When I first saw the play Measure for Measure, still my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, I thought it presented a difficult moral question. For those not familiar, the general plot is this:
The strict judge Angelo is left in charge of the city of Vienna, and he goes about trying to get rid of immorality. He finds out that a gentlemen named Claudio has not properly married a lady named Juliet, and decides to make an example of the sin of fornication by sentencing Claudio to death.
Claudio’s sister, a novice nun named Isabella, appears in front of Angelo to plead for her brother’s life. Angelo immediately desires her, and declares that he will spare Claudio only if Isabella sleeps with him.
I was fourteen at the time, and this seemed a terribly difficult situation to be in. Should Isabella be willing to sacrifice her own purity so that another might live?
That seems to ring of selflessness, doesn’t it? She’s giving up something she prizes in order to save someone else!
Yet there really is no moral quandary present in this play. The human pursuit of good is never served through an act of evil.
God has declared that He cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He himself tempt anyone (James 1:13). Therefore, He would never put His children in a position where the good would be best served by them doing evil.
That is not to say that there will not be evil. The death of Claudio would still have been a wicked act. But none of that evil would have been alleviated by the defilement of Isabella.
There are those who claim that the placement of unrighteous men in positions of power is good, because it makes way for the Kingdom of Heaven. That may be, in the sense that God can turn all things meant for evil to good.
But we are not God, and it is not our place to decide what evil needs to exist, or be in power for God to bring about His Kingdom. Rather, He is worshiped and magnified when His people fight for justice, truth, and righteousness.
God is glorified when Christians stand up for what is right, when they name the wicked for what they are and defend the helpless, such as the unborn.
And that is the harder path, because it demands that we suffer the defeats of this world. We will be hated by strangers and family alike if we do this; we will be accused of being judgmental and of imposing our morals on others. We will be labeled as constant failures.
Nonetheless, that is our calling, and that is how we serve the Lord our God. To remain quiet and try to maintain our dignity may gain us the banal, meaningless respect reserved for those who seem to do no harm and yet compel none to do good.
Avoiding conflict gains only the sort of hollow respect that serves as a patina for apathy, however. Such a life gains the Lord nothing, and ultimately is a shirking of our duty.
The good can never be served by Christians doing evil, and remaining silent in the face of evil is tacit support of it. We serve God best when we continue to fight for what is good and right, even when it seems that our fighting for it will only make things worse. The outcome is in God’s hands; the duty to fight is ours.