Uzzah: Situational Ethics Refuted

In the last few days, my husband, Will, and I have been writing a letter-to-the-editor. In one of the medical journals to which he subscribes an article recently appeared which attempts to justify physician-assisted suicide, and of all things makes the patently absurd argument that it is in the interest of patient autonomy. Helping someone kill themselves advances their autonomy? Do words mean anything anymore?

But it has actually been kind of fun to talk about because the issue is a small part of a general departure from Judeo-Christian ethics and biblical worldview. From a purely secular point of view, I understand completely why people would think physician-assisted suicide should be permissible. A plea to emotion–the patient is suffering with no viable chance of cure–is sufficient, and because Darwinism has so pervaded worldview, many in our society see no difference between ending the life of a human being and ending the life of the family dog. It is the humane thing to do to end the suffering of a much loved mutt, so why not put Granny down when she’s in pain? Three reasons: (1) the Bible says not to; (2) each person is made in the image of God; and (3) less important, but still a consideration is that proper palliative care eliminates the anguish often described to support physician-assisted suicide.
The question, at its core, is really very profound — do certain situations supersede the explicit prohibitions or commands of the Bible? In other words is it sometimes, in very extreme cases, permissible to murder? Or how about the person who just knows they are supposed to leave their spouse for another? In their particular circumstance they reason that it is acceptable because they are married to a boring and unaffectionate doofus and they have just met the most sold-out follower of Christ who shares the same passion for feeding the poor and fighting injustice around the world. We can easily be persuaded by the situation, but the truth is that when the Bible speaks to something, the specifics don’t matter. If you look at the ten commandments in Exodus 20 you will not find “do not steal except from the very rich.” Nor will you find “honor your father and mother except when they fail as parents.” There are no exceptions listed for any of the commandments, and I believe the blurring of ethics can be explained, in part, by the cultural reluctance to see anything as black and white. I am not in anyway suggesting everything is black and white; gray areas abound. But there is no trace of gray in the ten commandments.
I am thankful that as a follower of Christ that only the moral laws from the Old Testament apply to me. All those ceremonial requirements would be a lot to keep up with, but for the ancient Jews the same principle applied: if it was specifically stated in God’s Word there were no exceptions. Of course Jewish children grew up spending much of their time learning all the laws and regulations, and one guy named Uzzah surely learned to never, ever touch the ark of the covenant because it was forbidden in Scripture. But when the oxen carrying the ark stumbled, Uzzah reached out to save it. And that sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? For goodness sake, he was trying to save the ark. But what Uzzah did violated God’s law. God wasn’t asking for a explanation or a reasoned exception; He was looking for obedience and for reverence.
I believe Uzzah and physician-assisted suicide are related because God isn’t looking for an explanation or an exception to His commandment. He’s looking for obedience. In fact Uzzah’s downfall has everyday relevance because I think we all rationalize our behaviors and reach out to steady the ark in various ways almost everyday. This week may we review God’s commands and take seriously the strict obedience we are called to. Situations may make it hard to do the right thing, but situations never make a wrong thing the right thing.

Shrek Without the Yogurt

Did you know that Sleeping Beauty is about to be released again, or “brought out of the vault” as Disney is fond of saying? I hadn’t heard, but my five-year-old, Nate, saw a preview the other day.

“Mom,” he said, “there’s a new movie coming out called Sleeping Beauty. It looks good. It looks like Shrek without the Yogurt.”

I wrote it down that very minute, ensuring that statement will never be forgotten in the Jackson household. But of course, Nate is right. Sleeping Beauty is a lot like Shrek without the ogre. Well, except for the fact that Shrek is a spoof of Sleeping Beauty and all things Disney. Nate wouldn’t know that it is, in fact, Shrek that is a lot like Sleeping Beauty, except they added the “Yogurt.” Shrek is his standard, the standard of his generation. It is really quite a paradigm shift and it got me thinking about how things change.
Even in my lifetime, which I am reluctant to admit is closing in on forty years, things have changed dramatically. There’s a steady evolution in the world of ideas, but there’s also catalysts which cause a sudden push forward. When I was a little girl, there appeared to be a consensus, that while the truth may not always be easy to uncover, there was at least the possibility of its discovery. Slowly more and more people began to question the very existence of truth. By the time I was in college, the “everything is relative” mantra was pervasive. Those who held to absolutes were regarded with disdain. The enlightened abandoned even the language of absolutes. At least they claimed to. A close look reveals that most postmodernists cling to the absolute of tolerance, even though it is logically impossible for them to justify this internal inconsistency. If everything is relative, it doesn’t make a lick of sense that anything is good or bad. So you can’t pretend that tolerance is any different than any other moral judgment. If you want to be consistent you cannot say tolerance is good. It’s all relative.

But postmodernists are hardly unique. It seems that most people are inconsistent. What we believe affects our behavior, yet often our beliefs fail to determine our behavior. Sometimes we act contrary to that which we profess to believe. The book UnChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons is a modern commentary on how the life of the typical Christian fails to reflect Christian values, fails to even be distinguishable from the life of the nonChristian. And G.K. Chesterton summarized much of Kinnaman and Lyons’ book a century ago: “The best argument against Christianity is Christians.” In a similar way, the postmodernist (the person with the “it depends on what is, is” point-of-view) fails to live a philosophically consistent life. For example, how many postmodernists do you know who are unwilling to label the Holocaust evil? Yet the logical conclusion of a relativistic worldview actually necessitates the ridiculous claim that the Holocaust was neither bad nor good.
But the Holocaust was evil. And tolerance is good. In our heart of hearts we know that. As Lewis said, “The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other.” (Mere Christianity).
So it is not very hard to get people to admit that there’s a standard. After all, what sane person would really want to live in a moral vacuum, where life in a concentration camp and a life of freedom are equal? Reasonable people will admit there’s a standard. They just won’t necessarily admit there’s a Standard Giver, and that’s like Nate thinking it’s Shrek without the ogre. Both represent myopic views that miss the big picture. Because there is no standard without a Standard Giver.
But even with a standard and a Standard Giver the picture is incomplete. The necessary element which fleshes out the masterpiece is Love. The Bible tells us that the Standard Giver is Love. He made you just as you are, and He loves you just as you are. And nothing you can do will ever change that. Now, that’s absolute cause for praise. Hallelujah!