A Moral Dilemma?

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A Moral Dilemma?

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Every now and then I listen to a radio program here in Australia that features a segment called "Moral Dilemma." A listener calls or writes to the station and explains the difficult situation he or she is in, and other listeners contact the station with advice on what the person should do.

In yesterday's dilemma, "John" explained that he had bought a base model BMW, made several modifications to it that gave it the appearance of a much more luxurious model, and then traded it in. The car dealer had evidently not inspected the car very closely, and offered him $90,000. John knew its value was more like $30,000, and wondered what he should do.

The two announcers, Tracey and Tim, discussed John's dilemma together first.

"Ooooh," said Tim. "This is a verrrrrrrrry tricky one."

"It is not," Tracey retorted. "It's cut-and-dried. He can't take the money."

"But—" said Tim.

"But what? You've got to be honest with yourself, and you've got to be able to live with yourself."

"But come on, Trace," Tim countered. "Used car dealers. Everyone knows what they're like."

"That doesn't matter," said Tracey. "What goes around comes around. It's the law of karma."

"But how do you know that this isn't the car dealer's bad karma coming back to get him?"

Tracey and Tim then asked their listeners to call or SMS [i.e., text message] the station with their views on what John should do. About 80 percent thought he should take advantage of the car dealer's mistake, usually on the basis that doing something dishonest to a dishonest person was okay. This included an ex–used car dealer who vouched for the corruption of the industry and strongly advised John to "take the money and run."

What would you do?

What would you say John should have done? More importantly, what would you do if you were given the opportunity to make an easy but dishonest $60,000? And forget karma. What would God say about the situation?

Perhaps you think that this is such an unlikely thing to ever happen to you that you don't really have to make a decision about it. If that's the case, try applying the dilemma to a situation that you could face.

What if one of your teachers forgot to record the D+ you got for your last project in her book? If she asked you to remind her of your mark [or grade], would you say you got an A ? Would it make a difference if she was the grumpiest, bossiest or strictest teacher in the school?

Or what if you got more change than you should have when you bought something at the milk bar [Australian for convenience store]? Would you tell the guy at the counter? Would it make a difference if you knew he had ripped off a friend of yours last week?

What God says

God has plenty to say about honesty in His Word. One of the most obvious and well-known things in this respect is the Ninth Commandment: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16). Although the language of this commandment applies to a court setting, the principle is clear: Do not lie.

Elsewhere God gives a list of seven things He hates and describes as abominations. Two of the seven things are related to dishonesty—"a lying tongue" and "a false witness who speaks lies" (Proverbs 6:16-19).

Okay, so you know the lying thing is bad. You can't tell someone something that simply isn't true. So in that situation with your teacher, you'd have to tell her you got a D+ . But what about the milk bar guy? He just offered you the change. No questions asked, no answers needed, right?

Have a look at Leviticus 19:35-36. "Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight, or volume. Your scales and weights must be accurate. Your containers for measuring dry goods or liquids must be accurate" (New Living Translation).

Or how about Deuteronomy 25:13-16? "You must use accurate scales when you weigh out merchandise, and you must use full and honest measures . . . Those who cheat with dishonest weights and measures are detestable to the LORD your God" (NLT).

These instructions were given specifically to salespeople, to warn them against cheating customers by using inaccurate weights and measurements. (Think of it this way: Imagine buying a can of soft drink, and cracking it open to find it half full of soft drink and half full of sand.)

However, the principle applies to everyone and forces us to be honest in all our dealings with people, business or not. It's not a matter of just answering a question honestly. It's a matter of behaving truthfully to begin with. Salespeople are expected to, and so are we.

Cheating a cheater?

But what if the person you're cheating deserves it? Let's go back to Tim's argument about John and the BMW trade-in. Tim reckoned that John should take advantage of the car dealer because, as everyone apparently knows, car dealers are famous for ripping the customers off big-time. Why should John do the dealer a favor and miss out on $60,000 as a result?

Or what if your teacher likes to randomly move people from their seats when it's always somebody else doing the talking? Or what if the milk bar guy has a reputation for selling Mars Bars past their use-by date? Isn't it only fair that they should get back what they've given out to others?

In order for this argument to stack up, you'd have to find biblical evidence for it—which you won't. In the meantime, let me give you some biblical evidence against it.

Matthew 7:12 says, "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." Read this verse carefully. It is a scripture about your behavior, not the behavior of others. It does not mean you can do to them what they've done to you!

Romans 12:19 adds, "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord." In other words, it is not your place to give someone what's coming to them. It's God's, and only God's.

Next consider 1 Peter 3:8-9: "Finally, all of you be of one mind . . . not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing." Instead of doing the dodgy on a dodgy person [Australian slang for cheating a cheater—repaying wrong with wrong] you're expected to do something good for him or her.

Finally, the book of Proverbs has a bit to say about the dangers of using human reasoning to justify our actions. There is nothing in the Bible to suggest we should pay back people who cheat us or others. To say it's okay to do so because they are cheats themselves is just using human reasoning.

Read Proverbs 3:5 and 14:12. The first says, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding." The second says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." So we must very carefully consider why we do the things we do. If the reasons for our actions are contrary to Scripture, we are standing in dangerous territory!

God expects everyone to be honest with others, regardless of how honest those others are themselves. So John's dilemma really wasn't a dilemma at all. Even though Tracey's understanding of "karma" wasn't right either, she was at least correct about the issue being cut-and-dried. There was no way John could justify taking that $60,000.

And similarly, you also have a moral responsibility to be honest in your dealings with people on a day-to-day basis, even if it means "missing out" on a great deal. VT