Why the Ends Don’t Justify the Means

In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things, the figure of him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger.”

That is one of my favorite quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. To me it captures a truth so contrary to our everyday lives that we have a hard time truly accepting it. What that quote says to us practically is that the ends do not justify the means. Most people hold to the pragmatic idea that the ends DO indeed justify the means. It makes sense, right? Yes it does, if you don’t consider God.

In our relationship with God I believe that God is not results oriented. He is not ends oriented. God is means oriented. God cares about why and how we do things. He takes care of results. Are we faithful in how we are to live? Do we justify doing wrong (evil) in order to have a good result?

What I am saying is no small idea. It is not something that goes against a basic philosophy. What I am saying goes against the promoted and enforced American (and probably worldwide) idea of a results oriented society. We define success by the end result of our actions. We do “whatever it takes” to achieve excellence.

Many times we focus on what we believe God wants. We assume he wants us to do this, or go there, or say that. We do things we think God wants, when really what He wants is us. He wants all of us. He wants to KNOW us. It is so evident and clear throughout the prophets that God wants us to know Him intimately. Over and over God stated that He simply just wanted the people of Israel to KNOW Him. God had never left or forsaken Israel. They had left Him. Hosea 13:5 speaks to this idea:

5 I cared for you in the wilderness,
in the land of burning heat.
6 When I fed them, they were satisfied;
when they were satisfied, they became proud;
then they forgot me.”

God was there for Israel the whole time, even in the wilderness. He had never left them. As soon as they had gotten from God what they wanted, they became proud and forgot about God. Sadly, that is often the story of many of our lives.

The church in America has added significantly to the global Christian culture, or even civilization, throughout the world. Yes it has added significantly in both positive and negative ways. But this is much of the history of Christianity. Indeed, some of the most supposed “Christian” time periods in world history are also some of the darkest and bloodiest. But also, Christianity was the “ark” which safely protected civilization from extinction.

I believe that many of the common issues of the church today have come from our pragmatic mindsets. We have forgotten that churches grow. It is not meant to be a business. It is supposed to be a living and breathing organism, a body. We are the bride of Christ. We are not Walmart. The American church needs to examine itself and see if we are letting the word or the world dictate our actions. Os Guinness visited TEDS this past semester and had a few things to say in this line of thought. He said,

 The American church today is desperately weak because it is profoundly worldly. We have helped create the rise of the modern world, and we have become captive to the modern world that we have helped to create.”

In our churches and in our own individual lives we have let the results be the focus. We have let numbers and goals be our driving forces in our personal and congregational lives. But this mindset is too rationalistic and humanistic and it leaves no place for the power of God. Simply put, we lack faith. We lack true faith in the power of God, the power of the Gospel, and the power of the Holy Spirit. God is interested in our faithfulness to Him. It was Jesus who said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments (Jn 14:15).” But it is not simply about keeping commandments, either. It is going beyond the letter of the law and remaining faithful to Him — for “whatever is not of faith is sin (Rom 14:23).”

We are not completely careless about the means which lead to the result. We do care in some realms of life. Think about sports. We prohibit people taking enhancing drugs in order to be stronger and faster. Think about medicine. We want doctors and nurses to follow specific procedures and follow safety guideline to bring people to recovery or to a cure. That being said, we are still constantly bombarded with “the ends justify the means” mentality.

Think of shows like House. House is a doctor whose motto is “everybody lies.” Throughout the last seven seasons Dr. House has shown that he will do whatever it takes to save someone’s life. Yet, if there is seemingly no hope, he has no problem giving a shot of morphine to end someone’s suffering. And as we watch his brash attitude and medical malpractice we are somewhat forced to take his side. We are being persuaded that it is okay to brake a few rules so that the result is good. It is no coincidence that the show is staunchly anti-religion, and especially anti-Christian. That is because the mindset and philosophy of the ends justifying the means is anti-Christian at the core.

If we really believe that God is sovereign, if we really believe that God is good, and if we really believe that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6), then we will choose to always do what is right, no matter the consequences. To do right is always right because we serve a God who is righteous. To do wrong in order to achieve a good result shows a lack of faith in God, and says to God, “I don’t think that you are in control. I have to take this situation into my own hands.” It is idolatry. It shows that there is a lack of the fear of God in one’s actions. It is one thing to say that you fear God, and then another thing to actually live with that fear in your actions before Him and in your daily life.

Therefore, what I am saying to many sounds naive. To lie is always wrong and to kill is always wrong because sin is always sin and God is always good. God wants us to consistently love, know, and fear Him. We must do all things in faith (Heb 11:6) and heartily unto God (Col 3:23). It is the only way God is honored and glorified. To truly live as though you fear God will require child-like faith.

Sure, it seems often foolish. Sure, it seems often inefficient. But God is faithful, and He demands for us to be faithful as well.

Published by Andrew

a ragamuffin dad planting some sequoias

2 thoughts on “Why the Ends Don’t Justify the Means

  1. I understand why you say that some may find your thoughts naive, but in truth, I think the lifestyle you outline in your post, if it is fully lived, is extremely courageous! It may seem inefficient as you say, but to do all things in faith will move us further along the correct path than will misguided means that will lead to certain hijacking of what could otherwise be a beautiful, God-glorifying life. I enjoyed your post – good encouragement for the day to stay the course and keep the faith!

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