Right & Wrong and the stopping point

Is there set-in-stone right and wrong?

I got to hear a group of children talk about the story Jack and the Beanstalk.  When the question was asked, “Was it right for Jack to steal the hen from the giant because he was poor?” the answers leaned greatly on the side of yes.  The few who thought it was wrong thought so because the giant had almost caught Jack, not because they felt stealing was inherently wrong.

I’m reminded of a class I took in college–I’m really not sure what it was, psychology, I think, though philosophy would make more sense–where a series of deeply thought-out scenarios were posed to challenge the idea of set-in-stone right and wrong.  When they are invented, they feature highly improbable circumstances that pity the wrong choice and make the right choice seem like climbing Mount Everest.

I only remember one of them.  I believe I was told this one was true.

A man’s wife is dying of cancer.  He can’t afford the medicine for her treatment.  He double mortgages his home and still can’t pay for the expensive medicine.  He decides to break into the pharmacy to steal the drugs.  Is he wrong?

My question, I think, aggravated at least one person in the class as seeming Bambi-ish.  But Bambi-ish or not, I would still ask it: Why couldn’t he raise money?  If he explained to his friends, coworkers, and neighbors that his wife would die without these treatments, they wouldn’t give him a dime?

That could be true, but the story becomes even more improbable.  I went through a stage in my life where I didn’t have many close friends, and I would still like to think that, if tragedy had struck, many people would have chipped in to help me.  Maybe that is naive, but I hear about fundraisers that raise a great deal of money for different causes.

But let’s say there really isn’t anyone to give him money.  Should he break in the pharmacy?  Is the only other option to let his wife die?

I am not here to condemn a man for breaking into a pharmacy, if this really happened.  I don’t know what it feels like to have someone I love dying of cancer and be unable to pay for the treatments.  But I still think breaking into the pharmacy would be wrong, because God says that stealing is wrong.

There are an untold number of things that can go wrong when sin comes onto the scene.  What if the man is caught breaking in and is shot?  What if he is taken to jail, the medicine confiscated, and his wife dies without ever seeing him again?  What if someone else is blamed for the break-in and goes to jail?

But there’s more than just the untold number of things that can go wrong.  What is really happening is a total distrust in the love of God.  It goes something like this: God won’t do this for me, so I will sin to get this done.

Things like this never turn out the way we think they will.  They sure haven’t in my life.  Or Sarah’s.

Sarah had a great plan.  Abraham didn’t seem to be able to have any children through her.  Yet he’d been promised by God to have a child.  In came Sarah’s plan: Abraham would have a child by Sarah’s slave.

How did this turn out?  Sarah’s slave had the child, but God was good on His promise.  So Sarah had a child, too.  Sarah’s slave, Hagar, scorned Sarah, and Sarah mistreated her.  God intervened to protect Hagar from Sarah.  Then He intervened again to protect Sarah’s child from Haagar’s child.  All this was caused by Sarah’s “great plan”.

After my father died of ALS, a petition came around to sign for embryonic stem cell research.  Friends seemed to think I would be the first to sign.  But to sign such a thing would have been to spit on my father’s grave.  My father never wanted to live by the death of an unborn child.  I want a cure for ALS. But I can’t look for a cure in destroying the lives of others.

A friend of mine had a small son who was struggling with cancer at the time of the petition.  He’d missed a great deal of work as his son went through chemo after chemo.  The four-year-old boy had no idea why he was suffering so much.  My friend quietly refused to sign the petition for stem cell research.  He told me something like this: “I want my son healed.  But I won’t do it this way.”

I have come to see that all things come to us as they are either given or allowed by God.  As Kerrie Roberts sings,

Before a heartache ever touches my life

It has to go through Your hands.

I can’t invent bad ways to try to bring about good.  If something has come into my life that I can’t fix without doing something evil–then I shouldn’t try to fix it.  It isn’t diseases, disasters, criminals, war, or doctors who give or take away life.  It is only God.

I do believe right and wrong are set in stone.  More than stone, really.  The nature of God is good, so goodness (or rightness or righteousness) are set by God’s very character.  Anything that goes against God’s character is bad (or wrong or evil).  I know this will make some furious, but it doesn’t change the Truth.

I’d like to leave with one more analogy.

Under the regime of Hitler, doctors experimented on Jews.  A great deal of research was done, scientific research.  After the war, what was done with the research?  Some scientists found it vile, reprehensible, and didn’t want to touch it.  Others have used it.

Professional modern medicine has had little difficulty condemning the Nazi doctors as evil men. But what is being said of the continued use of the Nazi doctors’ medical research? Many scholars are now discovering in reputable medical literature multiple references to Nazi experiments . . . [these references] frequently bear no disclaimer as to how the data was obtained. In recent years several scientists who have sought to use the Nazi research have attracted and stirred widespread soul-searching . . . (Baruch C. Cohen, “The Ethics of Using Medical Data from Nazi Experiments”)

The same article includes this quote from Dr. Howard Spiro (Yale University) about using this research:

[W]e make the Nazis our retroactive partners in the victims’ torture and death.

If our morality is not set in God’s character, we can use research that has been gotten by horrific means.  And once we use research that has been gotten by horrific means, we are only one step away from doing that research ourselves.

The man who tries to rescue his wife by breaking into the pharmacy . . where would he stop?  What if she needed chemotherapy he couldn’t afford?  Would he hold the clinic hostage at gunpoint?  What if she needed a kidney transplant, and there were no kidneys available?  Would he kill a stranger whose kidneys were compatible?  What if he thought a cure could be found if only there were cancer patients to experiment on?  Would he force strangers to be experimentation victims?

Once evil can be justified by its end, where is the stopping point?

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,

Nor stand in the path of sinners,

Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!

But his delight is in the law of the LORD,

And in His law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:2, NIV)

The Ethics of Using Medical Data from Nazi Experiments, Baruch C. Cohen, Jewish Virtual Library, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/naziexp.html, accessed May 12, 2012


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