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.