In his video “Rationalizations,” Michael Josephson (2010) distinguishes between rational decisions and rationalizations in the ethical decision-making process. Rational decisions precede a course of action, and rationalizations follow. In rational decisions, the individual decides ahead of time the strategy to follow in making ethical decisions. With rationalizations, one offers an after-the-fact justification for what has been done. Josephson argues for rational decisions.
If I agree (and I do) with Josephson and decide to engage in rational decisions, what would that strategy be? In his PowerPoint “Basic Moral Orientations Overview,” Lawrence Hinman (2002) presents nine different moral orientations which guide moral decisions. The one orientation which is closest to mine is “Divine Command Theories.” In this orientation “being good is equivalent to doing what the Bible…tells you what to do” (Hinman, 2002). I say closest because I substitute Christ for the Bible. In other words, Christ is the one who ultimately tells one what he or she is to do in whatever situation one finds oneself to be. The Christian does not necessarily know ahead of that situation what the right thing to do is, but brings into each and every situation the confidence that Christ is there to inform, empower, judge, and forgive
Bonhoeffer says that the Christian has the “form of Christ” (Bonhoeffer, 1995, p. 81). By virtue of baptism the Christian is “transformed in His image” (Bonhoeffer, 1995, p.82). This formation is a conformation. In Christ, God out of his love for humanity has reconciled the world unto himself. In Christ, God has removed all barriers to himself, forgiven all sin, and put us on a firm foundation before God. The Christian is to be conformed to Christ. The Christian, too, is to engage in the work of reconciliation. The question to be asked is “whether my action is at this moment helping my neighbor to become a man before God” (Bonhoeffer, 1995, p. 86).
How does the Christian operationalize this foundation in Christ? It is easy enough to say that the Christian is to be a Christ to the neighbor. But how does this take shape? In Matthew 25, Jesus recounts the so-called Parable of the Goats and the Sheep (Holy Bible, 1973, pp.1545-1546). On Judgment Day, the shepherd will separate the sheep from the goats. To the sheep, he will say that they fed him when he was hungry, gave him water when he was thirsty, visited him when he was sick, and so on. But the sheep are amazed. When did we give you food when you were hungry and give you water when you were thirsty and visit you when you were sick, and so on? The shepherd will say that when you did it to the least of my brethren you did it unto me. When you did it to the lowest of the low you were really doing it to me.
The Christian is to have the form of Christ. He or she is to be conformed to Christ. She or he is to be engaged in the work of reconciliation. The Christian is to be a Christ to his or her neighbor. How does that happen? It happens when the Christian sees Christ in his or her neighbor. He or she is to be Christ to his or her neighbor, but the neighbor is also Christ to the Christian. And how shall the Christian treat Christ? This is the strategy by which I make my ethical decisions.
Yet, I am haunted by the words of Josephson concerning rationalization. I do not know ahead of time what I will do in any given situation. I only know that I am not to mistreat Christ. But how do I know I did the right thing? This is difficult. Remember the sheep. They did not know. I do not know. Until the kingdom of God, I can only trust that I’ve done the right thing. If not, I can only plead for forgiveness.