Most people play a game with the Bible without knowing it. We identify with certain verses or stories, which we interpret however they strike us. We pretend that this process is God speaking, but much of the time it is just us talking to ourselves (or our Christian subculture talking to ourselves). Our subconscious decides whom to identify with in a story or how to define a certain word. At times there are as many interpretations as there are interpreters.
The Bible is not a philosophy book that lays out things in absolute categories. It's made up primarily of stories. It has a lot of poetry. Even the letters are primarily situational, addressing specific times and places. If the Spirit is guiding your impressions of Scripture, no problem. Great! But otherwise, we're in grave danger of mistaking our thoughts for those of God... all the time.
Our theology or our Christian philosophy--the mechanism with which we engage the "raw materials" of the Bible--are thus crucial to how we end up thinking or acting. The Bible may provide much of the content of how we think or act, but our theology/philosophy is what organizes that raw content.
So here is the absolute philosophical framework within which all humans make ethical decisions. This is where it all ends up, even if the Bible is our starting point for filling in the blanks. The following applies in all places and all times.
What should I do?
1. What are my/our duties in this situation?
- Some duties are absolute (love of God and neighbor), but the more specific the duty (truthtelling, saving life), the more we have to set up a hierarchy of values (so saving life is usually a higher value than obeying authority, even though both are important values). We love easy answers (e.g., to say everything's an absolute), but it just doesn't work that way. In the real world you have to choose between competing, godly values.
- Since love is the ultimate absolute, Christians will take the consequences of a decision into consideration. It is not just about doing the right thing. Mature Christians take into account the consequences of choices too.
- Motive is more important than act, in terms of our personal status before God. The more important question than "Will God send me to hell if I do this?" is "What course of action will most glorify God?" "What is the virtuous thing to do?" is a more important question than, "What is right or wrong to do?"