Depravity and God’s Will
by M. G. Maness
Part of my book Would You Lie to Save a Life



1. Based on Sins of Omission

2. Our Depravity Clouds Our Ability

3. Our Knowledge Plays a Part in God’s Leadership of Us

4. Our Will Plays a Part in Our Sanctification

5. Our Will Plays a Part in Obscuring a “Right” Choice

a. God’s shining light stopped by God at refusal of our will, for God will not coerce

b. Our “Will” in rebellion prevents the shining of God’s light, for we can sin against God

6. We May Not Be Smart Enough & the Ethics of Mind Reading


These six areas complicate finding the absolutely “right” choice in perfect Love, and they complicate the discernment of our Responsibility and Accountability therein. They reflect different aspects of our depravity as well as complexity. These six areas are also another portion of the fine lines of discernment between our free will and God’s sovereign abilities. Though not usually associated with impacting the ability of a person to make ethical decisions, we call attention to these areas as crucial to the issues of both Responsibility and Accountability and very informative to the growing list of fundamental elements that elucidate the fuller package of ethical complexity. Or should I say, a super-tanker container barge of ethical complexities.

1. Based on Sins of Omission

If we can be guilty of a sin of omission, then it seems reasonable that we may also find ourselves in situations where a “right” action is elusive, but not absent. If the doctrine or theology of sins of omission be valid at all, then a Responsibility and an Accountability to an elusive “right” action is just as valid.

2. Our Depravity Clouds Our Ability

Though an avenue to God’s “right” choice is always open, Responsible and Accountable though we are, we may be clouded. We may be so clouded that the greater good (that is also the lesser evil) of the two immediately presenting choices—like lying to save a life—leads us to go ahead and choose a more sinful line of reasoning before the good line of reasoning became available. In cloudy mush, we miss the line of reasoning that would have led to finding the absolutely “right” choice in perfect Love and Truth. Said in another way, the very choice to “lie in Love to save lives” that we have been arguing for, appears to focus on the absolute Love which has the greatest demands. The choice to lie aligns itself with the greater good of saving life, and its relative ease of choosing could have led us down a more sinful line of reasoning before the line of reasoning became available that would have led to finding God’s absolutely “right” choice in perfect Love.

That’s splitting hairs and similar to Peter’s alignment with the circumcision. Only with Bucher, the time is more crucial and there is no escaping decision. With both, a prior line of reasoning could have gone astray that obscured an available “right” option. We emphasize how much less time Bucher had to reason, how much less time he had to see and choose options than Peter.

The amount of time we have, however much, has no bearing on God’s ability to intervene or on our Responsibility and Accountability to stay on a right line of reasoning. The point is that apart from God’s intervention, Bucher himself may have had a part in not finding the “right” choice that was still available; this is true for us, too, who even in detached and 30-year protracted speculation cannot find a “right” choice. The words of James 1:13-15 offer a wonderful promise, but even decades later the wisdom we want has not appeared. Is that an indication that we ourselves are not stable enough to get the wisdom to find the ability to see the absolutely “right” choice in Bucher’s dilemma?

Precisely how much does our depravity influence us? Only God knows. Until we discover this, we will be short of laying out our complete Responsibility to Love and Truth in Bucher’s dilemma—much less Bucher’s.

3. Our Knowledge Plays a Part in God’s Leadership of Us

Knowledge may play a more important part in God’s leadership of us than we think. God does use His written word and other Christians in conjunction with His Holy Spirit to aid the Christian in finding His will. Yet someone like Bucher, though a sincere Christian, may not have read the particular scripture or had the exemplary witness for the Spirit to make reference. Even though God could overcome this deficit too, it is not without precedent that God has later—after the wrong and even after the suffering—corrected a Christian who was sincerely in error, pointing to that missed scripture or exemplary witness. The point is that knowledge itself has a part in ethical dilemmas that, without the knowledge, the deficit may impede God’s leadership, not exclusively and not categorical, but in some inscrutable manner. There is an abundance of precedents for God using our errors and shortcomings as growing experiences, and God has promised to work all things out for our good as we trust in Him (Romans 8:28). Here in Bucher’s case, Rahab and the Hebrew midwives, Puah and Shiprah, were not even corrected for the lie that saved lives, not a thousand years later. That certainly applies here.

4. Our Will Plays a Part in Our Sanctification

Our will may play a more important part in sanctification than we think. We fail to do “right” even when we know what is “right.” That is a fact and not just a theory. Christians willingly choose the wrong over the right in lesser moral dilemmas, to say nothing of earth-shaking dilemmas. Our own willingness to progress in sanctification plays a part in ethics, for our progress towards holiness and a more righteous life is simultaneous with our sanctification in many more ways than we can humanly figure. Our temporal sanctification is a progressive work of God, and God will not force the process like a cookie cutter upon us unwillingly (like the fundamentalist attempts). If we willingly do a wrong when a clear “right” is available, that state of willingness is a state of sanctification against which God Himself will not force us. A Christian’s very own stage of sanctification does not exclude God from giving to us a “right” choice—God can do as He pleases—but that degree of unwillingness to do the “right” when the “right” is known certainly does shed light on the capacity of our “will”—even unknowingly—to cloud what guidance God may be willing to give a particular person over someone who was more willing, like Christ.

5. Our Will Plays a Part in Obscuring a “Right” Choice

a. God’s shining light is stopped by God at the refusal of our will, for God will not coerce

b. Our “Will” in rebellion prevents the shining of God’s light, for we can sin against God

Our will may play a more important part in obscuring the “right” choice than we think. Our ability to accomplish an absolutely “right” choice in perfect Love is questioned here—our ability and impossibility. The following is about as complicated as we become, splitting hairs as finely as we can, in the attempt to outline the fundamental elements in the package of complexities in biblical ethics.

Let us recapitulate. In the teleological N.T. ethic of DA, when pressure and time constraints obscure an available “right” action, we choose the teleological direction that best seeks first God’s kingdom in fulfilling as many demands of as many absolutes as possible—Love and Truth included. The reason for lying in Bucher’s case is twofold: (1) the wrong of lying was deemed far less than murder and (2) the good of saving lives in Love was deemed far greater than the particular Truth (not being in Korean waters). Even though the disparity between the relative wrongs of lying and murder is great in Bucher’s case—according to DA—this does not exculpate or free Bucher from a Responsibility and an Accountability for doing the “right” choice (that eluded him and us). This means that the more “right” the choice the better, and in Bucher’s case saving lives in Love is much better than telling the Truth that results in murder.

This recapitulation indicates how our somewhat free will may obscure a “right” choice. There may need to be a reevaluation of our ability even to accomplish an absolutely “right” choice in this life, practically speaking, simultaneously with our certain belief that there is always an absolutely “right” choice available (as it was for Jesus). Should that “right” choice elude us, for which we are still Responsible and Accountable, we are still pressed to accomplish the next best choice and get as close to the absolutely “right” choice in perfect Love as we are capable.

That brings to measuring the extent of our own free-will ability. Herein, our own free will may hinder us in the approach toward finding the absolutely “right” choice in perfect Love. Let me repeat: our own will and volitional ability itself may play a part in obscuring the “right” choice—opposite of subsection 16.D.4 immediately above.

Here is another fine line only God can draw. We refer back to our discussions about our Responsibility for another person’s choice side by side our Responsibility to our potential in Christ—all in the midst of God’s Responsibility to enable. Where is the breaking point between God’s “shining light” and our own “rebellious will”? Or in more conventional terms, where is the breaking point between our free will to look and God’s sovereign abilities to guide? At least, the breaking point is contended to be at one of two points:

a. God’s shining light is stopped by God at the refusal of our will, for God will not coerce;

b. Our “Will” in rebellion prevents the shining of God’s light, for we can sin against God.

Upon these two we will elaborate.

a. God’s shining light stopped by God at refusal of our will, for God will not coerce

Because of the quality of Jesus’ life and His divine competence against the degree of our human depravity, though a “right” choice is available and though God is capable of overcoming human weakness, the gap between humankind (or Bucher) and Jesus’ competence might be so far that bridging the gap is a near practical impossibility on occasion. This may mean that for Bucher (and us) to enter into a correct line of reasoning (that would in turn see the “right” choice) would require God to negate not only Bucher’s (and our) weakness and ignorance but Bucher’s own basic willingness, even if very faint or intractable. That is, God would have to nullify or ignore an aspect of Bucher’s will or way of life or willful theological or philosophical error. In so doing God would be imposing His will by forcing Bucher into a particular line of reasoning. In a genuine real-time Love, God does not coerce.

What about us these decades later? Is our human will these decades later still hindering us? Perhaps, but I do not know, for I am not fully capable of looking 100% into all of the corners of my own heart—much less Bucher’s. There are many more reasons for my coming short of the competence of Jesus. We just do not know and do not have much more to add to this.

b. Our “Will” in rebellion prevents the shining of God’s light, for we can sin against God

God may grant knowledge that may allow us to change our minds and our will. A case in point is blinding light given to Paul on the Damascus road. By answering why God Himself did not shine the light and blind Paul earlier (before Paul’s Judaism became so belligerent), we will in that answer know why God did not intervene in Bucher’s dilemma in 1968, today, and in like or worse dilemmas of evil. DA does have a conjecture: something in the development of Bucher’s and Paul’s lives may have stopped God’s shining light and prevented them from entering a more right line of reasoning, like personal sin or a refusal of the will. As soon as Paul became ready or vulnerable (whatever the mystery there), God was there with a blinding light. Like Bucher, Paul was trying to serve the true God as best he could, in error though he was until the blinding light stopped him in his tracks. Nevertheless, our individual state of willingness or rebellion may prevent God’s intervention, as we can and will sin, for God respects our somewhat free will. So then, such rebellion may hold back God, for God in genuine Love will not often coerce; God may have His own teaching agenda or some other agenda that is His privilege and divine prerogative to maintain.

What about us these decades later? Is our “rebellion” decades later still hindering us? Perhaps, and again, but I do not know, and there are a lot of reasons for my coming short of the competence of Jesus. We just do not know and do not have much to add to this.

On points “a” and “b” above, remember that they are spiritual and subjective reasons why an absolutely “right” choice in perfect love may elude us, though we search. Note—these are reasons, not answers. How a “right” choice can elude us is a great burden for DA, and we do not have a satisfactory answer.

Our free will may play a part in obscuring a “right” choice. What about Bucher and these decades later? Is our will—this author’s will and the Christian reader’s free will—is our own will obscuring that “right” choice today? Can that be so? Even though we desire to learn? Even though we pray and ask? We think so, though that is immeasurably complex to discern.

This is probably as fundamental as we can plumb, even the quantum realm of Christian ethics (shall I laugh or cry, make fun or furrow my brow?). Can we split hairs below the atomic level? Who would actually want to split a hair that fine? No one! But for nuclear fission to take place, we do need to split atoms. Here, to find the full extent of Responsibility and Accountability, we need to find the absolutely “right” choice in perfect Love—which takes us to the quantum realm of ethics. The differences in how our free will, our depravity, and evil forces come to bear—precisely—upon our choice are in the quantum realm and are very subtle distinctives that swim throughout the spiritual and rational discernment between our Responsibilities and God’s Responsibilities in guidance.

If we can press our analogy with physics a little further, and it is only an analogy—even quantum and quarky distinctives—the above leads to another question of immense importance in the quest for the elusive absolutely “right” choice in perfect Love. If the above be so, then there is a Responsibility and an Accountability of sorts, even if ever so faint and hard to detect.

With such a Responsibility and an Accountability, then, are we ever able to find a absolutely “right” choice in perfect Love?

We ask the question, but we question our ability to answer it. Thankfully, because of time and space, our N.T. ethic pushes past our obsession with answers and onward to lovingly seeking first God’s kingdom, all in a lovingly relationship with God. The Great Commands to Love, the Golden Rule, and the Great Commission demand that we move on past this fine line of discernment. So does the battlefield. On an ability to find an absolutely “right” choice in perfect Love, that just may be one of those fundamental areas of such complexity that may be beyond us. It certainly is not as important as Love and loving others. Because of the nature of the imponderables themselves and the holy nature of Jesus’ own competence in Love and obedience—our criterion—Love makes the world go round, not analysis, thank God.

6. We May Not Be Smart Enough & the Ethics of Mind Reading

One last reason why a “right” choice eludes us is that we just might not be smart enough to find it. Not as facetious as it might appear—if we have trouble finding a unified theory in physics, probably the most complex problems facing physicists and scientists today, then how can we presume to believe that biblical-based ethics are any simpler. Only the radical fundamentalists are so bold to claim an equality of competence with Christ in practice, and then deny that competence in a humility after the fact of its notice: in such claims there are aspirations to divinity itself, as was seen in the abilities of NCA and GA. For the rest of us, Jesus Christ is the criterion of competence in Love and Truth, and certainly the criterion finding an absolutely “right” choice in perfect Love.

We move on to close this chapter and this section with a summary of some of the issues of complexity. Then we will in next chapter attempt to see what we have learned on our journey up the mountain, the Guns of Navarone, and back down again—on the quest for God’s will this side of heaven.

As was contended, ethics is more complicated than hermeneutics and the philosophy of language. Since these are prerequisites and the very vehicles of ethics, then—indeed—the complication of ethics is all the greater. Ethics is more complicated than physics, biology, and the medical sciences, as these are basic sciences that are prerequisites to a fuller understanding of ethics.

One reason that the medical sciences are supported so much better than ethics is that often—Christian and secular—we tend to value our physical lives above our ethical lives. Those are hard facts. That is, one of our reasons for choosing the medical sciences over ethics is because of the raw existential value and treasure that most persons place of the ongoing and unfolding present living of life in which we live, ironically, like Rakestraw’s NCA, where the ends do not justify the means. The medical sciences are valued more than ethics because now and living is so valuable, and ends and heaven are not of this world.

Thanks to God, we have guiding principles—teleological to the uttermost—that even the youngest among us find simple. The Golden Rule is potent even for the illiterate. Even an uneducated and illiterate blind man or woman could have a more substantial relationship with God than the most educated theologian, for that is the nature of true Love.

Yet the justification of absolutely “right” actions becomes more complicated—exponentially—when certain variables are added. We have been adding these variables as we have progressed and will pull them together in the last chapter. We may have a basic understanding of ethics comparable to a basic understanding of mathematics (addition, division, etc.) and get along fine in the world. Truly, even silly, we need only a rudimentary understanding of gravity to know that a roof top can be a dangerous place. No one needs to be a physicist to truly appreciate, skillfully use, and maintain a healthy fear of gravity. You and I do not even need the word or even know how to spell physics. A gold medal gymnast or ice skater has a world-class mastery of his or her use of physics without even the need to spell physics. Nor does one need a detailed ethic to get along biblically in this world as a Christian, and we thank God for that. So it is a great mistake is to think of ethics as a small task because detail is not essential to spiritual health and a dearly loving real-time relationship with God.

Love makes the world go round—even for those analyzing Love.

Conflicts abound. But the appearance of a conflict between absolutes is just that—an appearance of a conflict—and the conflict does not negate our Responsibility and Accountability to do our best. I am Accountable for what I do, and to know the good and not do it is sin; that is hard enough. More complicated, as in Bucher’s horrendous dilemma, we are at times Responsible for a “right” choice in perfect that eluded us, that we could not find, and we will be held Accountable for that choice to some degree—at least on this side of heaven.