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Bible Q

Should we obey God even when it causes evil?

The full question was: Many Christians have told me that the 10 Commandments are utterly absolute to the point that they must be obeyed no matter what the consequences — even if obeying one or more of them leads to unbelievable evil. This does not seem right to me in the light of the Hebrew midwives in Exodus 1:15-21, where the lie they tell Pharaoh to save the lives of many Hebrew babies seems to result in them being blessed; and also with respect to Rahab’s lies in Joshua 2:5 by which she protected the Israelite spies and for which the prostitute and her whole household were blessed! Is it not the state of the heart and the intentions of the soul which are more important than the letter of the law?

My first response is that we should always obey God, and any “evil” it causes will only be the natural suffering that flows from demonstrating godly behaviour in this world. Jesus did that, and it lead to the “evil” of him being crucified. Which ultimately wasn’t evil at all. So obeying God can’t cause evil.

It sounds like that avoids the question, and it does in some ways. But it also frames the rest of the answer. We really need to ask “How should we obey God?” and “How do we determine what is right in a particular context?”. The two examples in the specific question concern telling the truth, and the ten commandments. With regard to the ten commandments, it’s hard to imagine which of them would cause evil if you were following them. So it’s hard to see what consequences would justify not following them — except for the sabbath, see below. As for lying, there are several examples of people telling slight, subtle or outright lies in the Bible, and being rewarded for it (cases above will suffice). But there are also examples of people lying and getting punished for it (Lev 6:3, Josh 7:11, Acts 5:4), and several general prohibitions against it. Even if there are circumstances where it’s right to lie, we don’t lie to disobey God in order to avoid evil, we would lie to obey God as best as we can.


The 4th commandment:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.” (Exodus 20:8-10)

The priests and pharisees built a huge edifice on this, which still applies in Judaism today — regulations about lighting, for instance. Jesus looked at this piece of insanity, and fought a running battle with the Pharisees over it:

On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands.  But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?”  And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?”  And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” (Luke 6:2-5)

And then there’s this:

“I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath.  If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well?  Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:21-24)

Jesus goes beyond saying that the Jews had gone too far — he said that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). So there are circumstances where one command puts another aside.

Finally, note that the Law of Moses does not apply to Christians, including the ten commandments, though most of them are re-established by the New Testament or arise logically from Jesus’ commands.

2 Replies to “Should we obey God even when it causes evil?”

  1. Ten Commandments not applying to Christians? That’s like saying older traffic laws don’t apply to me when I get a new car. Of course under the new covenant, our standard is holiness as Christ displayed holiness, but how else would he have known to model such holiness were it not for the Decalogue? Our model is Christ, but His was the Law, so to say the Ten Commandments have no weight is to deny the very essence of our standard for righteous living. Christ came to fulfill through His sinless life, not abolish it (Matthew 5:17).

  2. Specifically, I said that the Low of Moses does not apply to Christians, but that the most of the 10 commandments were explicitly re-established. I did not say – nor would I say – that they (or other parts of the law of Moses) have no weight. In fact, the law of Moses is regularly quoted here, for exactly the reasons you suggest.