God doesn’t believe in no-win scenarios.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 August

Back in seminary my theology professor introduced us to the concept of the tragic moral choice. Ancient Greek playwrights invented it for their tragedies: One god ordered the hero to do one thing, and another god ordered him to do just the opposite. Obeying one god meant sinning against the other god. And like us, the ancient Greeks recognized sin has dire consequences… and wanna bet their plays would show the consequences?

Now, we Christians don’t have multiple gods with conflicting wills. We only have the One God. Yes he’s in three persons, but the wills of all three persons are in absolute sync. God’s not the problem. We are. We sin, and we live in a sin-plagued world.

So in the Christian version of the tragic moral choice, we’re thrust into a scenario where all the possible outcomes are gonna be bad. The only choices we make are gonna be sinful ones. We can’t win. That’s just the world we live in.

Fr’instance imagine you’re hiding Jews from Nazis who wanna murder them. Suddenly the Nazis come knocking. What do you do?

  • Duh; lie and say there are no Jews there. Except lying is sin. Yeah, it’s a really minor sin compared to Jews getting killed—and if the Nazis find out you’re lying, you’re getting murdered. Still, this is the option most people unthinkingly take, as the best-case scenario. Still, lying is sin.
  • Give them up; let them be murdered just to save your own skin. True, you didn’t lie, but you did passively permit evil, so that’s sin.
  • Try not to literally lie, and hope the Nazis misinterpret you and go away. Most Christians prefer this one… usually because we don’t recognize God doesn’t do loopholes. Still lying, no matter what you might tell yourself to salve your conscience. Still sin.

Basically you’re going with the least-evil option. But don’t kid yourself: They’re all evil. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Tragic moral choices make a really good intellectual problem, and great drama. But they’re really bad theology. ’Cause unlike the Greek gods, who’d mess with humans and watch us squirm for fun, God loves his kids and doesn’t abandon us to such tragedies. Says so in the scriptures.

1 Corinthians 10.12-13 NRSV
12 So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Christians commonly misinterpret this to mean, “God will never give you more than you can handle,” which isn’t so. He regularly gives us more than we can handle—because he’s meant to handle it for us, and we need to stop striving and start trusting. But when it comes to temptation, he wants us to win. And there’s always a winning option. In every temptation.

Y’see, God doesn’t believe in the no-win scenario. Even though we might.

Jesus’s “tragic moral choices.”

If this sin-plagued world is so filled with tragic moral choices, and it really is inevitable we’ll fall into several throughout the course of our lives… what about when Jesus ran into one of them?

’Cause when he became human, he did share common experiences with the rest of humanity, right? Isn’t that what the scriptures say?

Hebrews 4.14-16 NRSV
14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

“In every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” So if Jesus was ever put into any tragic moral choices, clearly he got out of them. And if he did it, why can’t we? Don’t we have the same Holy Spirit he does?

You know if tragic moral choices were a thing, Satan wouldn’t have passed up the opportunity to stick Jesus smack in the middle of one. Heck, Pharisees and Herodians tried to stick Jesus in the middle of one:

Mark 12.13-17 NRSV
13 Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. 14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere and show deference to no one, for you do not regard people with partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” 16 And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this and whose title?” They answered, “Caesar’s.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.

I pointed this out to my theology professor. He believes in tragic moral choices, y’see. But unlike dishonest theologians who are wedded to their favorite ideas, he gave it some thought. He concluded yeah, all things being equal, Jesus could’ve fallen into a no-win scenario… but since Jesus utterly depended on the Holy Spirit for guidance, the Spirit kept him far away from such traps.

Okay, again: If the Spirit did that for Jesus, why not for us? If Jesus successfully escaped every tragic moral choice by being more clever than his circumstances, don’t you think Christians, who’ve been offered free access to his wisdom, Jm 1.5 can’t do likewise?

And this is precisely what appears to be the case. It’s why Paul and Sosthenes told the Corinthians how God always provided them an escape route from every temptation. Certainly someone who doesn’t know and trust God might find themselves in a disastrous quandary where every choice is a bad one. But when we do trust him, he’s our escape plan.

Unless you don’t want an escape plan.

But for far too many Christians, the tragic moral choice idea is one they love. Because it tells them, “Y’know, sometimes you’re gonna be in a situation where every choice is a sinful one. There’s no way out. So don’t stress out about it. Go ahead and sin. God knows these things happen; he’ll forgive you; it’s okay.” Rather than try to find the path out of the darkness, they plunge right into the darkness.

And sometimes they plunge into that darkness a little too eagerly. Y’see, they were kinda looking for an excuse to embrace darkness. Well, tragic moral choices tell ’em the darkness is inevitable, so… here they are, embracing their “destiny.”

It’s a copout. A popular one. And God calls it rubbish. It’d be unjust of God to rebuke and condemn sins we can’t possibly avoid. But with God, we can avoid every sin. We can resist temptation. And if we can’t resist, we have God to flee to.

Yeah, these same Christians claim “all have sinned” Ro 3.23 means sin is inevitable. To them, the verse doesn’t merely state all have sinned; it means all inevitably will sin. In this fallen world, sin happens. It’s unavoidable. Inescapable.

But no, this verse doesn’t mean we fatalistically give up hope, shrug our shoulders, and let sin molest away at us. How on earth does that demonstrate any faith in God? It doesn’t; we may as well be pagans, with no Holy Spirit to help us, ’cause God has left the building and abandoned us.

If God wanted us to just give up and sin, he’d have told us so. But his apostles quite bluntly wrote otherwise.

1 John 2.1-6 NRSV
1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, 2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
3 Now by this we know that we have come to know him, if we obey his commandments. 4 Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; 5 but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we know that we are in him: 6 whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk in the same way as he walked.

We’re to walk as Jesus walked, and if Jesus could defeat sin, so can we. So should we.