In ancient Greek theater, tragedies were quite popular, a common plot, or sub-plot, requiring the hero to defy or disobey one Greek god in order to obey another.
Life is not a Greek tragedy where obedience to one god may require disobedience to another. For the Bible believer, we have one lawgiver and judge (James 4:12), and while it occasionally seems otherwise, his moral requirements do not put us where either way, whether we do or don’t, we stand condemned.
With the recent election still on our minds, we often hear of folk not liking either candidate (or party) say they voted for the “lesser of two evils.” It’d likely be more accurate to say they voted for the less objectionable of two less than ideal choices. Sometimes in life we get stuck with less than ideal choices (whether in politics or other areas of life), and the “lesser of two evils” kind of thinking seems to feed the idea we are sometimes forced to choose between two (or more) immoral alternatives. No matter which we choose, we are acting immorally and stand in transgression against God. We feel we can only choose the “lesser of two evils” or hope that our choice will “promote the greater good”, as there seems to us to be no moral solution.
We’re likely not going to present a one-size-fits-all solution here, but let’s consider some implications.
1st, is one of the choices we’re contemplating an actual evil? There is a certain level of ambiguity over what we mean by evil, i.e., in an emergency situation in order to save a life, a leg may have to be amputated. Rather than being morally blameworthy, the action is praiseworthy. Opening a throat, or breaking ribs to save the life, is not a matter of choosing a lesser evil. The consequences may be difficult to live with in the short, or even the long term, but painful consequences may still be morally righteous. Making painful, uncomfortable choices we wish we did not have to make is not the same as choosing an immoral act.
2nd, the idea that God holds us responsible for obeying conflicting / contradicting commands impugns the integrity of God. Life is not a Greek tragedy. God does not give us conflicting commandments. Now, whatever else the Bible deals with, it deals with life, and life can be complicated, so it’s no wonder we find ourselves – as we find the folk in the Bible – in complicated situations, requiring complicated choices. But the choices are not limited to two or more unrighteous actions.
3rd, to look at the world as it is, and decide that at times sin is unavoidable under some circumstances reduces the example of Jesus to ashes.
In speaking of Jesus, Hebrews says, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 KJV).
It would mean that either Jesus sinned (the testimony of Scripture is that he was sinless, see also 1 Peter 1:22; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 3:5), or that Jesus never really faced any difficult moral choices and so was not tempted in all points as are we.
When we are caught between a rock and a hard place, it does not mean we are caught with only two (or more) immoral choices. A great starting place in sorting things out is found in Jesus’ “The Weightier Matters”. What is just, what is merciful and what reflects covenant faithfulness with God and man. Lord willing, we’ll continue later.