God doesn’t believe in no-win scenarios.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 April

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 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 all three one the same thing, so 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. Say it’s World War 2 and you’re hiding Jews from the Nazis. 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 killed. Still, this is the option most people are unthinkingly gonna take, as the best-case scenario. Still, lying is sin.
  • Give them up and let them be murdered by evildoers, just to save your own skin. True, you didn’t lie, but you did passively permit evil to happen, so that’s sin.
  • Try not to literally lie, and hope the Nazis misinterpret your statements and go away. Since God doesn’t do loopholes, that’s lying by omission, no matter what you might tell yourself to salve your conscience. Still sin.

Basically you’re picking 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 KWL
12 So if you hope to stand firm, watch out. You might not fall.
13 Temptations (unless they’re common to humanity), haven’t overcome you.
God is faithful. He won’t allow you to be tempted with more than you can defeat.
Instead he’ll work an escape route into the temptation. You’ll be able to endure.

Christians commonly misinterpret this to mean, “God will never give you more than you can bear,” which isn’t so. He regularly gives us more than we can bear—because he’s meant to bear that for us, and we need to stop striving and start trusting. But when it comes to temptation, he wants us to win. And there is 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, that really it’s inevitable we’ll fall into several throughout the course of our lives… what happened when Jesus ran into one of them?

’Cause when he became human, he did share a common experience with the rest of humanity, right?

Hebrews 4.14-16 KWL
14 So, seeing our great head priest pass through the heavens—
Jesus, son of God—we can hold to our common beliefs:
15 We don’t have a head priest who can’t sympathize with our weaknesses.
Jesus had been tempted by all the same things we are, without sinning.
16 So we can boldly come to the throne of Jesus’s grace
so we can receive mercy, so we can find gracious help in a time of need.

Tempted by all the same things we are, but didn’t sin. So if he was ever put into any tragic moral choices, he clearly got out of them. And if he could do 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, the Pharisees and Herodians tried to stick Jesus in the middle of one:

Mark 12.13-17 KWL
13 The head priests and elders sent Jesus certain Pharisees and Herodians so they could catch him in his own words.
14 When the Pharisees and Herodians came, they told Jesus, “Teacher,
we know you’re truthful and unbiased, for you don’t look at people’s faces for approval.
Instead you truthfully teach God’s way—so is it right to give taxes to Caesar or not? Do we give; do we not give?
15 Knowing their hypocrisy, Jesus told them, “Why are you tempting me? Bring me a denarius so I can see it.”
16 They brought it. Jesus told them, “Who’s this ikon and epigraph?” They told him, “Caesar.”
17 Jesus told them, “Give Caesar back Caesar’s things. Give God what’s God’s.”
They were stunned by this.

I pointed this out to this 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 have 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. If the Spirit could do 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 that 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 provides 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 worry about it. Go ahead and sin. God knows these things happen; he’ll forgive you; it’s okay.” So rather than try to find the path out of the darkness, they plunge right into the darkness. Sometimes a little too eagerly. Y’see, they were kinda looking for an excuse to embrace the darkness. Well, tragic moral choices tell ’em the darkness is inevitable, so… here they are, embracing their “destiny.”

It’s a copout. And a popular one. And God calls it rubbish. It’d be wrong for God to rebuke and condemn sins we can’t 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 figure “all have sinned” Ro 3.23 means sin is inevitable. It’s not just that all have sinned; all will sin. In this fallen world, sin happens. It’s unavoidable. But that 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. Not “Don’t sin.” Not had his apostles write,

1 John 2.1-5 KWL
1 My children, I write these things to you so you won’t sin.
When anyone sins, we have an aide from the Father: Righteous Christ Jesus.
2 He’s the atonement for our sins. Not only for ours, but for the whole world’s.
3 In this way we know we’ve known him: When we keep his commands.
4 Saying, “I’ve known him,” and not keeping his commands: It’s a lie, and truth isn’t in this.
5 God’s love is truly achieved this way: In whoever can keep God’s word. In this way we know they’re in God.

We’re to walk as Jesus walked, 1Jn 2.6 and if Jesus could defeat sin, so can we. So should we.

God’s Will.

Spiritual warfare.