Do the right thing

Referee - Howard WebbYou need to consider the big picture. You have to break eggs to make an omelette. You must consider the greater good. The end justifies the means.

This consequentialist morality is in evidence all over the place: in books and movies, in business and politics and even in sport. I don’t like it. It makes me cross!

Watching, with some disappointment, the FA cup final yesterday reminded me how ingrained this morality is. The football referee is always expected to hesitate at awarding a second yellow card to a player because it would mean a sending off or to give a freekick to a team he has just failed to award a goal to, as a form of compensation.

He is expected to adjust the rules to suit the big picture. The commentators and pundits expect this and the players, often cynically, expect it too.

I am not a philosopher, but I understand that consequentialism is typically contrasted with deontology: where the rules are all important and should be obeyed at all times without consideration of consequences.

(Interestingly, Rugby Union referees seem much more deontological than Football referees: I would love to watch a professional referee at a Premiership football match take a Rugby Union approach. I would predict a high likelihood of the game having to be abandoned after sixty minutes due to there not being enough players on the pitch, but you can bet the next game would be better.)

The secular world likes to class Christians as narrow, unthinking deontologists: following scriptural rules and direction blindly and arbitrarily. I don’t believe this is the case for most of us. I am not arbitrary in my following of scriptural teaching. Far from it, I am constantly questioning and seeking interpretation and I marvel at the beauty and sophistication of the morality embodied by Jesus. The fact that he is so clearly right, compels me to trust his commands.

A wonderful thing about being a Christian is that you can act like a deontologist because you believe a loving and all powerful God has sovereignty over the consequences.

God gave us rules to help us do the right thing. When those rules do not seem sufficient, we need to simply do our best and trust God to sort it out.

I, therefore, believe intentions are all-important for the Christian and that the morality of an act is judged at the point of action, not at a later time. As a Christian I have the luxury of being able to leave the big picture to the big guy. What is more, as a Christian I am obliged to focus fully on my own actions and their immediate consequences.

The end can never be used to justify a means but neither do I need to worry about the end: I should focus on the means.

I can trust the Lord to look after the big stuff, I just need to work the small stuff, the immediate stuff and the stuff I understand.


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One thought on “Do the right thing

  1. I just remembered a good story that Tony Campolo told:

    Tony is walking along a street in London(?) with his grand-daughter. A beggar approaches and Tony dips into his pocket for some change. His grand-daughter asks him, “Granddad, how do you know he isn’t just going to spend it on drink?”

    To which Tony responds, “I don’t, but that’s not my problem. God will judge me on my action and him on his.”

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