Situational ethics won’t work in a pandemic!

A crew cleans outside an urgent care clinic in Borough Park, Brooklyn (Jonah Markowitz photo).

If you know the life of David, you’re probably aware of the years he spent running from Saul.

Saul was the king who wouldn’t fight Goliath. David was the kid who took the giant down with a stone and an amazing display of faith. Almost immediately, people knew David would one day be the king of Israel. In time, he took the throne and became the most beloved leader in Israel’s history.

But in between the giant and the crown, David had to run for his life.

The second in a series of daily posts.

Let’s take a moment to consider this situation from Saul’s point of view.

What would cause a man to waver so wildly between opinions? Why would killing David seem right on one day, but letting him live seem right on another day?

Saul loved it when David inflicted great damage on the Philistines.

But then Saul began to despise David for being so popular. No matter what difficult assignment the king placed on David, the young man from Bethlehem was incredibly successful. Every success made Saul seethe with anger until he was openly trying to kill David.

Saul chased David to En Gedi, for instance, only to tearfully repent of his actions when David passed on the opportunity to kill him. Know that story? Saul ran into a cave to use the restroom. While he was taking care of business, David cut off a corner of his robe as proof that he could have cut the king’s throat. When David held up the evidence and declared his innocence, Saul changed his tune.

When David finished saying this, Saul asked, “Is that your voice, David my son?” And he wept aloud. “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. – 1 Samuel 24:16-17

For a while, David had peace. Then Saul set off once more to kill him. Once more, David passed on the opportunity to execute his enemy and Saul once again admitted his guilt.

Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Come back, David my son. Because you considered my life precious today, I will not try to harm you again. Surely I have acted like a fool and have been terribly wrong.” – 1 Samuel 26:21

After that, David went to work for the Philistines, tired of dealing with a schizophrenic enemy.

It wasn’t the first time Saul had changed his mind about the right course of action. He’d never shown evidence of having a solid moral foundation for making decisions. Saul tended to make decisions based on what seemed to be right at the time for him.

We call this way of making decisions “situational ethics.” The right decision for you might not be the right decision for me. And tomorrow, the right decision might be the reverse of what we decided today. Every decision depends on the current situation. Therefore, there are no moral absolutes. You choose your way of living and I’ll choose mine.

Sound like a nice “live-and-let-live” life plan?

No one has suggested avoiding the coronavirus “if it feels right to you.” A deadly disease is refreshingly clear in its message. Avoid it and you’ll be fine. Get too close to it and you’ll regret it. It’s Choice A or Choice B.

Early in his career, Saul the new king had instructions from God – through the prophet Samuel – to annihilate an old enemy. Saul was to kill all of the Amalekites, including men, women, children, infants, cattle, sheep, camels and donkeys. It’s rough stuff when you really think about it, but there was a reason God wanted the Amalekites destroyed. Saul’s only responsibility was to obey God completely.

Are there not a lot of tough things that need to be done in our lives, even if it never involves killing Amalekite chickens?

Get yourself elected President this fall and your scope of responsibility may, indeed, involve military decision that cause people to die. Hopefully you’re not dealing with such weighty issues.

Back to Saul and his difficult job.

In short order he:

1. Destroyed all but one of the Amalekites. He kept the enemy king alive as a trophy. He also only destroyed a single Amelekite community. Other Amalekites would cause great damage to the Jewish people in years to come.

2. Decided to keep the chickens, cattle, camels, sheep and donkeys. His men had worked hard, and it seemed a shame to not reward them with livestock. No doubt, his men thought it an excellent idea.

3. He set up a monument to himself so others would think highly of their king.

Saul had obeyed, mostly.

God was not pleased.

The next day, Samuel the prophet met Saul on the road home.

When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”

But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

“Enough!” Samuel said to Saul. – 1 Samuel 15:13-16

Lie No. 1: “I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”

Lie No. 2: “The soldiers did this …”

Lie No. 3: “We destroyed most of the animals, but we saved these for an offering to the Lord.”

No wonder Samuel shouted, “ENOUGH!”

Trying to follow a leader who has no moral foundation is an incredibly frustrating thing. Such a leader will change his or her values based on what it takes to get elected. He’ll say one thing to one audience and another thing to another audience. In office, he might very well forget the promises that don’t seem “right” anymore and keep the ones that seem right today. All too often, those decisions seem only to benefit the decision-maker.

It’ll make any voter scream, “ENOUGH!”

Interesting that an honest employee who abhors thievery will somehow convince himself that taking a few office supplies home isn’t really stealing.

Or what of the pastor who speaks forcefully on sexual purity who can’t quite do away with his pornography addiction? Isn’t every “moral failure” based on a decision that “seemed right” at the time?

There are other issues that dominate the headlines – abortion and the vast array of modern sexual relationships quickly come to mind – but Saul’s wishy-washy morality is still a spiritual disease causing great damage to humanity.

You can almost hear God screaming, “ENOUGH!”

Here’s one of the things that made David such a great king and a “man after God’s own heart.” He had a moral foundation that didn’t change.

The two times he could have killed Saul? Both times, David referred to a biblical standard that outweighed his personal desire to be done with an enemy.

He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.” – 1 Samuel 24:6

David had his personal moral challenges, for sure. But early in life he decided God’s word would be his moral standard. He would conform to instructions from scripture, no matter what. This gave him the courage to fight Goliath and the wisdom to know when it was time to run from Saul. Later it would help him form political alliances and make difficult military decisions.

Want to live with confidence during a pandemic … or in the rest of life’s crazy circumstances?

Become grounded in the Bible and leave situational ethics in the dust.