A football coach, instead of punting, goes for it on 4th down and long from deep in his own territory. Against all odds, his team picks up a first down. Was it a good call? Or was it a bad decision but a good result? Does the end (picking up a first down) justify the means (calling a longshot play that was likely to fail)?
Or consider George Clooney’s character’s dilemma in The Peacemaker. A known terrorists was on the loose in New York City with a bomb strapped to his back. A sniper had a line on the terrorist, but at the last moment, a man carrying a young girl on his shoulders entered his scope. When he announced this to Clooney, George replied, “Acknowledged. Take the shot.” Does the end (stopping a terrorist from killing thousands) justify the means (shooting a young, innocent child)?
These examples are on the very far ends of the spectrum. So what about something a little more in the middle. What about torture, say at Guantanamo Bay? Is it acceptable to torture known criminals to obtain information that could save thousands of lives? What about lying to a spouse or a close friend to keep from hurting their feelings or starting a fight? What about stealing from the rich to feed the poor (á la Robin Hood or on so many episodes of The A-Team)? There are thousands of examples, from Hollywood blockbusters to trivial games to experiences in every-day life. Should each one be considered on its own merits, or is there a guiding principle that can be applied?
I find that I often subscribe to the theory of “the greater good.” That is, the end justify the means. But lately, I’ve been thinking about that differently. I’ve begun to change my mind, thinking that if we truly have faith in God’s power (believing that He can move mountains, literal and figurative) and in God’s goodness (that if He doesn’t move the mountain, He is just in not doing so) then we ought to do what is right in the immediate situation, and let God take care of the greater good. But I’m not sure this can always be applied either.
After all, I’m not opposed to cops or federal agents going undercover. Don’t they sometimes cross legal lines while in character? I don’t condone murder, but I cheered when Navy SEALs took out Osama bin Laden and Somalian pirates. And in Joshua 2, wasn’t Rahab praised for shielding the Hebrew spies from the king of Jericho—efforts that involved lying and deceiving?
I do not mean to promote a mindset of moral ambiguity or relativity. I do believe in moral absolutes. But sometimes it is the application of those absolutes that gets tricky. I admit I do not have a hard and fast answer, and I'd appreciate your thoughts and feedback. Leave me a comment, hit me on Twitter, or message me on Facebook. Let me know what you think and why you think it. We have until May, when season 9 of 24 airs on FOX, to figure this out. After all, I need to know if I can still cheer when Bauer sticks his gun into the side of a terrorist's knee and screams, "Who are you working for!"