Sunday, September 04, 2005

May we admire Rahab?

When we worked in Nigeria,Christian folk there had no
ethical problem with Rahab's lie. They had a problem
with what the spies were doing going to her house :-)

Our problem here is an apparent conflict between the
commands not to kill and not to bear false witness. To
give up the Jews to the Nazis might be seen as some as
not to be murder, but I am not among them.

I worked with a doctor from Denmark who told me that
when the ocupying Germans asked Danish doctors for
lists of Jewish patients they said they had none. She
said the question of the lie being sinful was
irrelevamt. Saving life took precedence over
absolutising truth telling.

I have to say, if i was a fugitive from murderers I
would not want to hide among Christians who were not
prepared to mislead murderers to save me. Murderers
have no right to the truth if they want to use the
truth to kill.

Rahab's was an admirable act because she is commended for her faith. It was faith in the God of the covenant which led her to protect the spies. We may question her means of doing so, but she did not have the ethical instruction we do. Neither was she living in a peaceful society with habeus corpus and no death penalty. She was different, and in different times.

Applying present day understandings to historical situations is foolish. Look and see if they were approved or not by their contemporaries. Which contemporaries criticised Cromwell in Ireland or flogging in Nelson's navy? We have our understanding of ethics today, but the past is a different country.

Similarly, I am reluctant to use this as a basis for contemporary ethics except to say I think it does say something about deception in times of war or when the lives of others are murderously threatened.

I wonder if brethren who absolutise the command on false witness to the detriment of saving life would consider it absolutely wrong for police and intelligence services to engage in under cover operations? e.g. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4212524.stm

And what about the court oath? No I am not talking about oaths being prohibited but swearing to tell the whole truth when you are neither required nor allowed to tell the whole truth, only to answer the questions put to you truthfully.

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