Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The End Justifies the Means?

Here is another question I got from my Armenian friends:


If God forgives all wrongdoings, why shouldn't we commit sins to reach our goals?

And here is my answer:


Imagine you are a pupil. You were given homework by your maths teacher but haven’t done it because you played with your friends till late at night. Would you lie to your teacher that you’d been ill in order to avoid getting a bad mark and being punished by your father?

How far would you go in order to achieve a goal? Does the end justify the means for you?

Here’s another illustration. An old man in Yerevan calls his son in New York and says, "I hate to ruin your day, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing; forty-five years of misery is enough." "Pop, what are you talking about," the son screams. "We can't stand the sight of each other any longer," the old man said. "We're sick and tired of each other, and I'm sick of talking about this, so you call your sister in Los Angeles and tell her." And he hangs up. 

Frantic, the son calls his sister, who explodes
on the phone, "Like heck they're getting a divorce," she shouts. "I'll take care of this." 

She calls
her father immediately, and screams at the old man, "You are NOT getting divorced! Don't do a single thing until I get there. I'm calling my brother back and we'll both be there tomorrow. Until then don't do a thing, DO YOU HEAR ME?" And she hangs up. 

The old man hangs up his phone and turns to
his wife. "Okay," he says, "They're coming for New Year and paying their own way."

I know, it’s a ridiculous story. Who can do such a thing to their kids in order to make them come home!? Yet, it is true that lying can often help us achieve something. Many people are tempted to do bad things in order to get something.

And, like you, they are asking: “If God forgives all wrongdoings, why shouldn't we commit sins to reach our goals?“ This question stands on at least three wrong presuppositions: 1. God forgives anyone. 2. God is great and some sins are too trifle in comparison. 3. The end justifies the means.

The first one is that God forgives everything to any person. This is a common view today but it is not supported by the Biblical text or the Church tradition of all ages. The good news of Jesus Christ is that all who believe in God and have repented of their sin can have eternal life and salvation. Salvation is free of charge (you don’t need to win it through good works, merits or any other means) but it is costly (you need to repent of your past sinful deeds, let go of your disbelief, pride and sin, and let the Holy Spirit mold your desires, aspirations and goals.)

That’s why those who refuse to acknowledge him as Lord and Savior, or their words are not substantiated by deeds, cannot hope for forgiveness of sins and salvation. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (Gospel of John, ch. 3, v. 18).

Second, the wording of the question reminds of the fallacy of the insignificant sin. Some people comfort themselves with the idea that they haven’t committed any really great sin like murder, child abuse, rape or treason. Little trifling acts of wrongdoing perhaps, but nothing of serious consequence, so surely God will forgive them, they say.

Yet, although there are degrees of sins (hatred is not murder), in regard to eternal consequences and salvation, all sins are the same because they all lead to eternal condemnation – “the wages of sin is death” (Romans, ch. 6, v. 23). It is so because our status before God is decided not by the enormity of our sins but by whether those sins have or have not been forgiven.

Likewise, it is wrong to infer that to God the end justifies the means. Our goals are not more important than our morals. Had it been so many would welcome the Soviet and Nazi concentration camps and the extermination of millions of people – after all, the end (building of a pure Aryan race or of communism worldwide) would seem an worthy object.

Imagine a medical student cheats at the state exam, gets his diploma and becomes a surgeon. Would you let him do your surgical operation if you knew how he’d got his diploma?  You would promptly run away from the operating room and do your best to find a better surgeon to do the operation. The thing is, we understand how important the means are if we are personally affected.

Similarly, God puts moral boundaries to human behavior to help us operate as individuals and societies better. He doesn't care so much about our achievements (important as they are) as he cares about our character. He wants us to grow in holiness and be more like him.

At the same time, we can’t mislead God by our actions because he looks deep in the heart and judges our motives. He is interested not so much in what we do but rather in who we are. To those who believe in him he gives new desires, aspirations and goals that are incompatible with sin and compatible with his moral character and purposes.


CARM, What is Sin, http://carm.org/what-is-sin