Dietrich Bonhoeffer said there can be no such thing as a “Christian ethic.” Sounds shocking, until you understand a bit of what he meant. He was speaking against ethics-as-rules, against the idea that we can create a rule book that covers every situation and defines what a good person will always do. In the 60s, the “new morality” advocates loved what Bonhoeffer said but they badly misrepresented him by omitting the second half of his view: We are not to follow mere rules but to be responsive to the living Christ.
One of the many problems with the view of ethics as a set of rules is that life presents us with a great many gray situations in which the rules just don’t fit well.
I’m thinking at the moment of a church that was split several years ago when two couples in the congregation faced one of those gray areas at about the same time. Each couple was expecting a baby and each heard the same bad news: Your baby will be born grossly deformed, will be in much pain, and will die soon after birth or at the most after two or three months.
Both couples wanted very deeply to do the right thing and talked very openly with others in the congregation about their problem. Some advised them to have an abortion and some insisted that abortion was wrong no matter what the condition of the baby. Much prayer and many tears later, one couple decided abortion was the most loving choice while the other couple chose to have the baby. The congregation was torn apart by the controversy and in fact dissolved some time later, in large part because of this disagreement.
As a casual decision, abortion is an abomination. As a matter of convenience for the mother, abortion is an abomination. But in a very small minority of cases, the “rules” of morality just don’t fit the abortion question very well. Did the couple choosing abortion commit an awful sin? Those who live by rules want a simple answer to that question, a simple yes or no. Those who recognize that rules do not determine morality will say to the couple choosing abortion, “Some of us agree and some of us disagree with your choice, but we know you made it in love for your baby and for your Lord and in the midst of extremely difficult factors, so we support you and do not condemn you. How can we help you recover?”
In a perfect world. . . .Oh why bother speculating about a perfect world? There is no such thing and never will be on this side of the grave. In our flawed, tangled reality, we sometimes have to make hard choices when the “right” option is impossible to discern.
Do we think the grace of God is insufficient to cover such choices?