Thinking Cap # 36 - A Classic Situation: Obedience or Murder?

You don’t get very far in your college experience before someone hits you with a classic question posing an ethical dilemma. Suppose you are harboring a Jewish person in Germany at the height of Nazism. The Gestapo comes to your house and asks you, “Are you harboring a Jew?” What do you answer? If you say “No,” you are not only lying, but also being disobedient to God-ordained government. If you reply “Yes,” you are an accessory to murder. The Ten Commandments condemned lying and murder (and while I know that only nine of the ten are pertinent to today; these two are in the nine).

While you might dismiss the question as a hypothetical situation, it does deserve your serious attention. It not only challenges Christians to think about how their world view plays out into real life. It is also the type of question that an agnostic will toss at a Christian to try and entrap them or see how deep they are.

Ravi Zacharias said, “We don’t realize how the world has sapped our ability to think. We move impulsively, and more by feeling, desire, and ambition. The simple art of working an argument out from premise to conclusion has been lost. And unless we in the Church go back and teach our junior highers, for example, to think again, we will lose them before they are in the senior high. They may be cultural Christians, but they will not have a true allegiance of mind to a belief.”

Phillip Johnson put it this way, “The main thing Christian parents and teachers can do is to teach young thinkers to understand the techniques of good thinking and help them tune up their baloney detectors so they aren’t fooled by the stock answers the authorities give to the tough questions.”

To this I say a hearty “Amen!” We have created a generation of “secular” Christians. Their Christianity will get them to heaven, but it might as well be “humanism” down here on the earth. Let’s see how this plays out in the question of this Thinking Cap.

Many Christians would consider the value of life and would then rationalize “lying” in some fashion to save the life of the Jewish person that they are harboring. While I admire their short-term-goals, is this not the basis for which we condemn the humanists? Secular literally means “time bound.” All decisions are based on “today” rather than “eternity.” Are we not standing in the place of God and elevating one commandment over the other? Are we also not falling into the trap so cleverly laid by the agnostic, which demonstrates the limited thinking done by so many Christians.

Those who take this approach would claim Acts 5:29 as justification for being disobedient to civil authority. I would agree with this logic to a point. But, I would prefer that we consider other options and try and stretch our frame of reference a little beyond the “now” (i.e., secular) and into the future (i.e., eternal).

Perhaps a better answer to the soldiers would be, “I refuse to answer your question. You and your government have perverted the law and have thus forfeited your right to govern.” This is no longer a lie. Neither are you telling the immediate “truth” and thus condemning your refuges to a certain death.

To be sure, you would be arrested for civil disobedience and have to face your punishment, but isn’t that what 1 Peter 2:13-15 and then 1 Peter 3:15-17 is all about. Remember this is the same Peter who exercised civil disobedience in Acts 5:29. Equally true, your disobedience could well raise the suspicion of the soldiers and cause them to search your home, find those you have been harboring and cause them to also be arrested and perhaps executed.

But, in the process, I would argue, your testimony would be making a statement. Your stand for righteousness and God’s Word would not be lost on the authorities. Your willingness to be martyred for your belief would very likely plant a seed in the heart of the soldiers and the authorities, which over time (if confirmed by others who are committed to their Christian faith and acted in kind) would fan the flame and topple the corrupt regime.

We can’t control others actions and responses, but we can make our own statement for truth and then trust the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of others. I would suggest that this is what Stephen did in Acts Chapter 7. Rather than taking the easy way out and rather than taking a “secular” view, he defied the established corrupt government, stood for eternal “big picture” truth and was martyred.
Look what the Holy Spirit was able to do with that act in the life of one of the observers, a man name Saul.

Other instances that might be worth your study time would be Rahab’s lie to protect the two Israelites that she hid from the authorities (Jos. 2:9-16). Her actions landed her in the Christian Hall of Fame (Heb. 11:31). There was also Miriam’s specific act of civil disobedience by hiding the baby Moses from the authorities, rather than killing him as ordered. Just think of the eternal ramifications of that act.

It is worrisome to think about how much “secular” has invaded our Christian thought life and how many decisions we base on the immediate payback, rather than just doing the right thing and then trusting God for the “big picture” results.

Pleasant Thinking,
Kent (Doc) Haralson


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