Sometimes we have to make hard choices in life, and often we seem to have to choose between two bad options. In the US, people say that we are “between a rock and a hard place.” Here in the region of Tyre, we say that we are “between two fires.” Which one is it better to be burned by? That’s a great analogy for tough choices.
As Christians, how do we apply a Biblical morality to making those hard choices? This is especially important when other people will also be burned by the fire we choose.
Jesus gave us some important teachings to guide us through times like these. He was often tested by being given two bad choices. People wanted to know which bad choice he would prefer. In these cases he never allowed himself to be blinded by the illusion that there are only two choices.
Here’s one of the best examples of Jesus making an ethical choice when offered two unethical options:
John 8:Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?"
They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger.
They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
“No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
Notice that the Pharisees brought “a woman” who had been caught “in the act” of adultery. Could they not catch the man? They then lied and told Jesus that the law of Moses says “to stone her.” It says, actually, to stone them both. But conveniently, they only caught the woman. Was the man one of them?
For the Pharisees, this was never about justice. They would have brought the man along, too, if they were interested in justice. This was about forcing Jesus to make one of two bad choices. These were political choices, to be clear. He could ally himself with the Pharisees by sanctioning her stoning. This would anger the Romans, of course, who did not allow upstart locals to administer executions. Jesus could have allied himself against the Pharisees by repudiating stoning. He would have been portrayed as an ally of the Hellenistic, liberal left who sold out to the Romans.
Jesus was trapped between two fires. Neither choice was just or good.
So Jesus chose goodness and justice. Was his choice likely to challenge either of the two predominant political parties? No. The Romans remained in charge of the government, and the Pharisees remained in control of religious life. Yet Jesus remained in possession of his own personal moral and ethical values. He chose neither fire. They both conspired later to burn him together, but he never sold out his moral and ethical beliefs to the lesser of two fires.
If you are sure that your choice of evils is the right thing to do, consider these words of Jesus:
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
There’s only a small space between those two fires. Most people won’t find it. They’ll follow the wide and easy path laid out for them. They’ll tell you that any path off the wide path is the wrong direction. They’ll tell you that not choosing the first fire is the same as choosing the second one. Don’t listen to them, listen to Jesus.