Ethical Dilemmas

What about the gray areas? What about true ethical dilemmas? How do we decide right and wrong when we are caught in the middle of something that does not seem to have a “right” answer? What happens when conscience cannot help us because it condemns all of our choices?
The problem for Bonhoeffer is that conscience still drive us back to the awareness of right and wrong. It drives us to ethical dilemmas that cannot seem to find a proper resolution. The example he uses is this: If a murderer comes to your door seeking someone you are hiding what do you do? Do you behave honestly and say, ‘Yes, he is here’?
For Bonhoeffer, the answer is not to solve dilemmas of conscience like this. For Bonhoeffer, “responsible action is a free venture; it is not justified by any law; it is performed without any claim to a valid self-justification, and therefore also without any claim to ultimate valid knowledge of good and evil. Good, as what is responsible, is performed in ignorance of good and in the surrender to God of the deed which has become necessary…”
Sometimes we get caught up in ethical debates as if the only thing that matters is the individual choice. We talk as if the group doesn’t matter. But Bonhoeffer is clear that ethics do not belong to isolated individuals but are responsibilities given to us by God. He says, “The world is the sphere of concrete responsibility which is given to us in and through Christ Jesus.”
I’m not sure Bonhoeffer has solved the ethical problems he presents, but his thinking is interesting and at least should be brought to the table as we consider what is the right thing to do.


Leave a Reply