The Razor’s Edge

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).

- Romans 12:2

A professor once told a class about a married couple imprisoned during a war. One day, a guard approached the wife and demanded to sleep with her, or her husband would be killed. Reluctantly, she acquiesced and when freed, her husband divorced her for infidelity. When asked if Scripture gave him this right, the class said yes.

The professor then told a second version of the story in which the guard raped the wife. When asked if the husband had permission to divorce her, the class answered no. In the third narrative, the wife, suffering the loss of sexual satisfaction because she was separated from her husband, approached the guard and asked to sleep with him. In this case, the class said the divorce was justifiable.

Then the professor said, “Surely in this last case the wife committed adultery, for she chose to sleep with the guard. Again, the divorce in the second story was surely unjustifiable because she was forced.

However,” he added, “is not the first case also a rape? A life is still threatened even if it is not her own? What is rape if it is not coercion? Is the wife in every case obligated to refuse her assailant?”

Determining the course of action that will please the Lord is not always easy. All of our decisions are made in particular situations, and we often have to apply many biblical principles to a set of circumstances of which we may not have thorough knowledge. This does not mean that our ethics are situational; God’s law never changes. The problem is that we are not omniscient; we lack complete knowledge of Scripture, general revelation, and a host of other factors that bear on our decisions. However, the Lord does not lack this knowledge. Though there are many areas that may seem gray to us, for Him there are no uncertainties.

Thus, in every case there is an action that pleases God even if we do not know what it is. However, if we make a wrong decision after much counsel and with the intent to please God, then we are not as culpable as if we had blatantly sinned (with a “high hand,” Num. 15:30). Yet this is not a rationalization of sin; we must pray and study Scripture so that we can better understand and apply the will of God (Rom. 12:2).

Coram Deo

As the Reformed theologian John Murray once said, sometimes the line between what is right and what is wrong is a razor’s edge. Therefore it is so very important to study the Scripture, in concert with the great teachers of the past, so that “gray” areas become clearer. Let us also consult wise men and women and study the factors in each situation thoroughly so that we might please God in our decisions. Do not be afraid to get wise counsel for moral choices.

Passages for Further Study

2 Chron. 10
Prov. 24:5–6
Acts 15:1–35
1 Tim. 3:14–15

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