I was invited to dinner by a guy who is just a little further down the road than me (his youngest is a freshman in high school, oldest is, I think, a Junior in College) this evening. We haven’t spent too much time in conversation with one another, but I would say prior to tonight I was more than casually knowledgeable about the basics of his life: his work, his family, where he lives, what he likes to drink, etc. But we didn’t really know one another. These are opportunities that those of us in our early 30’s with young kids rarely are given, especially to eat a nice meal and not pay for it, so I was looking forward to the conversation and seeing what came of it.
Side bar: If you live in Peoria and you are not doing anything the next two Wednesdays, and don’t feel like no corkage fee and Osso Bucco at 2 Chez, go to Burgers on the Boardwalk at Cyd’s. It’s a super cool place. The co-owner and her husband have been regulars of mine at 2 Chez and are awesome people. And the food was amazing as well as the vast array of drink specials, and desserts (which I got for free, because, like I said, I take care of these people, and they’re super nice).
My new friend, Bruce, and I talked on all sorts of things: from church background, to work, to our church we attend, to nonviolence, to homosexuality, to generational differences. We truly enriched one another and it was good. I could get into any one of these particular topics, but one thing that came up was related to ethics, nonviolence, and God, and I thought it was worth writing about.
Bruce brought up my (extreme) views on nonviolence in a benign desire to understand where I am coming from. He relayed a hypothetical situation to me and how he would handle the situation: If he happened to be at a bank, and some armed robbers came in to rob the bank, he, being a concealed carry guy, wouldn’t hesitate to brandish his weapon and take out the robbers. He said he wouldn’t think twice about it. I think that’s totally fine, for him.
It got me thinking.
I told him that my “lens” through which I view the ethics of nonviolence was given to me in Bible College, inadvertently. I was in Christian Ethics class and we were working through questions like: We all know such and such is wrong, but what if…? The specific situation that was brought up in class was this: We all know that lying is wrong, but what if you are put in a position that you were capable of saving someone’s life by lying? Would you lie to save a life? Which is more important: not lying, or saving a life?
What followed were two real-life examples from World War II in Nazi Germany. The one that I have latched onto as my guiding principle goes something like this (any of these details could be false): Corrie Ten Boom (yes, a real person was named this) was a missionary in Germany during the Third Reich. She, naturally, was helping Jews escape being captured by the Nazis by hiding them in her attic. One fateful night, two or three Nazi soldiers came to her door and asked her if she was indeed harboring Jews in her house (which she was). It was a well-known fact that she had, in the past, saved Jews from being tortured in the concentration camps. This was her moment of truth. The soldiers were essentially saying, “We know its likely that you are hiding Jews in your attic. Are you?” She responded, “Yes, I am. They are in the attic.” The soldiers laughed, and walked away. They either didn’t believe her because of her boldness, believed her but weren’t sure how to respond to truth, or some other mysterious scenario. I couldn’t believe it.
This woman, who had faith in God, that he is good and did not want the Jews to be slaughtered, chose to face evil head on with the truth. Truth is a very powerful thing, I thought. Maybe our willingness to lie to save a life is simply evidence that we don’t have faith that God is capable or willing to protect innocent lives on his own. So we put ourselves in the place of God. I decided that day, at age 19, that I wanted a faith that is willing to tell the truth, no matter what the consequence.
This lens, I believe, has painted my ethics in major ways over the last 12 years. You might think that’s crazy-talk. You might believe that what she did was reckless in that situation, and it probably was. But was it? Is it? Is the truth capable of saving lives?
Jesus was faced with this option at his execution hearing. Pilate gave Jesus an out. He told Jesus what the Jews were saying about him, that he was claiming to be their King. That he had blasphemed God. Jesus, rightfully, could have said to Pilate, “I never said nor did such a thing.” Because he didn’t, explicitly, say or do those things. But Jesus knew it was true, so he says, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” And he dies for the truth. And in his dying, he saves us all. Truth wins.
I know this is simplistic. That it is reckless. That it doesn’t make actual practical sense, to believe that the truth is more important than life. I’m not exactly sure how Bruce heard the story, but we both agreed that, sometimes, there are no easy answers, and that there are consequences for our choices in life.
I believe wholeheartedly and cannot prove empirically that God honors honesty. That God always intervenes on behalf of the truth. He actually doesn’t. Jesus died for it. So might I. So could have the Jews in the attic of Corrie Ten Boom’s house that night. But its a risk I’m willing to take in order to know that, at the end of the day, I can live with myself and the consequences of my choice to tell the truth. Tomorrow, undoubtedly, I will be tested, and will (likely) fail, because the truth is never easy. That’s the way that I’ve chosen to live. That’s my lens. What’s yours?