Sometimes we just know, very clearly, that something is wrong. It’s like an alarm bell going off in the head; or a sense of unease that just won’t go away. You know when you’re watching a cartoon on the TV and one of the characters runs onto the screen with a huge sign saying: “Don’t do it!!”
But lots of the time we are just unsure about what the best way forward is. There is a decision to make, or a moral dilemma, and we are not sure where to turn.
Let me tell you a true story about the wrong way to make a moral decision. Ignatius was a Spanish soldier. He was riding on his donkey with another traveller and they got into a fierce argument. The other man realised things were getting out of control and raced away on his horse.
Ignatius was torn. Basically, he wanted to kill him, and he was more than capable of doing it. But he wasn’t sure whether it was right to chase after him. So he came to a fork in the road. One path went down to the town where the man was hiding; the other path went up into the hills.
He sat on his donkey, dropped the reins he was holding, and let the donkey decide. He said to himself: If it goes into the town, then I will hunt down the man and kill him. If it goes into the hills, then I will leave him be. Thank goodness, it took the high road.
This is not a good way to make a decision! It’s like tossing a coin. Now it’s fine tossing a coin to decide whether you’re going to eat at McDonalds or KFC for lunch. But not for a life-changing decision, and not even for the small moral decisions of everyday life. Often we need guidance. Where can we find it? What can we do?
Here are some tips. In no particular order.
First, you can stop and think. I know it sounds obvious, but very often we are racing along and we don’t make time to think. We are just reacting to things. Sometimes we need to stop; make some space; listen to our heart, to our conscience; and think things through.
Second, you can talk. We can get trapped in our own thoughts and worries. Sometimes we need to talk things through and get some advice. It’s so important to have one or two people you really trust and look up to. The kind of people who will tell you the truth and not just what you want to hear.
Third, you can pray. Especially to the Holy Spirit, that he will give you wisdom and guidance. It’s amazing how he sometimes responds. Earlier this year I had a real problem and didn’t know what on earth to do. I went round and round in circles worrying about all the options.
But when I finally stopped to pray about it, a solution came to mind, completely out of nowhere. It was a real way forward, and it came with such peace. It felt like the Holy Spirit was opening a door that I just hadn’t seen.
Fourth, you can look to the Bible. The moral teaching of the Bible is a sure guide for life. Not every rule and regulation of the Old Testament, but the core moral wisdom of the Bible, and above all the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels. If we listen to God’s Word in the Bible, it’s like building a house on rock.
And finally, you can look to the teaching of the Christian Church over many centuries. Christian history has so much to teach us. And as a Catholic, I believe that the Pope and the Catholic bishops have a special role in the Church, keeping us faithful to the teaching of Jesus. They continue the ministry of the first Apostles, even with all their human weaknesses. It is a gift to the whole Church.
Life is messy, and moral clarity doesn’t come easily. We will make a lot of mistakes. But these are some of the things that can help us when we are trying to find the right way forward: thinking, talking, praying, the Bible, and Christian teaching.
Questions for reflection
Where do people get their moral values from? What influences them in their moral judgements?
Who has been a moral guide or inspiration for you?
Do you think we need moral guidance from the Bible or elsewhere, or can we work out everything for ourselves?
This blog is extracted from SYCAMORE: The Christian Faith Explained. In SYCAMORE you will find answers to the most common questions about life and faith, whether you want to deepen the faith you already have or are exploring the faith for the first time. Written in a conversational style with beautiful colour images.