Moral Absolutism 4: Graded Absolutism

Graded Absolutism (GA)

The final way to address moral dilemmas is to argue that there is a hierarchy built into God’s law, and at times some laws supersede other laws which is meant to handle these conflicts. This is graded absolutism. This view is held by such theologians as Norman Geisler, Stephen Mott, and Millard Erickson.

The graded absolutist starts out with the explanation that some laws are weightier than others (Matt 5:19) and some commands are greater than others (Matt. 22:36). This position can be explained quite simply when we think of civil disobedience. According to scripture, we are to obey the civil government, but what if that civil government commands us to worship a false god. Built into God’s absolute moral law of obeying government is the idea that we should do it only if it does not contradict God’s law. This is because obeying God is much greater command than obeying government.

In the case of the Midwives that lied in Egypt or Rahab who lied to hide the spies. The proponent of GA actually says that God commends them for their lying. Because in this situation the greater command to which lying must yield, is the protection of human life. GA differs from the conflicting absolutist in two ways. First, the conflicting absolutist says you must choose between the lesser of two evils, and second, when you do it you have actually sinned. The graded absolutist says, you must choose between the greater of two goods and when you do it you have done something good. The proponent of GA does not say that lying has been justified in the sense that to do it is to be held innocent. They actually go further and say that the lie is actually virtuous in this situation and to not do it would be wrong.

In the case of the mother with the tumor (see previous two posts), they would say that to try and save the mother is the greatest good, because you are actually trying to save both in spite of the minimal percentage of success in saving the child. To attempt to save both lives even at the cost of losing one is the greater good than letting one die without any attempt to save them both.

Strengths of this position

1) It has quite a bit of scriptural support for its graded view.
2) It sees God’s moral law in its entirety as absolute without waiver or conflict. The conflict only happens between specific commands.
3) It can answer many difficult passages in the Bible with ease, such as David eating the “bread of the presence” (see Mark 2:26)

Weakness

1) It wavers on the absolute nature of specific commands.
2) It can appear to be a lesser version of situational ethics.

God Bless,

Doug

3 thoughts on “Moral Absolutism 4: Graded Absolutism

  1. I enjoyed reading the strengths & weaknesses of all positions on this issue. My question: Would scripture support “not answering” thus not lying, & suffering the consequences for my actions, & seeing what God does in the situation?

    Like

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