Words from our pastor, Sandy Hackett, that may be helpful in light of Osama Bin Laden's death:
A Word From Our Pastor - LCPC May 2011 Newsletter
"Making Moral Choices"
Several weeks ago, I preached a sermon on ―Making Moral Choices. I promised a number of you that I would reprint parts of it in the newsletter since the book I was working from is out of print. The book is called "Choices: Making Right Decisions in a Complex World,” by Lewis B. Smedes.
Smedes says that most moral decisions are made on a continuum rather than being simply right/wrong, good/bad. He offers language that makes it possible to talk about this continuum in a way that does not compromise Biblical standards and yet acknowledges that we are broken people in a broken world. I first heard this material in a lecture he offered in my ethics class at Fuller, and I have never forgotten it.
When we have a decision to make, Smedes says that our first and best hope is for choice that is celebrational. I love his question. He asks, ―Is there singing in heaven because of this decision? Are the rights of all parties honored in such a way that everyone has won? Is it excellent?”
This is always our best hope and highest goal, but we can’t always reach it. So he suggests the following criteria, in descending order:
Is it justifiable? Is this act warranted, legally permissible, circumstantially necessary? This is the minimum standard we have to meet for something to be considered morally ―right.
Is this obligatory—something I must do. ―We are, for instance, obligated to keep our hands off other people’s throats and out of their pockets.
Is this tolerable? ―We do not tolerate people walking naked down Main Street at high noon. This does not mean that noonday nudity is morally wrong; it only means that most of us do not want to see it on our streets.
In the hardest places of life the question becomes at the very least, Is this permissible? In ethics class, we debated case studies around questions like ―Is it permissible to steal life-sustaining medication if you are too poor to purchase it? The answer isn’t a blinding yes/no, good/bad, right/wrong. Compelling rights and responsibilities are in competition here.
Smedes suggests that sometimes we simply seek to pass the test, is it excusable? “We excuse people when we decide that while they have done something wrong, they are not really to blame for what they did. Smedes uses the example of a friend who committed suicide, deeply wounding his wife and children, his patients and all who depended on him. However, he was in the midst of such a great depression, that his desire to escape made his decision understandable. Not right, but excusable.
And finally, Smedes says, as desperately broken people operating in a shatteringly broken world, the final question we ask of any moral decision is, is it forgiveable? Can I forgive? Can I be forgiven? And more importantly, can God forgive? And the answer is ultimately, yes. There is nothing we can do that God cannot forgive if we are willing to accept his forgiveness. We are back at the cross of Christ. Because of his body broken and his blood shed, we are forgiven.
That isn’t where we want to start in making moral decisions. We do not sin that grace may abound, b/c forgiveness doesn't exempt us from the consequences of our choices. Nor does it protect others from the extraordinary pain that we can inflict when we sin. But it is possible to receive the forgiveness of God for even the most selfish and destructive of decisions.
Is it celebrational? Justifiable? Obligatory? Tolerable, permissible, excusable? Is it forgivable? These are the questions we ask when making moral choices. It is my prayer that we would find a celebrational solution to the crises each of us face in our personal lives, and that in the infinite grace, mercy, and strength of God that we might find such a celebrational solution to the crises of our world.
- Pastor Sandy
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