Imagine our two families are miles from land in a sinking boat. Suddenly, out of the mist, come two boats to save us. One is captained by an adulterer; the other is captained by a thief. Which boat will you get into? You say, “Neither one. I’m waiting for the evangelical boat which is captained by a devout Christian who will end abortion.” I say, “You’re kidding, right?” You reply, “Both these guys are reprobates and I’m not going to choose between two evils.”
“Of two evils, choose neither.” Spurgeon’s quote has been posted numerous times on social media by Christians who find themselves in a moral conundrum at the very thought of voting for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Here’s the problem with Spurgeon’s idea. Biblically, there is no such thing as a choice between two evils. Let me explain.
Moral philosophers and theologians have long spoken of the problem of “tragic moral choice,” also known as the “incommensurability in values.” The man on the street simply calls it “choosing between the lesser of two evils.”
The best known example of tragic moral choice is the one about the Nazis during WW II. Do you handover the Jews you are hiding in your house knowing that your choice makes you complicit in their deaths? Or, do you lie and violate the Ninth Commandment? The Lutheran scholar, John Warwick Montgomery, has argued that such choices are unavoidable and of necessity cause us to sin.
The Bible, however, takes a dim view of the so-called lesser of two evils idea. God never puts us in a position in which we can’t escape evil. The reason for this is that the Bible presents a consistent moral ethic. To argue for tragic moral choice is to operate on the wrong assumption that Scripture presents a confused ethic. It is always our duty to make choices that honor God. And to opt out of making a choice exclusively because one is convinced that no honorable choice is possible is to misunderstand the logic of Scripture.
One reason people think they are trapped between the lesser of two evils is because they confuse this idea with what are really priorities in the Bible. For example, although I am to love all people (1 Pet. 4:8), I am united to my wife in a unique way that images Christ’s love for his church (Eph. 5:25). My love toward her is thus to be prioritized differently than it is toward others. When voting for an elder in my church, Scripture obliges me to vote for a man who meets clear qualifications (1 Tim. 3) such as being “apt to teach”—a priority not mandatory for all church members. A big problem is that many people expect the President of the United States to be as godly as an elder. Sorry, but elder is a higher office.
The second reason many Christians wish to avoid choosing between the lesser of two evils is because they confuse an evil with a wrong. An “evil” is something that brings suffering. Evil is therefore broader than a wrong. For example, my back pain is an evil. To alleviate it, I may choose back surgery, an even greater evil. But my hope is that, although super painful in the short-term, surgery will facilitate complete relief long-term. Starvation, poverty, and disease, are also forms of evil. James says that “God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (1:13). He means we shouldn’t use evil as an excuse to sin. Also, the devil is called “the evil one” (1 John 5:19). So we see the breadth of evil.
A “wrong”, on the other hand, is a sin against God. Steal a candy bar from the 7-11 and you’ve committed a wrong. I am rather confident that “No Trump” evangelicals incorrectly assume that a vote for Trump is a wrong—a sin against God.
Now let’s make sense of all of this. Imagine our two families are miles from land in a sinking boat. Suddenly, out of the mist, come two boats to save us. One is captained by an adulterer; the other is captained by a thief. Which boat will you get into? You say, “Neither one. I’m waiting for the evangelical boat which is captained by a devout Christian who will end abortion.” I say, “You’re kidding, right?” You reply, “Both these guys are reprobates and I’m not going to choose between two evils.”
You see what you’ve done? For one, you failed to prioritize scripturally. The immediate priority is to save our families so we can fight another day. Scripture passages against thievery and adultery simply don’t apply here.
Second, you confused an evil with a wrong. As bloody painful as it is for you to sit in the adulterer’s boat on the way to dry ground, God doesn’t view you as an adulterer. Neither does he view your choice to get your family into the boat as a “wrong.”
Right now our nation is sinking. And two boats are on the way. God is not asking you to pick between “the lesser of two evils.” He asking you to: (1) Prioritize what Scripture prioritizes. (2) Distinguish an evil from a wrong.
Is it possible that God, in his infinite wisdom, has brought Trump along, if for no other reason than to prevent this nation from sinking permanently into the abyss of PC progressivism? And that he has done this so that when this nation is back on the ground we can then plan for the kind of constitutional conservative we need for the future?
I don’t know the answer to this question. But I encourage you to vote. I know I will.
John Barber is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and lives in Jacksonville. Fla. This article appeared on his blog and is used with permission.