time to pull the lever, I have time to yell in my stentorian voice for the oblivious man to get off the tracks. And if I were strong enough to push a big guy onto the rails, I’m big enough to try to stop it myself in the first place. So you see the exercise has limits. I refuse to be confined by the imagination of others.

To be honest, I’m likely to be oblivious to such scenarios in real life. And if I were to notice the problem, it’s entirely likely I’d be too surprised to move at all. That kind of quick reaction isn’t my forte and I’m not going to pretend I’m a hero. Don’t put too much trust in your human capabilities.

Pray that you can be realistic in moral terms about your own human frailties. Pray that you can hear the convictions of your heart and know to act when the time comes regardless of what makes sense to your mind.

About Ed Hurst

Disabled Veteran, prophet of God's Laws, Bible History teacher, wannabe writer, volunteer computer technician, cyclist, Social Science researcher
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1 Response to Don’t Try to Make Sense of It

  1. Jay DiNitto says:

    Never liked the trolley dilemma, because what we decide in that situation isn’t what we’d decide when we have a good 15 minutes to think and discuss it in a nice air-conditioned room. Most folks would probably freeze up with indecision and the trolley wouldn’t head into the sand pit and kill the man. It’s not so much an ethical decision but an instinctual one, and we don’t have much conscious control over those.


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