ALEXANDRIA, La. – If all laws were suspended for 12 hours, what would you do? If any and all behavior were legal for half a day, how would you respond? A film currently in theaters has this as its main premise.
“The Purge” horror film opened in movie theaters across the nation on June 7. The setting for the film is America in 2022, and the United States has become “a nation reborn.”
Crime is virtually nonexistent in the futuristic U.S. and the unemployment rate is the lowest in history. The strong state of the union supposedly is due to the government instituting an annual 12-hour period in which no behavior is illegal.
Called “the purge,” the half-day of chaos essentially makes all crime legal, including murder, which seems to be the crime of choice for the majority of citizens. Additionally, all emergency services are suspended.
Not everyone participates in the murderous mayhem. Those with means barricade themselves inside heavily fortified homes behind elaborate security systems. Some even watch the 12-hour carnage unfold via security cameras.
In an effort to justify “the purge,” a main character who endures the annual night of legalized crime ensconced in her fortified home says, “Just remember all the good the purge does.”
While the movie – obviously not family-friendly – posits an extreme scenario, it is not completely unheard of even in modern times. Consider the Nazis’ treatment of Jewish people, with government-sponsored boycotts of Jewish-owned businesses, and the Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) when Jewish-owned business and synagogues were damaged or destroyed. At least 91 Jews were murdered that notorious night.
For a more recent example of society condoning the criminal, examine the Rwandan genocide in the spring of 1994. Over a 90-day period the Hutus engaged in a genocidal mass slaughter of the Tutsis.
Some believe the genocide, organized by the Rwandan government, resulted in the deaths of approximately 1 million people. Tragically and horrifically, friends killed friends and, in some cases, family members murdered family members.
Admittedly these examples are extreme, but they do help answer the question, “Just because a behavior or practice is legal, does that mean it’s ethical?” A current example is abortion. While the practice of killing a preborn human being is legal in the United States, does that make it ethical?
For followers of Christ, the real issue is: Who is going to be the supreme authority, government or God? Just because something is lawful does not mean it is right or ethical in the eyes of the Lord.
Those who follow Christ should have as their ethical standard God and His Word. The Bible addresses many issues that are perfectly legal in the United States but are unethical for a Christian.
For example, it is not illegal to be arrogant. For the most part, it also is not illegal to lie or to gossip. But God, in the Bible, condemns each of these behaviors.
I recently had someone try to justify a behavior to me, an act that I find highly unethical, by stating it was legal in the state in which the person resides. The same act is illegal in at least 13 other states.
“Do unto others,” Jesus said, “as you would have them do unto you.” Some among us have twisted Jesus’ words, contending it is ethical to do unto others as they do unto you. Others believe it is OK to do unto others what is in their own personal “best” interest. Hence, they would say, it is OK to be unethical if you are trying to further a career or protect yourself.
In Ethics 101, John C. Maxwell asserts that applying the Golden Rule to our lives requires that we treat people with value, that we appreciate them, trust them, respect them, seek to understand them and refuse to manipulate or take advantage of them.
Maxwell goes on to write that living out the Golden Rule means you:
- Treat people better than they treat you.
- Walk the second mile.
- Help people who can’t help you.
- Do right when it’s natural to do wrong.
- Keep your promises even when it hurts.
One of the most profound examples of doing what is right (versus doing what is legal) is found in the life of David before he became king of Israel.
David was a boy during the reign of Israel’s first king, Saul. As leaders go, Saul was a disaster. As a result, God selected David to be Saul’s successor while David was just a shepherd boy. As David matured, God blessed him tremendously. So much so that Saul became jealous and even sought to kill David.
While David was hiding out to avoid being killed by Saul, he had two opportunities to kill the king and become the leader of Israel. His friends even encouraged David to take Saul’s life.
David’s friends rationalized that not only was Saul a horrible king who also was trying to kill him, but David already possessed the divine authority to be the king of Israel; he was anointed, chosen by God to be king.
David’s response was to spare Saul. He refused to take matters into his own hands and, instead, trusted the Lord to deal with Saul.
Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you requires tremendous trust in the Lord, especially in a corrupt culture filled with unscrupulous characters.
If everything were legal for one night, what would you do? The only adequate answer for the follower of Christ is, “I would obey the Lord, seek to please only Him and trust Him with the outcome.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs and editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)