Saturday, May 9, 2009

No Harm, No Foul

I think we underestimate the tremendous impact the consequences of an action have on our judgment of the morality of that action. If we do something stupid, we quickly whip out our “Consequence Meter” and begin to gauge just how stupid said action really was in the first place. Let me offer a couple of illustrations in order to try and clarify my point.

Several months ago, I was driving through a section of downtown Chattanooga with which I was fairly unfamiliar. I was busy checking road signs, trying to get into the correct lane, and undoubtedly, (though I don’t completely remember) adjusting the radio. Suddenly, I became under the distinct impression that something wasn’t quite right. It was at this point I realized, while blowing through a busy intersection in broad daylight without a care in the world, the light - my light - was red!

Amazingly, I didn’t get into an accident, or get a ticket (I didn’t even get a ticket in the mail a few weeks later from those intersection camera thingamajigs). The only significant consequence of this bone-headed move on my part was that my heart rate increased for a few minutes. Other than that, it was business as usual for the rest of the day, and I felt very, very little guilt for running the red light. However, can you imagine if I had struck a car, and killed someone? What if I had killed a whole family? I would still be feeling absorbed with guilt, even to this day. I would have forever regretted not paying attention on that could-have-been-fateful day. The odd thing is, in either scenario (getting off scot-free vs. killing a family of five) I made the EXACT SAME MISTAKE - I ran a red-light. My evaluation of the mistake however, boiled down to the significance of the consequences.

Allow me to give a second illustration to complete the point. How many times have you said something to someone, only to wonder if maybe whatever it was you said would have been better left, well, unsaid. Confused? The other day I said something I shouldn’t have. (I’m sure that comes as a shock to all of you) I said something rude/embarrassing/insulting to a friend of mine. When I said it, I was afraid I had hurt his feelings so I asked him, “Are you mad at me? Did I hurt your feelings?” Why did I ask him that? Because I was going to judge the morality of what I said based on his response. If he had laughed it off, I would have been tempted to continue in my rude/embarrassing/insulting ways. If he had become upset or hurt, I would have felt terrible about what I had said, and judged what I had said to be wrong. In other words, I didn’t so much care whether or not I had said something rude, I only cared if HE cared. I was judging my behavior based on the consequences. (I am fully aware that in some instances, other people’s sensitivities/culture should guide what we say, that’s not what I’m talking about here).

So what’s the point? My point is, pay attention to how often you judge morality based on the consequences. There is a good deal of temporary injustice in this sin cursed world. Chances are, you might do something dreadfully bad and (don’t miss this) get away with it. Or, you might do something heroically good, only to draw the short straw.

News Flash: Sometimes good things happen to bad people. Truly mind-blowing. It’s so counter-intuitive to how we think. We think that if you’re doing the right thing, then people will respect you, you’ll have money in the bank, your boss will notice you, your friends will be loyal to you, and you’ll have a massive impact. Being a God-pleaser doesn’t always mean cake and ice-cream. At least not now. But, don’t be deceived. God is not mocked, whatever a man sows, that will he also reap. (Galatians 6:7)

1 comment:

  1. This is SO true, Jason! This is why it drives me nuts when people say, "Stop apologizing, your (gossip, slander, mean teasing) doesn't bother me"...but it was WRONG for me to say/do - that's why I'm apologizing! Thanks for pointing this out! :)