Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Moral Absolutism 3: Conflicting Absolutism

Conflicting Absolutism (CA)

Another way to deal with moral dilemmas is to admit that they really do exist, and try to deal with them head on. This is the position of the conflicting absolutist. This position is held by theologians such as, Helmut Thielicke, John Warwick Montgomery, J.I. Packer, and E.J. Carnell. This position is also known as ideal absolutism, as it believes that ideally God’s laws do not conflict, but in this fallen world there are times when they do. Some of the conflict is due to a lack of clarity on our part.

This position is probably the easiest to explain. When confronted with a moral dilemma, such as the midwives lying to protect the children or Rahab lying to protect the spies (see Joshua 2:1), what we must do is simply choose the lesser of two evils. In these two instances lying is the lesser sin than failing to protect the life of your neighbor. In these situations what we must do is admit that we had done wrong, repent, and ask God for forgiveness. In both of these situations God praised the women, not for their lying, but for their faith and doing the best they could in such a tough situation.

In the case of the mother with a tumor (see previous posts), it would be a greater sin to simply let the mother die without any attempt to save them both, since we never know for certain if the child will die. Though the chance of losing the child may be 99.9%, to not make any attempt would be the greater sin. If the child dies we must then ask for forgiveness.

Strengths of this position,

1) This position makes another strong attempt to stick to absolutes.
2) It’s not afraid to face moral dilemmas head on.


1) It begins to weaken those absolutes by stating that they are a bit ambiguous in this fallen world.
2) What do we do with the scripture that says Jesus was tempted in every way as we are? Does this mean that Jesus was tempted in a way that He had to choose between two sins, thus making him a sinner? Or was he not tempted in this way thus making the “tempted” verse untrue.
3) This verse also seems to go against the idea of repentance. To repent is to ask God for forgiveness with the idea that we will do our best to not do it again. But in this case we would have every intention of doing it again if faced with the same situation, because it’s the best decision we can make.

It seems to me this is the weakest of all three positions, but I do not consider J.I. Packer a light weight, in fact I enjoy most of what he has to say. I have not read him on this particular issue which makes me wonder if I’ve missed something in my understanding. But after reading Thielicke, this is the understanding that is presented by this position.

Next we will deal with the most controversial but probably the most logically consistent position; graded absolutism.

As you think through this, how do you handle the moral dilemmas presented in these posts?

God Bless,


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At Tuesday, February 14, 2006 8:38:00 PM, Blogger Carson Allen said...

Good stuff Doug

Keepin it real

Ethics is probably my weekest subject, so I'll stay out of this one. By the way, are you a school teacher in O.C.?

I spent a few months in Chino Hills. I help paint houses with my friend Frank who is a painter. I realy enjoyed Laguna Nigel, or however you spell it.

At Tuesday, February 14, 2006 8:49:00 PM, Blogger Doug E. said...


I work for a Christian law school in Santa Ana. Hence the discussion of ethics are quite common around here.

Thanks for stopping by,


At Tuesday, February 14, 2006 11:38:00 PM, Blogger missmellifluous said...

I have a question, Doug:
Do you think that for this position to state that absolutes are "ambiguous in this fallen world" is really a weakness? I guess I'm thinking that it could actually be a strength if CA acknowledges that there are grey areas due to the sinfulness of the world and takes these into account when making ethical decisions. I may be way off track, if so, please let me know...

Great to think about these things. Thankyou.

oh, I'm still thinking on your other points so may get back later on those.

At Wednesday, February 15, 2006 12:29:00 AM, Blogger Doug E. said...


That is a good point, It does cause us to see the flaw as being in our understanding and not in God's moral law. Which is always the case as far as I'm concerned.

My concern is that in using ambiguity in moral dilemmas really doesn't help us get to any significant decision. It's like being asked a really tough question and giving the answer "I don't know" It really doesn't help the person who asked the question.

You are not off track with that point though. I think we can all remember times when we were in situations where we didn't know what was the right thing to do. And to admit that is noble. But we must realize that it is no real solution to the problem. If there really are absolutes but they are ambiguous to us in this fallen world, and cannot be distinguished what good are they. That is kind of why I see it as a weakness.

God bless,


P.S. Maybe I should have just said "I don't know" to this question. :-)

At Wednesday, February 15, 2006 12:44:00 AM, Blogger Gordon Cloud said...

I believe that a good argument against this particular ethic would be that there is always a right choice in any given situation. This would be consistent with your point of Jesus being tempted in all points.

I would never pretend to always know what is right, mind you. But that does not relieve me from the responsibility of seeking the mind of God on the matter.

As far as the hypothetical scenarios you have presented, I can only say that I pray to God I am never in those situations. (Does that help?)

At Wednesday, February 15, 2006 12:45:00 AM, Blogger Doug E. said...


Amen to hoping we never have to face these situations. :)


At Wednesday, February 15, 2006 5:13:00 AM, Blogger Kim from Hiraeth said...

Hi Doug,

Wow! This is such a challenging series. When I saw what you were blogging about, I put off reading until I knew I would have some time to chew on it and now I wish I'd've kept up from the beginning.

Thank you so much for the time and thought you have put into presenting these important distinctions. I am praying that God would give us all the wisdom to understand and to learn His mind in this because this really is the stuff of which life is made!

It is comforting to me to remember what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

At Wednesday, February 15, 2006 9:40:00 AM, Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Thanks for posting this. Very good reasoning.

God Bless


At Wednesday, February 15, 2006 10:35:00 AM, Blogger Jada's Gigi said...

I really agree with what Gordon and kim in il had to say...missmell too...I'm just too agreeable today lol

It seems to me that the most absolute fact about God is that He cannot be boxed into absolutes. He is full of paradoxes (as far as our human mind an conceive Him)
"Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand ...". I believe that our determinations must be made from the standpoint of the Spirit within teaching us/leading us at that point in time in that particular instance.

At Wednesday, February 15, 2006 3:24:00 PM, Blogger Josh Eaton said...

Thinking about this issue. Would it be true that there are some decisions that we were never intended to make? We only have to make them because of the fall? Just on impulse, I would think that several morally conflicting choices come as a result of previous sins.
But you're right that this really doesn't help with how to make holy choices though.
I think your next post will be the most helpful in this area. Save the best for last right.

At Wednesday, February 15, 2006 4:04:00 PM, Blogger Joshua Ritchie said...

In both of these situations God praised the women, not for their lying, but for their faith and doing the best they could in such a tough situation.

I think this helps us to see things from God's perspective.

I guess they could've plead the 5th...oh wait, they weren't American. ;)

Great topic for discussion.

At Wednesday, February 15, 2006 4:32:00 PM, Blogger Doug E. said...


I understand your point and it has great value. But what does the Spirit teach us? Does He teach us something intellegible and absolute or does He just give us a feeling.

Great thoughts though. Your comments always cause me to think a bit deeper about the issue at hand, even if I don't always agree.


At Thursday, February 16, 2006 11:09:00 AM, Blogger Jada's Gigi said...

I think the Spirit directs us toward God's perspective on the issue, in that instance, at that moment. You said "In both of these situations God praised the women, not for their lying, but for their faith and doing the best they could in such a tough situation." Not that doing our best is the goal...but hearing Him and following Him is our goal. He knows far more about the circumstance than we can see with our natural eyes, H ekonws the hearts involved and the future. If you mean, does He have a written solution for every case scenario...I don't beleive He does. He wants us to learn how to listen and follow His voice inside of our spirits.


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