Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Moral and Ethical Subroutines

In the movie Star Trek: Insurrection, there is a very interesting contrast between one of the Enterprise crew members and a Starfleet Admiral. Data, the android second officer of the Enterprise is injured and his moral and ethical subroutines kick-in. In essence, these subroutines cause Data to have a hyper-sensitivity to right and wrong so that no one can take advantage of him in his injured state. Another crew member described his condition as, in essence, being able only to act on the difference between right and wrong. Data is foiled against a Starfleet Admiral who, because he thinks it is necessary for the survival of the Federation, violates the Federation's most sacred law. I don't know that the writers set up this comparison on purpose but they effectively posed the question, "When circumstances get tough, do you abandon your morals for the sake of survival or cling to them even more?"

Toward the end of 1 Samuel, we see a similar choice made by King Saul. Saul and the prophet Samuel have not gotten along well since early in the king's reign. Now Samuel has died and the king is facing a significant battle against the Philistines and is terrified at his prospects. In the middle of the story, the narrator informs us that Saul had gotten rid of all of the mediums and spiritists in the land. Now, whatever Saul's reasons were for doing so, removing those who practiced the occult from the land  was the right thing to do according to the law of Moses. But facing this important battle against the Philistines, Saul's nerves are rattled. Saul has tried consulting the Lord about what to do but God is not answering. Even with Samuel's hostility toward the king, Saul would gladly have consulted with Samuel but the prophet is dead. So, Saul decides he has only one option; Saul disguises himself and tracks down a medium so that she can speak to Samuel beyond the grave and ask the prophet what to do. When Samuel actually appears, Saul complains, "The Philistines are fighting against me and God has turned away from me. He doesn't answer me anymore, either through the prophets or in dreams. So I've called on you to tell me what I should do" (1 Samuel 28:15, HCSB). Samuel essentially responds by asking what Saul expects Samuel to do if God has abandoned him.

Saul's reign was never one marked by righteousness. In many ways, removing the mediums and spiritists from the land was the moral highlight of Saul's reign. But when things got tough, Saul abandoned the single moral achievement of his reign and used the very occult he tried to remove from the land.  Saul did not lose his kingship because of this decision but this kind of decision reinforced the reasons for why God had already chosen to remove Saul as king.

When things get tough in our own lives, how often does doing the right thing become a casualty of survival? Money is tight at home and so we hold back our tithe or decide its ok to "borrow" something from the office or "modify" our tax return. We realize that a personal mistake could harm our relationship with our spouse or with our parents so we choose to lie and hide the truth rather than deal with it. We discover we simply don't have enough time to do all the things we need to so we steal time from our family, hoping that they will forgive us down the road. We fear that our status at the workplace may suffer if people find out about our faith, so we choose not to tell people about the hope that we have in Christ. When times get tough, doing the right thing gets tossed out the window.

What tough decisions are you facing today? Are you considering abandoning what is right because you are more likely to get through your circumstances without suffering? Are you considering cheating, just this once, because you know that doing the right thing might cost you or make things very uncomfortable for you? Character isn't measured by how often we do the right thing, but by how often we do the right thing when it might hurt us to do so.

When Saul got scared, he abandoned what was right and he died anyway. What about you? When things get tough, will you compromise, hoping it will make things better? Or will you choose to do the right thing and trust God with the consequences?  When circumstances scare you, will you abandon your morals for the sake of survival or cling to them even more?

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