Ethics and the life of faith

Moral dilemmas surround us in the complex world in which we live. We can easily find ourselves in disagreement with those whom we love and respect over moral decisions.

This seems to be the case at the conclusion of our readings from Genesis 33-34. And it appears the issue is never really resolved.

The story centres around the consequences of the rape of Dinah, daughter of Jacob.  Consider the varied responses.

Shechem – the perpetrator fell in love with Dinah  and told his Father, Hamor, to “Get me this girl as my wife”. He later pleads with Jacob and his sons for favour.

Jacob – hears his daughter had been defiled and waits for his sons to return home.  At the end of the story he seems more concerned with his future livelihood in the land, then the honour of Dinah’s name.

Hamor – goes to speak with Jacob regarding the marriage. The sons are home.

Jacob’s sons – shocked and furious, outraged.  The deceive Shechem to set up an elaborate revenge by weakening the men through requiring circumcision.  They broke their own agreement in this revenge. Simeon and Levi kill every male of the town in revenge.

The story concludes with Jacob condemning Simeon and Levi for their actions – not for their deceit or the killing or even for the revenge, but that they “have brought trouble on me by making me obnoxious to … the people living in this land.”

He fears their future. Simeon and Levi are more concerned with righting the wrong that had been done to Dinah. Rather than look at the consequences of their actions, they consider the implications of inaction – “Should we have treated our sister like a prostitute?”.

The question sits uncomfortably and unresolved.  Of course we want to answer “No!”, and perhaps Jacob would also want to answer the same way.  But does their concern justify their action? Does the end (Dinah’s honour) justify the means (Killing the men)?

I am not foolish enough to try and resolve what the passage leaves unresolved. It just got me to consider how tough some of our ethical dilemmas can be, and how we need each other, and the Spirit of God, to help us act rightly.

In Romans, Paul gives another principle that we might consider regarding revenge.

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19)

Such a principle may appear to support Jacob’s inaction but would create  issues of it’s own.

Our approach to ethical dilemmas needs to be careful and generous – that we can empathise with others in the complexities of life, and together seek what is good under God in the situation.

What thoughts or experiences can you share to help us in such dilemmas?