Moral Decision Making

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As men and women, we have a strong inner drive to want to do what is right and good in our lives. On the same hand we also wish to avoid doing the wrong things and the evil things.


What do people do when they search out what is right and good for their lives? People spend a lot of time (and money) seeking rightness and goodness from psychologists, psychiatrists, and so-called, self-proclaimed "spiritual" gurus. Pop-theologians and pop-psychologists are just happy that they can deter searching minds from where truth really lies. It usually translates into the sale of their books. Or perhaps their intent is to distract people from where truth and answers have resided for centuries? Maybe these authors believe that people do not want the truth of great minds or think that people cannot handle what is already known about right and good actions. Perhaps they think that knowing and truth are really relative--that there is nothing really to be known and still true for all people in all times. Look at those self-help sections in any bookstore; listen to what some pastors preach on--hardly the gospel message--a lot of psycho-babble. Many times unfortunately this is a choice people make because it affirms what they selfishly want in life (not necessarily what they need). Like astrology, psycho- and theo-babble flatter us by accommodating our personal and selfish desires or affects us to self-fulfill the things we want (instead of satisfying what we truly need). All too often they make choices that affirm their own motives and drives not always what is good for them.

Knowledge and Truth

Great Christian philosophers and theologians (e.g., Augustine, Aquinas, etc.) affirm that we are essentially intellect and will; the former seeking truth, the later seeking the good. Hence, knowing truth and being good are the truly deep seated needs and drives in our lives. They alone will satisfy us.

What we are truly searching for in our behavior choices are those choices that fulfill us, that make us really and authentically human. There are two ways in which we discover what those norms are and to live our lives accordingly: looking at God's creation (principally natural law) and by listening to God's revelation to us (the Word of God). To be fully human is probably that which will satisfy all our longings and our drives to do what is right and good and avoid what is wrong and evil. What are the primary stages in becoming fully human?

Godís Revelation

What authority do we have to help us define what it means to be fully human and meet the full potential of our existence?As Christians, there is probably no other authoritative source than the revealed Word of God and His teaching authority.Truths that follow from revelation and authority are

(1) embodiment--we are enfleshed men and women, at once material (human body) and immaterial (spiritual soul);

James 2:26 †††††††††

For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

1Thessalonians 5:23 ††

††††††††† May the God of peace himself make you perfectly
††††††††† ††††††††† holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved
††††††††† ††††††††† blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(2) spiritual--we are principally material beings with an immortal and immaterial soul, entirely spiritual;

1 Corinthians 7:34 ††

An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the
††††††††† things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit.

Romans 8:13 ††

For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the spirit
††††††††† you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Romans 8:10

But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the
††††††††† spirit is alive because of righteousness.

Matthew 10:28

And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the
††††††††† soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and
††††††††† body in Gehenna.

Wisdom 9:15

For the corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter
††††††††† weighs down the mind that has many concerns.

Psalms 71:23

My lips will shout for joy as I sing your praise; my soul, too, which
††††††††† you have redeemed.

1 Peter 2:11

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and sojourners to keep away from
††††††††† worldly desires that wage war against the soul.

Hebrews 4:12

Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any
††††††††† two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints
††††††††† and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the
††††††††† heart.

Matthew 10:28

And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the
††††††††† soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and
††††††††† body in Gehenna.

(3)social--we are essentially social beings, with our very origin in the community of persons in marriage (the smallest fully-committed community of persons), in family, in fellowship community (church), and in society;

Romans 15:2

Let each of us please our neighbor for the good, for building up.

Acts 2:45 ††

They would sell their property and possessions and divide them
††††††††† among all according to each one's need.

Ephesians 5:30

††††††††† We are members of his body.

Ephesians 3:6 ††

. . . the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and
††††††††† copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Ephesians 2:19

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are
††††††††† fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of
††††††††† God,

1Thessalonians 5:11

Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as
††††††††† indeed you do.

Galatians 6:2

Bear one another's burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Romans 15:7

††††††††† Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory
††††††††††††††††††† of God.

Romans 12:5

. . . we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts
††††††††† of one another.

John 15:17

††††††††† This I command you: love one another.

2 Corinthians 6:1

Working together, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace
††††††††† of God in vain.

Philippians 2:4

. . . each looking out not for his own interests, but (also) everyone
††††††††† for those of others.

Ephesians 4:16

. . . the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting
††††††††† ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the
††††††††† body's growth and builds itself up in love.

(4) individual--we are each a person in time, in place, in history, unique and distinct;

1 Corinthians 3:8

The one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and each
††††††††† will receive wages in proportion to his labor.

1 Corinthians 7:7

††††††††† Indeed, I wish everyone to be as I am, but each has a particular gift
††††††††††††††††††† from God, one of one kind and one of another.

1 Corinthians 12:7

††††††††† To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some
††††††††††††††††††† benefit.

2 Corinthians 5:10

††††††††† For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that
††††††††††††††††††† each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the
††††††††††††††††††† body, whether good or evil.

1 Corinthians 15:38

††††††††† . . . but God gives it a body as he chooses, and to each of the
††††††††††††††††††† seeds its own body.

1 Corinthians 12:11

††††††††† But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them
††††††††††††††††††† individually to each person as he wishes.

Galatians 6:5

††††††††† . . . for each will bear his own load.

Ephesians 4:7

††††††††† But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of
††††††††††††††††††† Christ's gift.

Galatians 6:4

††††††††† Each one must examine his own work, and then he will have
††††††††††††††††††† reason to boast with regard to himself alone, and not with regard to
††††††††††††††††††† someone else;

Revelation 22:12

††††††††† Behold, I am coming soon. I bring with me the recompense I will
††††††††††††††††††† give to each according to his deeds.

Revelation 2:23

††††††††† I will also put her children to death. Thus shall all the churches
††††††††††††††††††† come to know that I am the searcher of hearts and minds and
††††††††††††††††††† that I will give each of you what your works deserve.

1 Peter 4:10

††††††††† As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as
††††††††††††††††††† good stewards of God's varied grace.

1 Peter 1:17

††††††††† Now if you invoke as Father him who judges impartially according
††††††††††††††††††† to each one's works, conduct yourselves with reverence during
††††††††††††††††††† the time of your sojourning,

James 1:14

††††††††† Rather, each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed
††††††††††††††††††† by his own desire.

1Thessalonians 5:15

††††††††† See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is
††††††††††††††††††† good (both) for each other and for all.

(5) free--we are persons free to make choices among alternatives, affirmed in the challenges in Scripture to make choices and right choices;

1 Chronicles 21:10

††††††††† Go, tell David: Thus says the LORD: I offer you three alternatives;
††††††††† ††††††††† choose one of them, and I will inflict it on you."

1 Chronicles 21:12

††††††††† . . . will it be three years of famine; or three months of fleeing your
††††††††††††††††††† enemies, with the sword of your foes ever at your back; or three
††††††††††††††††††† days of the LORD'S own sword, a pestilence in the land, with the
††††††††††††††††††† LORD'S destroying angel in every part of Israel? Therefore choose:
††††††††††††††††††† What answer am I to give him who sent me?

Job 34:33

††††††††† Would you then say that God must punish, since you reject what he
††††††††††††††††††† is doing? It is you who must choose, not I; speak, therefore, what
††††††††††††††††††† you know.

Proverbs 3:31

††††††††† Envy not the lawless man and choose none of his ways:

Sirach 15:15

††††††††† If you choose you can keep the commandments; it is loyalty to do
††††††††††††††††††† his will.

Sirach 15:17

††††††††† Before man are life and death, whichever he chooses shall be
††††††††††††††††††† given him.

Isaiah 7:16

††††††††† For before the child learns to reject the bad and choose the good,
††††††††††††††††††† the land of those two kings whom you dread shall be deserted.

John 7:17

††††††††† Whoever chooses to do his will shall know whether my teaching is
††††††††† ††††††††† from God or whether I speak on my own.

Deuteronomy 30:19

††††††††† I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set
††††††††††††††††††† before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose
††††††††††††††††††† life, then, that you and your descendants may live,

Jeremiah 21:8

††††††††† And to this people you shall say: Thus says the LORD: See, I am
††††††††††††††††††† giving you a choice between life and death.

1 Peter 2:16

††††††††† Be free, yet without using freedom as a pretext for evil, but as
††††††††††††††††††† slaves of God.

Galatians 5:1

††††††††† For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit
††††††††††††††††††† again to the yoke of slavery.

2 Corinthians 3:17

††††††††† Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there
††††††††††††††††††† is freedom.

Galatians 5:13

††††††††† For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this
††††††††††††††††††† freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another
††††††††††††††††††† through love.

Romans 8:21

††††††††† . . . that creation itself would be set free from slavery to
††††††††††††††††††† corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.

John 8:32

††††††††† . . . and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

(6) capable of relationship with God--we are called repeatedly through the written Word of God and Godís living Word in His Church to live a life fully human--eternal life.

Leviticus 26:12

††††††††† Ever present in your midst, I will be your God, and you will be my
††††††††††††††††††† people.

Jeremiah 7:23

††††††††† This rather is what I commanded them: Listen to my voice; then I
††††††††††††††††††† will be your God and you shall be my people. Walk in all the ways
††††††††††††††††††† that I command you, so that you may prosper.

Jeremiah 30:22

††††††††† You shall be my people, and I will be your God.

Ezekiel 36:28

††††††††† You shall live in the land I gave your fathers; you shall be my
††††††††††††††††††† people, and I will be your God.

John 14:20

††††††††† On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in
††††††††††††††††††† me and I in you.

John 17:21

††††††††† . . . so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in
††††††††††††††††††† you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that
††††††††††††††††††† you sent me.

John 10:10

††††††††† A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came
††††††††††††††††††† so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.

John 6:57

††††††††† Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the
††††††††††††††††††† Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of
††††††††††††††††††† me.

1 John 4:9

††††††††† In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only
††††††††††††††††††† Son into the world so that we might have life through him.

1 John 5:12

††††††††† Whoever possesses the Son has life; whoever does not possess
††††††††††††††††††† the Son of God does not have life


Givens and Assumptions

Following the acknowledged truths from the Word of God, moral decision-making requires a number of givens/assumptions about life in general and our behavior as the result of the free choices we make in particular.

A first assumption we need to make, building from the truths of the Word of God, is the composition of these human natures of ours. We need to see and understand that there are two qualities of which we are capable. The easiest quality of what I am to grasp is our physical nature, our bodies. That realization is the most obvious. I know and understand the material composition of my body, the need for meeting physical needs to sustain my body such as food, water and shelter, as well as others, assuming principally the two persons (parents, both natural and adopting) who gave me life through sexual intercourse, as well as meaningful others to whom I am attracted (e.g., spouse) or to whom I am responsible (e.g., children) and those which whom I freely choose to walk through life (e.g., friends). I am acutely aware that this physical body will die one day and disintegrate and be no more. I am also aware of those qualities that are associated with my physical body: physical feelings and sensual responses--emotions, passions--that are associated with my body.

A second assumption to be made is that I also am aware of certain qualities of myself that I understand do not come from a physical source. The physical or material things cannot generate immaterial qualities. My thoughts that I create, my choices I make, the true love I have (that is not sexually directed--parent for child, child for parent, one person for all person-kind, friend to friend, etc.) is not physical and goes beyond the physical qualities of my body. It is that quality that I understand will live after my body is dead (and to which my body will be resurrected one day). It is immaterial. It is the source of my thoughts (my intellect) and my choices (my will). It is soul or spirit (two differing words that St. Paul uses for the same immaterial quality of our human nature).In simpler words, I can accept that I, as all others of my species, possess both a material body and a spiritual or immaterial soul. One is finite (this body will die); the other is not finite and will live forever (my soul is eternal). Jesus' words in Matthew's Gospel addresses this duality I sense in my being perfectly: "And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in GehennaĒ (Mt 10:28).

Now we have established a basic and foundational distinction in our natures. We are both material and immaterial; we are body and soul. The higher functions of our nature, intellect and will, are anchored in our immaterial part; the functions of our material side, our body and its emotions, sentient life, physical life, procreative life, are anchored in our natural body. We also are aware that there is a mutuality/relationship of function in this life: our soul affects our body, our body affects our soul. Our emotions and physical needs have ramifications in both the body and the soul--note how hunger, for example, can drive us to steal food, how our satisfaction with our relationship to God can give us, for example, a physical comfortability with life and an acceptance beyond our bodily strengths.

For a moment now, consider the strengths of both qualities of our natures and their mutuality. Of the two qualities of our nature, the material and the immaterial, what would be the correct or right relationship between the two? The question to ask is which of the two qualities is meant to be dominant, which should govern the other? Can we expect the material portion of our natures to govern the immaterial or spiritual, or should the spiritual and its values govern the material? Given that one quality is finite and one is infinite, it is an easy step in realization to suggest that the immaterial to the material is the correct and right relationship to be had and fostered. One needs only to read the relationship Adam and Eve (in the book of Genesis) had in their lives before their sin and the revelation of Jesus' resurrected bodily qualities after His Resurrection to gain some insight of the balanced and proper relation between the mortal body and immortal soul. It can be asked, to further make this distinction: what goes before God at the moment of our human death?

A third and final assumption, the individuality of the person--living at a specific time in history, in a particular place geographically, and a unique point in history, circumstances surrounding our human behavior--affects our moral decision making.The moral decision-maker needs to consider those elements that surround oneís behavior as impinging on how each of us responds to the choices that face us.

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Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture texts are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.


© 2011 Robert J. Schihl


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