Ethics and Subjectivity

When I posed my question the other day, I thought there would be more response than there was.  That is okay, though.  What responses I did get were instrumental in my writing this post and continuing the discussion briefly.  This also plays into a topic I hinted at a few posts back about Jesus and His view of Scripture, the Law in particular.

Ethics seems, overall, to be a very subjective thing.  What is right for one person may not be what is right for another.  This is not to say that there are no moral absolutes.  On the contrary, there are many.  Not murdering, not raping children, and loving our enemies are a few.  But when it comes to our individual, every-day existence, things begin to get a little fuzzy.  At times, the line between what is right and what is wrong becomes blurred.  The question I posed the other day is a case in point.

For starters, you have what I suggested that Jesus calls us to set a priority and help who needs the most help.  Jesus is very clear on this matter.  He states,

It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. (Mark 2:17 TNIV)

Jesus came to do for us what we are unable to do for ourselves, namely free us from slavery to sin.  And, after ascending, He entrusted us with the incarnational task of doing the same.  But this is where the line begins to blurr.

On the one hand, the drug addict needs healing.  She is the sick one.  The infant has parents who can take care of him.  So, in light of Jesus stating that it is the sick who need help, it is the addict that is in the most need.

But Jesus doesn’t make it that cut and dried.  He also makes it clear that protecting children is of the utmost importance to Him, even going so far as to condemn to death those who would harm or stand in the way of children coming to Him.  The reality is, a child in the presence of someone with a drug problem immediately puts the child in danger and makes it more possible for him to sin.

So what do we do?  What is the proper ethic?

I think this shows how truly subjective the Law really is.  In fact, Jesus defends this idea very bluntly.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” [Jesus] replied. “How do you read it?” (Luke 10:25-26 TNIV)

When the legal expert asks what gains a person eternal life, Jesus doesn’t tell him.  Rather, Jesus asks him, “What does the Law say to you?”  Jesus asks for the man’s legal opinion.  Jesus is changing how we are to interpret God’s word.

In practical terms, Jesus is asking the same of us.  How do we interpret the Scriptures?  Jesus is not defending a closed-canon approach to Scripture where the Bible is our instruction manual and has all the answers to every question we can possibly ask.  Rather, Jesus is saying that revelation is an ongoing process.  Through God’s word, God will reveal to us His will not just in a corporate setting, but on an individual basis as well.  And, sometimes, one individual’s understanding may seem to be at odds with another’s.

Ancient Rabbis did not view this as a problem.  They saw God as infinite and therefore His revelations were infinite.  God was full of tensions and seeming contradictions, but this is because He is incomprehensible.  And if God is incomprehensible, then so is His will.  For one person, particularly the parent, protecting their infant is their primary responsibility.  For another, their calling may be to help the addict.  Putting one’s focus, because of what they believe God is calling them to, on one person or the other is not a problem.  God’s will is infinite and therefore no two people have the same individual calling.

I guess ethics is a little more subjective than we want to think it is.

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One thought on “Ethics and Subjectivity

  1. The paradoxical thing about ethical and moral frameworks is that while they are subjective, they are also relational. They only have meaning in the context of another being. In the particularity of our individual callings, there is an infinite variety of moral expression. In the singularity of the call to live in right relationship with the other, there is only one Way.

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