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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Where the Apple Lies”
In my college days, when I was more prone to starting arguments over Christianity, one of the big complaints I heard from non-Christians about my faith was the claim that the Bible contradicts itself. And, admittedly, I can see how that would be an issue in certain places. Jesus Himself addressed it in the New Testament when referring to the case in which David and his followers ate the “showbread”, bread that could only be eaten by the priestly class according to the Mosaic Law, and yet that was never counted as a sin against him (Mark 2:25-26). Yet there are a lot of other heavier examples than that one.
The old Mosaic Law clearly stated that killing was prohibited. It was one of the Ten Commandments that all of the Israelite community heard and wasn’t just handed down to Moses, for that matter (Exodus 20:13). And yet, not long after that, the Israelites waged a God-ordered military campaign against the resident tribes in the land of Canaan. The Israelites were also ordered not to intermarry with any of the Moabites, who were not only often regarded as perpetual enemies but also were feared for turning the hearts of Israel away from worship of God toward pagan gods (1 Kings 11:1-2), and yet King David’s great-grandmother was Ruth the Moabite and actually has a book of the Bible devoted to her. The Mosaic Law had prescriptions against defrauding and cheating with an emphasis on being honest in dealing with others (Leviticus 19:11, 13, 35-36), and yet the nation of Israel’s founding started with Jacob cheating his brother out of his father’s blessing (Genesis 27). And there’s no question that the Sacrifice of Lord Jesus Christ seemed to nullify some parts of the old Mosaic Law (we no longer stone people for doing work on the Sabbath, after all) while some parts remained completely intact (you still aren’t allowed to steal; Sacrifice of Lord Jesus or not).
What all of this gives a sense of is, in spite of the claims of objectivity, that morality according to the Bible is nothing more than whatever is relative: whatever gets the “right” party what they want at the time. The rules only apply whenever its convenient. This is certainly the impression that many non-Christians receive, and what those who are against religion in general claim Christianity is guilty of the same as all other major world religions. If nothing else, one can make the claim that there are no “hard rules” when it comes to Christianity. That everything is ultimately based on a standard at the time. And if that’s the case, is what we call “sin” permissible every once in a while? Is sin even something concrete and objective to begin with? Is there really anything that can be considered definitively evil?
The fact of the matter is I don’t know what the answer is to all of this. I struggle with it every once in a while myself, and when other Christians have tried to “explain” the heavier portions I’ve been left either unsatisfied with the answers or even angry with them. I could argue that no system is absolute all the time, and that if people will criticize religion for it then human secular institutions are far more guilty. After all, most countries on Earth forbid murder for any reason yet they definitely have militaries and police forces that can do so whenever they need to. Neither does any country have a totally blameless past even if they laud themselves now. The United States, for example, prides itself in the modern day as being an example of freedom and liberty, and yet it spent decades instituting laws that denied its own citizens full citizenship and freedom, and enacted policies of murder of the native inhabitants of North America and theft of their land. That means that there are two principles that apply to human society and history regardless of which religion (or lack thereof) that you endorse: (1) there are some times people have to do certain things even if they never would normally do so or if they had no other choice; and (2) just because a society or people are where they are today as a result of doing something genuinely evil does not make that past act morally right.
This devotional, however, focuses on the former case in regards to individuals: are there times when it is “ok to sin”? Applying the case of killing to an individual, we can all agree that murder is morally wrong, but we would be excused if we were trying to defend ourselves from someone seeking our own life and had no other choice. Yet what about in smaller situations, like in this episode?
Applejack made a deal that she shouldn’t have as she had no authority to make it, but when it looked like it might hurt her family business she tried telling a “little white lie” to hopefully get out of it. Obviously, Applejack was trying to cover up her own mistake, which might not be too acceptable; but she was also trying to keep from inadvertently hurting her family’s business relationship, which is more of a gray area. When her own mistake could lead (unjustly) to her grandmother’s reputation being hurt by telling the truth, what should she do then?
In the same vein, what about when we want to tell lies to avoid upsetting people, such as telling them the dinner they worked hard making for us tastes horrible or honestly telling them how they look when they’re sick in the hospital? And surely if someone was a government agent who had been captured by a hostile nation and was being interrogated, it would make sense to lie to protect one’s own nation and people. Or think to places like Nazi Germany where a citizen might be hiding a political refugee, perhaps even saving their lives, in their homes, and a corrupt government comes to their house demanding to know if they are hiding someone. Surely we would say it would be idiocy or even immorality to not lie in that situation. Is it acceptable to sometimes deceive via lying if the truth could lead to disastrous consequences?
I’m not going to pretend that I know what to say for all situations. This isn’t something that can be answered with an umbrella statement. Yet to me what everything ultimately boils down to, and what Jesus Himself seemed to indicate, was what’s on the inside. Motive, spirit, and intent. It was keeping with the spirit of the Mosaic Law that Jesus emphasized, as it is impossible for mankind to keep the Law perfectly to begin with anyway. In doing so, in some cases He lowered the standards set by the Law (John 8:7) while in other cases He made them far stricter (Matthew 5:27-28); yet at all times it ultimately came to what was the spirit of man in committing the deeds. If I tell a lie, is it because I don’t want to hurt someone or because I want to protect myself? If I cause another harm, whether mentally or physically, is it because it was pain that was needed to unsettle them from where they were or was it out of spite, anger, vengeance, or a desire to see them suffer? If I’m going to engage in an act of civil disobedience, is it because I want to draw attention to a greater crime that needs to be addressed or is it because I want to use it as an excuse for lawlessness to sate my own personal anger?
Yet even then, it’s important to always note that sin isn’t sin simply because some stone tablets say so. Sin is what it is because it’s destructive and brings death and misery to those who practice it and end up on the receiving end of it. God’s commands and instructions aren’t just to give us special hoops to jump through but because things that are prohibited are almost always genuinely bad. We can probably always find an “exception” to most crimes (i.e. stealing might be wrong; but if you have to either starve to death or steal a piece of food to save yourself it might be possibly overlooked that one time, especially if restitution is made later), but the reason the rule is in place is because in the far majority of cases it’s a genuine crime, and in the small set of cases in which it might not be it’s dangerously easy for a potential transgressor to fool themselves into thinking it’s for a good cause rather than their own selfish desires. As said in earlier devotionals, the key is always to be honest with yourself and strive for a pure heart and a clean conscience. When your primary motivation is to love and to serve God and others wholeheartedly and selflessly, then that motive should help guide you toward making the right choices.
For that reason, devotional life can never be discounted. Reading what God’s Word says about a certain situation and praying over a course of action are both good ways to make sure that we’re always treading the right road and that we do indeed have the best motives. So can being accountable to someone else. As Proverbs says, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” (14:12). Most translations add “to a man”, and to me that illustrates that it’s very easy to talk ourselves into something that ends up appearing perfectly good, but once we talk about it to someone else the truth becomes clear. It’s yet another reason why the true essence of Christianity lies in the community and not the individual.
Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for the instruction found in your Word, which guides us in truth even when we are tempted to rationalize or reason away our actions. Help me to always strive to live in harmony with it and to place you and your Kingdom first in all of my actions and deeds, and thereby maintain a clean conscience and keep from sinning against you and others. Please help me to pursue accountability for my own actions as well so that I can keep from deceiving myself into committing transgressions and selfishness. Lastly, as far as I am able, please help me to live an honest and truthful life with you, with others, and with myself. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”