The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t: Finding Peace in the Midst of Moral Dilemmas

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Life isn’t as simple as we want it to be. Sometimes we find ourselves being forced to choose between two options which each feel very wrong for different reasons. When there are moral issues on both sides, and when we’ve got our flesh screaming at us and our loved ones pressuring us in different directions, what do we do? How do we find peace with God when we’re feeling forced to choose between two evils? What happens when there is no third option that will magically resolve our crisis for us? This is real life: sometimes there is no option available to you that won’t fill your gut with nervous knots and make you feel like you’re being either a major creep or a total fool. But the good news is that even in these moments, there is a way to move forward, and that is what we’ll discuss in this post.

WHAT IS GOD DOING?

How hard would it be for God to pipe up with some clear conviction in this moment? Not hard at all. So why is He leaving your soul in torment? Let’s remember that every trial God brings into your life is about strengthening your personal bond with Him. Moral dilemmas are excellent ways to do this, because when the circumstances aren’t making the right path clear, you are forced to step back and look at the big picture.

No matter how complicated your circumstances are in this moment, the purpose of your life has not changed. Pleasing God is all that matters. This is simple and straightforward. So let’s forget about the circumstances for a minute and talk about what it takes to please God.

God wants submission from you first and foremost. He wants you to consider His opinion to be of utmost importance, and He wants His approval to be the thing you’re living for. It is surprisingly easy to succeed at all of these things in any circumstance because it is simply a matter of soul attitude. You don’t have to be morally perfect to choose the right soul attitude in your current dilemma. You don’t have to be wise or devoid of any carnal desires. Anyone can succeed at pleasing God in any circumstance by making the right soul choices. So now let’s see how you can do this in your current situation.

DAMAGE CONTROL

What makes moral dilemmas feel so threatening is the fear that our choice will result in overwhelmingly negative consequences. We are so afraid of making the wrong move and ending up stuck in some permanently tormented state that we often find ourselves unable to sleep, unable to eat, and unable to concentrate. Stress like this is a joy killer and God does not want your life to be devoid of all peace and joy. The key to getting back into a positive place is to remember that there is really only one thing that truly matters in life, and that is pleasing your Maker. If you can be sure that God is pleased with you, then you will have a foundation on which to build joy, peace, and confidence. But if God is not pleased with you, then no matter how peachy things are going, your life is in a true crisis and any peace and happiness that you might manage to conjure up will be like the powerful painkiller that a man takes to make him not feel the knife that is lodged in his gut. Merely turning off his awareness of pain is not going to do anything to stop that blade from tearing up his insides. It is vital that you and God remain in a good place. If you know that He is pleased with you, there are all kinds of assurances you can stand on. But if you’re ticking Him off with your defiant rebellion, then God Himself becomes your Antagonist, and you really don’t want to go to war against the Guy who controls your every breath. All of this means that trying to base your decision solely on how your earthly circumstances might work out is the wrong strategy. There is only one right road here, and that is the one that God wants you to go down. It is His pleasure that you need to be pursuing, regardless of the cost.

Suppose you make a decision and it seems to blow up in your face. When your life is filling with new problems, you’re going to need a way to keep your distress from turning into paralyzing guilt. You’ll have the easiest time combating regret if you can know in your soul that you made the right choice at this particular juncture. And the only way you can get there is if you can look back and know two things: 1) that you were fully submitting to God, and 2) that God can be counted on to guide you in life. It’s a given that God can be counted on, so that just leaves the issue of submission.

SUBMITTING TO GOD

Often in these situations, your earthsuit has a strong preference, and this often compounds the feeling of guilt. Our earthsuits don’t experience moral quandaries because our earthsuits don’t care about pleasing God. Your earthsuit may struggle to decide which dessert it wants to eat first, but it never has a moral check about sinning. The only time your earthsuit ever hesitates to do something wrong is when it feels intimidated by threats of misery. It’s the sign that says “Hidden Cameras Are Watching” right next to the sign that says “All Shoplifters Will Be Prosecuted” that makes your earthsuit change its mind about lifting the chocolate bar. Your earthsuit doesn’t care in the least that God says stealing is wrong, it just doesn’t want to find itself trapped in a jail cell.

Your earthsuit feels satisfied when it has plenty of pleasure, safety, and convenience available. It cares about its own satisfaction far more than it cares about anyone else. Whenever a decision arises, your earthsuit will press you to choose the path which best aligns with its personal priorities. This means that when the soldier sees his buddy get gunned down in front of him, his earthsuit will have a very strong opinion about whether or not he should run out into the line of fire to pull his buddy to safety. Risking serious injury is a major violation of any earthsuit’s priorities, so the soldier is going to find part of himself wanting to leave his buddy to die like a dog. If the soldier cares about pleasing God, his soul will find itself in great distress, because God promotes things like sacrificial love, courage, and treating others the way we’d want to be treated. The soldier knows that if he was the one lying injured on the ground, he would desperately want someone to come and save him from further bullets. So the soldier’s soul feels that the right thing to do is to run out and be amazingly brave, but his earthsuit is screaming at him to stay hidden and trying to force its way by locking his muscles in place. Does God think the soldier is some sucking coward for really wanting to abandon his buddy? Certainly not. God is the One who programmed our suits to want what they want, and He does not hold us accountable for their preferences.

What about you? In your current dilemma, can you identify some strong preferences that seem terribly selfish and carnal? The presence of these things does not mean you’re a spiritual zero, it means you’re a human being. It is not a flaw to be human, it’s what you were created to be. So you don’t need to apologize to God for having extremely selfish preferences in the mix, nor should you assume that such preferences must always be acted against. Contrary to what we try to pretend, it is not always God’s will for the soldier to run out into the line of fire to drag his buddy to safety. God’s will is not nearly as simple and predictable as we like to pretend. There are exceptions to every rule. So while it is important to acknowledge how self-serving we humans are, trying to make yourself the last priority in every situation is not going to keep you in the center of God’s will.

Pleasing God is a matter of submission, and submission is what you need to turn back to whenever you find yourself in a quandary about what to do. The fact that something seems morally wrong doesn’t automatically give us the strength to resist it. If it did, the entire concept of temptation would be non-existent. But the reality is that there will be times in life when you find yourself overwhelmingly pulled in one direction no matter how many people you will have to trash in order to get your hands on the prize. Your earthsuit wants what it wants, and the more threatened it feels, the more of a tantrum it will throw if you try to prevent it from getting its way. When we try to take on our earthsuits in our own strength, we are acting like the man who tries to lasso a wild stallion and keep the beast restrained simply by leaning back on the rope. It’s not going to happen. Your earthsuit will mow you down every time, because God has intentionally given it the advantage over you. Your soul cannot rein in your suit without empowerment and when God knows that you are serious about pleasing Him in life, He is not going to encourage you in your efforts to fight battles without Him. Instead, He is going to sabotage your efforts to persevere on the moral high road until you turn your focus back on Him.

What is the purpose of life? Pleasing God. Too often we think that pleasing God is a matter of moral behaviors when it is really a matter of soul choices. It’s never what you did that matters to God—it’s why you did it. Who were you trying to please? Of course you will always care about pleasing yourself to some degree in life—this is an inescapable reality. But you can choose to care more about pleasing God. This is what submission is: yielding to the will of God. Submission has nothing to do with pretending that you don’t have an opinion. In fact, true submission isn’t even possible until you disagree with God about something. As long as you want what He wants in a given moment, you’re not submitting, you’re just agreeing. What makes submission challenging is that you are choosing to yield to something you don’t want in order to please God.

So now let’s talk about your specific situation. You’re being forced to choose one option out of a series of options which all have some very negative aspects to them. No matter what you choose, you feel like you’ll have serious regrets. Well, you don’t want to live your life under a cloud of regret, and regret is fueled by the belief that you made the wrong choice. So we need to make sure you make the right choice, because then you’ll have no cause for regret. You might still wrestle with regret at first, but you’ll have a much easier time combating it if you can look back and know that you really did make the right choice. Here is where definitions matter: you need to align your definition of the right choice with God’s. He says the right choice is the One that He wants for your life. Your earthsuit says the right choice is the one that will align with its priorities in life, and your soul is probably saying that the right choice is the one that will make you look the most “Christlike” in the eyes of others. Well, your soul and your earthsuit are both wrong. God’s opinion is the only one that matters, and God says that He is only going to pleased with you when you aren’t holding back in the submission department. So now it’s time to pray, and here is an example of a prayer that pleases God which you can adjust to fit your specific circumstances:

“God, You know my situation and You know how stressed out I am. None of my options feel right. I’m going around in circles, and time is running out. I’m not feeling any clear direction from You, or maybe I am and I just don’t have the guts to obey. The bottom line is this: I want You to be pleased with me. I am Your creation, and I realize that You made me to know You. Regardless of how upset I feel right now, I know that pleasing You is all that really matters, so I am asking You to have Your total way in this situation. You know how weak, fearful, and selfish I am. You know my limitations better than I do because You gave them to me. You say that You love me and that You are for me. You say that You are easy to succeed with and that I can count on You to lead me in life. So if I start heading down a wrong road, I am counting on You to reroute me. If there’s some other option that I’m not seeing that You want me to take, I’m trusting that You will make that clear. No matter what happens, I need to know that You had Your way in this situation and that all is well between us. Override me and force me down a different road if that’s what it takes. Don’t let me wander off course. Do whatever it takes to keep me in alignment with You because You are my God and I want pleasing You to be the most important thing to me.”

If you can sincerely pray a prayer like this, then you are all set. You have fully submitted to God and all that’s left now is to trust in His faithfulness to you. If God does not keep us faithful to Him, it is guaranteed that we will go astray. But God will keep us faithful, and He can be counted on to keep us in alignment with Him if we are willing to fully submit to Him. Submission is the key, and submission is always well within your grasp.

Once you have surrendered your situation into God’s hands, choose a path to start moving down. You’ll be most attracted to the one that your flesh prefers, and there’s nothing wrong with this. Victory in these moments is defined by your willingness to submit to God. Peace then comes through trusting that He is going to honor your request to guide you down the path that most pleases Him. God gives us real choices in life, but He doesn’t just abandon us to work them out by ourselves. He is very much involved in the process with us, and He is always offering to take over and steer us down His ideal path for us if we are willing to fully submit to Him.

UNDERSTANDING CHOICE

There are some fundamental truths about human choice that you should understand. God controls what choices you have and how many you have. This means that you’ll never have an option available to you which God can’t get satisfaction out of. God ensures that you can only ever choose among options that He personally approves of. Heaven or Hell—no matter which you choose, God will be satisfied. But while God can find satisfaction in any option He gives you, you cannot.

When God talks about His ideal choice for you, He’s talking about His desire for you to experience great joy and satisfaction from your creature perspective. Because God is a good and kind Creator, He sincerely wants His creatures to experience His highest and best blessings. But He does not force these things upon us—instead, He created you with the capacity to experience a wide range of comfort, joy, peace, and satisfaction. He then puts prices on each point of the spectrum and leaves it up to you to decide how much you want to pay. You’re not going to have the best experience of Heaven unless you fully submit to God on earth. You’re not going to experience Heaven at all unless you meet His minimal submission requirements. God offers us choices, and each choice is associated with a cost. If you want to spend your life spitting in God’s face and wallowing in your own lusts, that is a very real choice that you can make. You’ll end up in Hell, but this isn’t a problem for God, it’s only a problem for you.

If you want to experience the most peace and joy in life, you need to pursue God’s ideal choice for you, and that means asking Him to have His total way in your life. When God talks about having His total way with you, He means forcing you to go down the path that He knows will result in you experiencing His best for you. This is the path that you will end up finding the most satisfying from your creature perspective. And because God is a good Creator who delights in seeing His creatures happy, He is most pleased when you trust Him enough to choose what is best for you. After all, as your Creator, God has decided for you what kind of focus will result in your greatest satisfaction. Not surprisingly, God designed you to feel the most pleased and satisfied when you are obsessed with pleasing Him. There’s no way to change your design—there’s only the question of whether you will embrace it or try to fight against it.

Total submission to God is the only way that we will find true satisfaction and completion as creatures who were created for the purpose of communing with Him. Submitting to God and then trusting in His goodness are the two focuses which will help you the most in any moral dilemma situation. It is only after you have sincerely submitted to God that you can rest in the knowledge that He is going to make His best go forward in your life and that He is pleased with you. Once you have that, then no matter what happens next, you will find it easier to keep moving forward instead of getting stuck in regret. You do not control the future. God does. When you fully submit to Him, He says that He can be counted on to make His best plan go forward in your life. It won’t always feel like the best plan to you—but in the end it will be, and you will reap the benefits of having trusted in the One who is infinitely wiser than you are.

FURTHER READING:
Practicing Dependency: Appreciating the Wisdom of God
What it Means to be Aligned with God
Escaping the Trap of Guilt
Identifying False Conviction: Three Easy Tests
Confronting Your Convictions: When You Don’t Have the Courage to Obey

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