Utilitarianism - We Can't Be God

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, October 3, 2013 0 comments

One of the things that I always find laughable is how much people rely on weather forecasts. I’d be willing to bet that you have at some point in your life and so have I. But isn’t it funny that we make our plans based on a forecast, which is really just another name for a prediction of an event that has not yet happened? I’m not dismissing the value of modern science because I know that God has created incredible ability within the human mind and has also ordered certain things within the universe. But there has never been a forecast that was truly 100% certain, no matter what the meteorologists have said. There was recently a “rain delay” at a baseball game in Pittsburgh for rain that never happened! They decided not to start the game because of the rain they KNEW was coming, but never actually came. On the flipside, I have physically sat through a three-hour rain delay in the same stadium because they KNEW the rain would stop at some point and let the teams play, only it never ceased and they called the game after three hours of making the fans wait.

It’s frustrating when we rely on predictions that end up being wrong. We get angry about the circumstances and usually look for someone to blame. Think about what happens regarding our national security. If the government “intrudes” on our privacy in order to prevent potential threats to our safety that turn out not to be credible, we get mad. However, we get just as upset and blame-hungry if an attack happens that our intelligence did not predict. The reality is that we as a society have become obsessed with the illusion of control and the belief that we can predict the future so that we know how to act ahead of time.

This obsession is my biggest problem with the theory of utilitarianism, which says that we should make decisions on which actions to take in certain ethical dilemmas by determining what will result in the greatest good to the greatest number of people. How do we know that without considering every factor in the situation? And how can we include every factor in a situation that hasn’t happened yet? We do have a God who has set in place certain natural laws, but that doesn’t mean he has left everything to run on its own. The God we serve is living, which means at any point he can work in a way that we would consider “supernatural”, so that what we expected to happen does not actually occur. The Bible is filled with such events and we should continue believing that they are just as possible today.

In the very small book written by the minor prophet Haggai, we can read about the group of Jewish exiles who returned to Jerusalem after 70 years of captivity in Babylon. The Lord was disappointed with them and even cursed their land and their work because their priorities were out of whack. Through Haggai, God asks the people, “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” (v. 4) The context of the passage tells us that he is referring to the people’s decision to put their money, materials, and efforts into their own home renovations while the temple that is supposed to be honoring God remains in ruins from its destruction at the hands of the Babylonians many years earlier. Instead of listening to what God was telling them, they simply decided among themselves based on what they knew (and more importantly what they desired) that they should delay the rebuilding of the temple. History reveals what some of their reasons may have been. The land was desolate due to 70 years of neglect, the work would have been hard labor, they suffered crop failures and drought, they remembered easier times in the past, and they had hostile enemies who resisted their work. Based on the principles of utilitarianism, doing the Lord’s work made no sense. But God was calling them to abandon what they felt, to do away with their limited understanding and short-term focus, and to continue in their faith in the One who brought them out of slavery in Egypt by constantly doing what neither they nor their enemies predicted.

The challenge for each of us is to take a good, hard look at our lives and to see where we may be living with a utilitarian mindset. I highly doubt that any of you refer to it as such or that you even think of it that way. But where are you relying on predictions, which are merely educated guesses? In what ways do you seek to know the future so that you can have more control rather than so you can do God’s will and speak his truth and love? “The wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight” (1 Corinthians 3:19a). Only God truly has 100% certainty regarding what tomorrow holds, and if tomorrow will even get here. Only he can decide what is good for the greatest number of people. Let’s stop trying to be him, because it’s NOT possible!