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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

26 February 2006

Justifiable Theft?

Q: In Christian ethics, is it ever permissible to lie or to steal from your neighbor or any other entity?

Abimelech Spies on Isaac and RebekahA: While Biblical accounts show the Law being violated in order to save life, we have no clear word of Scripture that says, “In this circumstance, you may take something that is not yours.” The story of Abraham shows his worries about being killed and Sarah taken from him, so he spoke only part of the truth and said she was his sister. God did not judge him, but King Abimelech, who took her for himself (Genesis 20). Granted, she was Abraham’s half-sister, but he was still not fully truthful. Isaac likewise lied about Rebekah, also to a King Abimelech (Genesis 26). It’s not said whether this was the same king or another of the same name.

A clearer instance arose during David’s flight from Saul. After a secret meeting with Jonathan, David went to the tabernacle, told Ahimelech the priest that he was on a mission for the king, and asked for food for himself and his troops. He ended up being given the bread of the Presence (showbread). This bread was on a special table in the Tabernacle, a sign of Yahweh’s dwelling among His people. God commanded that it be replaced with freshly baked bread every Sabbath day and the old loaves were to be eaten by the priests. Instead, David used it to feed his hungry men (1 Samuel 21:1-9).

Ahimelech and DavidAhimelech also gave David the sword of Goliath at this time, an act that so provoked King Saul that he had Ahimelech and his household murdered (1 Samuel 22:6-23).

Whatever the circumstances, we shouldn’t be looking for some sort of situational ethics or moral relativism. Lying or taking that which belongs to God or man is not right. However, neither is allowing life to be lost. Thus, if we ever do find ourselves with such a dilemma (and they are actually quite rare), we should also realize that while we are struggling to do good, we may also be committing a serious sin. If this happens, we must realize that we need to confess it to God and not use it as an excuse to do a wrong we would normally avoid.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Blogger Devona said...

I linked this post at Lutherans and Contraceptives.

Thanks for all that scripture. It was very helpful.

27 February, 2006 12:23  

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