Isaiah 5:21 — Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight!”
How do you make decisions? What are your guiding principles? If you will permit me, I would like to suggest a couple.
The first question to guide every decision should be this: Is it moral? Many times people face decisions without even considering the possibility that the opportunity presented them might be immoral in some way. Only in hindsight, when they see the rippling consequences of their decision, do some recognize that their choice was ripe with immorality.
The second question we must ask ourselves is similar: Is it wise? Sometimes a decision is not necessarily immoral, but it may be unwise. In 1 Corinithinans 7:39 the Apostle Paul says that a widow is free “to be married to whomever she wishes, only in the Lord.” So there is nothing immoral about her marrying whichever single Christian man strikes her fancy. But is it wise? Not necessarily. She should be a little picky and not settle for the first warm body who shows her attention. Otherwise she may end up with a man who, although a Christian, does not produce the fruit of the Spirit in his daily life, someone who will bring her more heartache than joy. Or she could end up marrying a man who, although very godly, has tastes and hobbies and habits that are not at all compatible with her own, again making life worse rather than better.
Is it moral and is it wise? Asking ourselves these two questions can help us immensely as we try to decide both our personal decisions and also as we try to decide what we think about public policies.
Consider one little news article from October 2020. It showed up as a tiny pixel on a 65” 4K screen — pretty much lost among the political debate, world crisis and celebrity gossip. The story simply said that a scientific body suggested a slight change in the rules of research. It’s not a big change, just an alteration of timing. For the previous 41 years, researchers around the world all abided by the rule that they could only experiment on human embryos up until 14 days. Experimenting on an embryo older than 14 days was somehow considered pushing the boundaries of what is ethical. So last October, the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) began advocating for the removal of that limitation, a goal they completed in May 2021 when they announced the end of the 14-day rule. This does not automatically make it legal in every country, but the door is now wide open.
The 14-day rule was implemented worldwide in 1979 in an attempt to avoid running into ethical issues. So if we were part of the debate back in 1979 we could have asked, “Is it moral? Is it moral to experiment on a live, human embryo that is 15 days old? Is it moral to experiment on one that is 10 days old? Five days?”
One might wonder how they came up with the idea that it is ethical to conduct such experiments on a 13-day-old but not a 15-day-old. What is the difference that makes the act cross ethical boundaries? What made 14 days the magic number? Although the number may seem arbitrary, it was not. They chose 14 days, not because there is some significant biological change at 14 days that turns the embryo into a human. It was because 14 days was the point where the rule could be a sham that portended some sense of ethical propriety while actually being meaningless. Why? Because scientists weren’t even able to sustain an embryo in a lab for more than 14 days anyway. It had as much meaning as a law forbidding us from using Infinity Stones to wipe out all of humanity. Since Infinity Stones don’t exist, there’s no need for the law. So why did ISSCR change their minds and decide they want to axe the rule? Because science has advanced and they can now keep the embryos alive significantly longer. So ISSCR abolished the limitation as soon as it actually had an ounce of meaning.
Several things leap out at me.
- The rule was as useless and meaningless as one forbidding scientists from burning holes in you by shooting laser beams from their eyes. They can’t shoot lasers from their eyes anyway, so such a rule is nothing but theater. Same thing here. So in an act of immoral deception, they pretended to care about what is right and wrong. This is like Congress labeling bills with pretentious names that sound good even though the actual wording of the bills may do just the opposite of the name. We can’t judge a bill by its name. As Paul said in 1 Thessalonians. “Test everything. Hold fast to that which is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”
- Why did they need to project the image of propriety — could it be to cover up impropriety? Why is it now wrong to experiment on a 24-week embryo but okay to experiment on a 2-week one? Does the embryo undergo some essential transformation that converts it from a mere blog of cells to a human being? When does that happen — when the heart begins to beat? When the nervous system can transmit pain? When the baby takes its first independent breath? Was it ever ethical or moral to be conducting such experiments in the first place? An embryo is a human baby, whether it is in a test tube or a mother’s womb. Scientifically speaking, it is demonstrably human. It is alive. So is it moral to experiment on it because it’s so young that it hasn’t yet developed self-awareness? If so, then is it also moral to experiment on adults who are currently not self-aware?
- What’s the difference between ethics and morality? Why do such groups always speak about ethics rather than morality? Although most people use the two words interchangeably, they are very different. Morals define right from wrong, good from evil. Ethics, by contrast, are merely agreed upon rules and not necessarily morally based. Think about the implications of that. Such a distinction means that people can rightfully claim that their actions are ethical even though they are as immoral and sinful as murder! We think cannibalism is barbaric and evil, but in a cannibalistic society eating your neighbor is perfectly ethical. If the society and its “experts” accept them, then the most barbaric of actions can be called ethical. In Nazi Germany, the extermination camps were ethical by such definition! How God’s heart must burn against such hypocrisy and white washing!
- The ISSCR wants scientists and ethicists to begin promoting the benefits of increased embryonic research to convince the public that it is morally preferable to do the research than to not do it. Think of the scientific discoveries they could make! They might cure diabetes or Parkinson’s or Alzheimers. They might cure cancer. The possible benefits, they say, outweigh the possible moral considerations. The end justifies the means. Again I think of the holocaust, where Dr. Joseph Mengle experimented on live human beings because he was led by the same immoral compass.
When a government, employer or panel of experts like the ISSCR ask us to believe their agenda or ideas are good, we face the decision of whether to believe as they ask or to reject their propositions. When we ask ourselves to bend the rules just a teeny-tiny bit just this once… when our loved ones ask us to affirm their decisions to do something illegal or unbiblical or just plain dumb… the questions should always be foremost in our minds: Is it moral? Is it wise?
Of course, answering the questions well isn’t as easy as asking them. Who is the judge of what is moral or what is wise? The “hold my beer” memes are based upon the humor of laughing at how many bad decisions people make when they are guided by too much alcohol and too little wisdom. We’ve all made decisions that we deeply regretted later. And sometimes later came within just a few painful seconds. What if we had asked the questions and we had someone far smarter than ourselves answering them for us?
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. — Judges 21:25
In the biblical book of Judges, it says that the people “did what was right in their own eyes” because there was no authority at that time guiding them on what is right and wrong. It wasn’t exactly the best of times. We need a higher authority. And I do mean a higher authority. If your boss tells you to go ahead and do something that you know could be a significant danger to others, his or her authority over you isn’t going to protect you from legal prosecution or lawsuits. We have prosecuted soldiers for war crimes and rejected the defense that “I was only following orders.” We understand that one’s conscience should scream out against evil orders and compel one to disobey them.
Obviously only God has the ultimate authority to tell us what is right and what is wrong, what is moral and what is immoral, what is good and what is evil. (And yes, evil is real. Cain was not mentally ill or misguided. He was evil. He killed his brother because he did not love God enough to value what God values and hate what God hates. Cain loved himself more than he loved God, more he loved than Able, more than he loved his parents. So he lashed out in anger and envy, killing his brother because his heart was filled with sin, with evil.)
So if God is the one who determines good from evil, how do we download that knowledge from Him? How do we gain His wisdom? Humble ourselves, ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and read the Bible as if there’s going to be a pop quiz on it today. Read it with humility, as someone who is looking for truth, with so much trust in God that you will amend your own values to His even when you don’t understand His reasoning. Some people read the Bible out of guilt. Some so they can show off. Some out of curiosity. But what if we read it out of humility and hunger — a ravenous hunger to know God and understand Him? What if our love for God made us want to sit as His feet as Mary did and just listen to Him teach all day long?
Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him. — 1 Corinthians 8:1–3
Knowledge is a wonderful thing and the Bible tells us that we should seek knowledge, wisdom and understanding. But knowledge apart from love is nothing but an invitation to an arrogance party that you throw in your own honor. So knowledge divorced from love offends God, but what does knowledge wedded to love do? It makes us like God. Poor Eve was deceived into thinking that the way to become like God was to disobey Him. In reality God was in the process of making her and Adam like Himself. He created them in His own image, and He was teaching them. Had they not eaten from that tree, they would have learned good from evil without becoming infected with evil.
Wanting to be like God is not a sin. It’s what God wants. He wants us to think the way He does, value what He values, do what He does. We want to be like God not to usurp His authority but to glorify Him more. So He wants to fill us with understanding and wisdom. But we must be humble enough to admit to ourselves that we need it, and we need to do so now rather than wait for the next crisis. Like that 14-day-old embryo, the Scripture we read today is alive and full of potential. After we read it, it may grow in our minds and hearts, redirecting the way we think, the things we value, the discernment we have the next time someone tells us that their plans are good for us and society. But if we wait until a desperate hour, we may not be able to find, absorb and use the Scripture we need. You don’t want to wait for a sword fight to first pick up a sword. Better to go to fencing classes first, better to become comfortable and adept at wielding the sword. Do it now, and when you face tough choices, your decisions will be sharp, true and glorious.
So are you going to spend time in the Word today? How are you going to spend the hours remaining? Are your plans moral? Are they wise?