You know the old dilemma:
Nazi Germany. Jews are being rounded up and shipped off to the gas chambers. You’re a German citizen and, by law, required to report Jews to the government. You’re in the position of either lying to protect a Jew’s life or telling the truth and giving a Jew into the hands of his executioner. What do you do?
It seems that this dilemma is usually presented to demonstrate that there are no absolute values. In this case, the implication that lying is good when it’s done to save an “innocent life”. The further implication then is that if lying is good in this situation, it can be good in others and therefore the moral quality of the act of lying is relative and not absolute. When presented with this rhetorical dilemma, the assumption tends to be your choice is between “good and evil” or “right and wrong.” However, this assumption is incorrect. The choice is actually between “bad and worse”, or if you prefer a positive articulation, the choice is between “telling the truth and saving a life”.
The world is so messed up (“fallen” as evangelicals like to say) that it is possible for a good action like telling the truth to result in a bad outcome like the murder of a human being. However, the world is not so far gone that a bad action like lying can’t result in a good outcome like the preservation of a human life. Furthermore, creation is so utterly corrupted that the aforementioned situations are possible. The question then is how to navigate through such a thoroughly polluted sea of human existence? The answer is by following Jesus.
When Jesus was faced with healing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath (Mark 3), He rightly discerned the situation. His enemies were taking the good law of the Sabbath, which was given by God for the preservation of human life, and using it to destroy human life. So, He asks them the question, “Which is lawful to do on the Sabbath? To save life or to destroy?” Jesus’ decision to heal the man isn’t a denial of the goodness of the Sabbath law, but rather it is the affirmation that human life is more valuable than legal compliance.
Lying to the Nazis to protect the Jews in your attic is the appropriate choice because preserving human life is more important than good standing with the authorities or even preserving one’s integrity. The decision to lie isn’t a denial of the sinfulness of lying, but rather it is the affirmation of the value of human life, something which Jesus also affirmed.
While the case of Nazi Germany is so remote as to be almost purely academic, there is a current situation in Africa which certainly raises the same questions. Homosexuality is against the law in Malawi and the government is prosecuting men and women convicted of breaking the law. The Guardian reports that Uganda is considering the death penalty for homosexuals under certain conditions.
Now imagine that a Christian has a homosexual neighbor. Late one night, the homosexual comes to the Christian’s house and says, “I have a friend in the police. He called and said that they’re coming to get me. They’re going to kill me! Please, hide me!” What should the Christian do? How does the Christian decide?