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Perhaps the oldest question asked in any conversation about social ethics is this: does the end ever justify the means?  


You know where this is going, right?  


Can we ever take one life in order to save another?   That is inevitably where such a question finally leads, and yet even then no end (pun intended) is in sight.  Which life can be taken?  Which life must be saved?  How many taken?  How many saved?   And probably a few more such questions beyond.


Such questions are not just common among those concerned about ethics, though.   They pertain as well to those concerned about, among other things, Christian theology.   Perhaps the most common end talked about by Christian theologians over the centuries has been that of heavenly reward.  Far more often than not, the end goal of Christian faith has been situated in a heavenly afterlife where crowns, mansions, beloved reunions or even angelic wings are on display.  


Where such ends are touted by persons of faith, it is only natural to then question the means by which such ends can occur.     What means are justified?   For nearly two millennia now Christian leaders have debated sources of “justification” in their minds, in their writings, lectures, sermons and whathaveyou.  And the simplest of answers to such a question has centered around the taking of Christ’s life on earth as being “the” means justified for our end of eternal life in heaven.  Jesus Christ, per such basic theology, becomes the means for our end reward.   Such an end, Christians have long claimed, was so important and so valuable to God that it justified the means of an earthly murder.   “Thou shall not kill” leads into “unless it saves you and me” in the end.   The end justifies the means, or, made somewhat more complicated, we are “justified by faith” that killing Jesus Christ was necessary for our own heavenly reward.  Or, to one-up that one, we are justified by faith in God’s grace because God graciously willed his own murder to save our eternal lives.


Well, let’s move on a ways.


Have you ever heard of the word “deconstruction?” 

This word is being used with increasing frequency nowadays by those taking their existing or original assumptions about their Christian faith and actually questioning those assumptions.  By questioning, I mean that these Christians are seeking actual evidence to support or refute those existing assumptions.  Deconstruction is another way of saying that what we assume to be true in our youth is not always the whole truth and nothing but the truth.   There are new truths out there we find out about as adults. There are some youthful assumptions we all make about life that fail to last a lifetime in our adult minds.  


Fair enough?


It happens that such “deconstruction” of Christian theology is a process I have been engaging for now, oh, 50+ years.    And at my current age of 77, I still wonder just how Jesus Christ himself, the very anchor store of my spiritual mall, would answer this question about the end justifying the means.   


Bear with me as I wonder aloud here a bit.


Jesus has been quoted and translated and re-translated, but there is still something of a body of evidence to be gathered and counted here.   That’s the task of “deconstruction.”


So consider my following gathered evidence in questioning my own youthful assumptions that were essentially in line with the “justification by faith in grace…..” statements above.


Matthew 6:14-15 (NKJV)  “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. “ 


Matthew 7:1-2 (NIV)  “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”


Luke 6:38  (NKJV)  Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”


Matthew 26:52 (KJV)    “Put up again thy sword into his place, for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.


These are, of course, words the Bible attributed to Jesus Christ himself. Even in his lead-up to what we Christians like to call “the golden rule,” Jesus cautions against assuming that one means will produce a different end (Matthew 7:7-12).  Is it possible that Jesus was thinking of the means and end as being circular, not linear? As in what goes around comes around? If so, one cannot justify the other for they are, in truth, one in the same. Jesus seems to be answering our own linear question with his own circular answer. What a rascal!

For those Christians who aren’t quite so sure about Jesus but who regard the apostle Paul as their “go to” in such matters, we have this one.


Galatians 6:7 (KJV)     Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”  


In my own “deconstruction,” you see, I have gathered some evidence to suggest that maybe the end doesn’t justify the means after all.   Maybe the means and the ends are a completed circle. Maybe our own rewards come from taking up our own cross and not counting, by faith, in Christ’s own cross. Maybe Jesus was again being a rascal in Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, and Luke 9:23.  Want to go where Jesus has gone; then do what he has done.  At least Jesus appears to have thought so.  And over the centuries the terminology applied to such “deconstruction” (often unpopular within the church) has been labeled the “moral exemplar” theory of salvation.   A Jesus-inspired theory of cirularity, instead of our own linear assumption about his punishment (means) justifying our reward (end).


If I want morality, I’d better behave morally.  If I want mercy, I’d better behave mercifully.   If I want peace, I’d better behave peacefully.  If I want loved, I’d better behave lovingly.   If I want heaven, I’d better behave heavenly.   It’s a kind of “God prefers obedience not sacrifice” theology that doesn’t expect one means to lead to a different end.   Where God’s grace comes in is that we’re given an infinite number of second chances and opportunities to repent and get it right “this time.”   By faith, I believe God’s biblical and circular grace never stops letting me search out my best means for obtaining my best end.  God's Holy Spirit graciously leads me to eventually find my best end by finding my best means. Like the cat circling the floor until eventually catching his own tail.  


So back to my original question about the end justifying the means.   In my own humble opinion, at least the one I’ve staked my complete faith in during this seventh decade of my own life, “If the end justifies the means, then Christianity…… is in dire need of deconstruction.”   



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