Bad, Worse and Worst

Aaron R. aka Ricoabuse, Culture, doctrine, LDS, sexuality, thought, violence 32 Comments

I would like to use Genesis 12 (and an interesting post by Aaron B from BCC) to examine the inverse of Elder Oak’s famous talk ‘Good, Better and Best’.  Simply stated Abraham was married to Sarai (who was apparently pretty hot!) and Pharoah was going to want to marry her.  His choice: either die as her husband and have his wife forced into marriage (in effect raped) or live as her ‘brother’ and have his wife forced into marriage (and in effect raped).  What to do?

Although I agree with Elder Oak in principle, I suspect that some of the decisions that I make will be of this more negative order.  Moreover, these will most probably be the more painful of the two types.  Lets consider the possible impact in Abraham and Sarai’s lives (and these might be possible questions to raise in SS if you can get them to cover this episode):

  • How did Sarai feel about Abraham’s choice?
  • How did Abraham feel about his choice, especially as he became wealthy as a result of such an act?
  • Did they tell Isaac?
  • Could Sarai have refused and how did Abraham feel about her not refusing?

Now if Nibley were here he might argue that this is merely a devilish trick to make us choose between two equally evil propositions (which is worse crack or heroine), but there is always a third choice.   If this is true then what was Abraham’s other choice?

Finally, is there any possible spiritual benefit in such choices?  Can any good come from them?

To my mind I feel that my life is a constant series of these types of choices and thus I am constantly given the choice between conflicting options that inevitably will lead to some negativity.  Perhaps I am just a half-empty kinda guy but I feel for Abraham.

My questions then are these:

Are there situations where there are only choices which are bad, worse and worst? Or can we always escape such decisions?

If so, is this possible a spiritually useful situation or do we just have to move through such experiences seeking forgiveness where we can?

Comments 32

  1. I think you can look at it as all good if your an optimist. I would think that many of the brethren in Joseph Smiths days found it equally as hard to give up their wifes to the prophet but they can look at polyandry as a test to how strong their conviction was to God and the church.

    If he asked them to give up their wives and they agreed to do so, the had passed somekind of Abrahamic obedience test.

  2. I think your right that this scripture might be an interesting way to bring in that little known fact from church history. However, I think that such choices also exist outside of divine decree. That the writer did not see this as a divine test but rather as a symbol that God loved Abraham is interesting the emphasis that the writer of genesis places upon Abraham.

  3. I made a comment in Aaron B’s thread that I think is relevant here.

    “This act shows the love Sarai had for Abram, A moving moment in Bravehart dir Mel Gibson is when the Landlord acts upon his historical right to sleep with a new bride before the husband, a fight ensues the bride gracefully intercedes before her husband is killed.

    Sarai is the hero of this story, however the bible is rubbish at showing things from a female perspective.”

    How did Abram feel?

    I’m not sure we don’t have a lot of detail on there relationship after, I would need to study the later passages however what we do know.

    He entered into a Polygamous relationship, when told by Sarah to send Hagar away he listened, willing to sacrifice Sarah’s son.

    There’s a possibility that this moment with Pharaoh is something that could have been a motivating factor in a great deal of the subsequent stories, Did Sarah feel responsible for he barren womb and was willing to allow Abraham to take another wife, did Abraham feel guilt for not stopping what happened with Pharaoh and so was willing to do what ever Sarah asked, even abandoning his own son, Was the guilt that Abraham felt a motivating factor in the sacrificing of his son Issac? as he came from a “abused woman”.

    Awkward decisions can lead to a multitude of consequences both bad and good, sadly life is not black and white, right and wrong.

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  5. #4 No, I’m happy to believe that God commanded Abraham to do it, however in Abraham’s willingness to obey it is natural for him to look for reasons, a “why me” type of reaction. This is not necessarily my opinion but more a thought experiment based on your question “how might Abraham feel about his choice”?

  6. I have not spent much time on that story, because it’s so obvious that we don’t know the whole story.

    I’ve had situations, where I just had to pick the “lesser evil” when there were no good alternatives. I understand and empathize Abraham.

  7. I think the story underscores the concept that sometimes it is okay to do nothing more than live to fight another day. For example, it directly contradicts this awful statement by SWK:

    “Also far-reaching is the effect of loss of chastity. Once given or taken or stolen it can never be regained. Even in a forced contact such as rape or incest, the injured one is greatly outraged. If she has not cooperated and contributed to the foul deed, she is of course in a more favorable position. There is no condemnation when there is no voluntary participation. It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle.”

    Certainly we can imagine Abraham standing his ground and losing his life in this scenario, no? Maybe that would be more “virtuous” but I doubt it. I also lol’d at the polyandry analogy in this thread. We should probably leave that doctrinally indefensible chapter in our history out of this discussion.

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    #5 – Ok, I just wanted to be clear. I think your right that even if he did have that expeience it is not always linear in our feelings. I mean that we still can doubt or re-interpret our previous spiritual experiences.

    #6 – How do you do that? It would seem a nodd way to approach God. ‘God, I have to sin, but which one is less significant’.

    #7 – I think your right about SWK. By definition the bad, worse and worst situation requires that we do something lack virtue. I think all options were bad in this situation. That it is doctrinally indefensible in my mind makes it fit exactly with this topic.

  9. @8 – I only suggest leaving it out because it is not an example of any true principle. The idea asserted that it was a “test” (here brother, let me have sex with your wife as a test) is just a “catch all” explanation for the inexplicable. The only thing it is an example of is Joseph going very far astray. If TSM shows up at my door and asks if he can chop my children’s arms off is that a test of my faith or should I call the guys with white coats?

  10. That is a good point brought up above. The Abraham story seems so strange to me that I honestly can’t wrap my mind around it. Why would a man give his wife to another man to sleep with? But I suppose I’m looking at it from a 21st century Western perspective. Even in the 19th century, Joseph Smith was asking other men to give him their wives even though he was already married, and the women were already married to other men. This was in the “modern” era, and they actually consented to this. I can’t wrap my mind around that either.

    I try to put that in context. What if one of the apostles or seventy came up to me today and said that God commanded me to give him my wife as his wife? What if Elder Uchtdorf called me later today and told me that, like Joseph Smith did in his time? What would I do?

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    #9 – I agree wholeheartedly. However, the reason I think it is useful to bring is not because of the idea of a test, while the link above alludes to but the sometimes inexplicable actions of men who some (we) believe are called by God. I actually suspect that contextualising Abraham’s actions might be as incorrect as trying to contextualise Joseph’s actions. I think we can try hard but which ever we tug we are left with loose ends and big problems.

    But i wonder whether we have slipped off topic just a little. Perhaps if no one cares we can just keep going down this route. In case someone would like to discuss the topic it is possible to think of both Joseph’s and Abraham’s actions as inexplicable because of this possible paradigm of bad, worse, and worst. It may be that the inexplicable emerges out of situations where we can see only negative possibilities. Situations that we all seem to face.

  12. I see Abraham’s test as kind of a Kobayashi Maru test. Abraham was certainly faced with a lot of no-win scenarios. To what end I’m not sure, certainly God could have protected Abraham from getting killed had he introduced himself as Sarai’s husband. There aren’t any good answers that come from the text.

  13. Mike S. #10

    “I try to put that in context. What if one of the apostles or seventy came up to me today…”

    Your faced with a choice, do you give your answer based on your faith in that person or the action being correct.

    I.e would your answer change if God asked you directly.

  14. “I see Abraham’s test as kind of a Kobayashi Maru test.” I agree with this perspective. It seems to me that tests we face are not about the outcomes at all, just about what we do when tested. We are the outcome.

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    Hawkgrrrl, in your response (I might be wrong) but I sensed that there is possible good outcome in our process of becoming. If this is correct, I am failing to see how these choices could be spiritually productive? Because I am not sure I can separate out what we become from the results of our actions. I agree that the process of turning toward God in these difficult choices is a productive thing long-term but there is also a sense that what we do is important. Even though I agree that there is not always a right and a wrong thing to do, I still believe that our decisions will eventually have an impact upon who we become.

  16. I see the account of Abraham’s abortive sacrifice of Isaac as a literary invention designed to explain the origins of the Hebrew tribes’ rejection of the human-sacrifice practices of their Canaanite cousins, as part of the process by which the Hebrews became a distinct religious culture.

    #13 — Since face-to-face encounters with God have evidently not happened since Joseph Smith’s day, the point is moot. Clearly the number of people who have such encounters — where there can be absolutely no doubt that it is God himself that is giving the instruction — is minuscule. So what is the utility of the Abrahamic sacrifice story? One lesson to be taken from it is “if you’re a righteous man, you will be willing to kill in God’s name.” (Maybe God will send an angel to stay your hand — or maybe not. The point is that you need to be willing to raise the knife.) Is that a lesson that the world really needs? Heaven knows we’re not exactly undersupplied with people willing to kill for God, or other authority.

    Since (as a practical matter) express divine instructions to man nearly always come to us filtered through some purported mouthpiece or other, the practical lesson of Mount Moriah is that a righteous man ought to be willing to kill somebody when another man, clothed with ostensible divine authority, tells him to. What possible utility for good could that Mountain Meadows recipe have?

    Since the idea that God is inherently good (meaning that he is on humanity’s side) is a fundamental premise of the whole reason I’m in the faith business to begin with, I recognize a strong presumption that a commandment that appears to work evil to another human being is not from God. I suppose it should be a rebuttable presumption — but it ought to take a very high standard of proof to rebut it. Unless an apostolic demand for my wife were immediately accompanied by a bona-fide Pillar of Light, etc., my response would probably be a punch in the nose.

  17. Rico 15 – I suppose I just meant that our outcomes may be negative, but our intentions positive. We may do something that harms ourselves or others based on misunderstanding or limited choices, but our intention reveals who we are and who we are becoming. The laws of the gospel, sacrifice, chastity and consecration are examples of actions only in a loose sense – actions are implied (you can’t really follow those in total passivity), but these laws (to me at least) really seem to be about revealing our intentions shaping those intentions in ways that follow Christ’s teachings and example, deny our baser passions, and serve the best interests of others and ourselves. Outcomes are incidental. In this way, it equalizes between smart, insightful people and people who misunderstand things or mis-assess situations, people, etc.

    On the other thread (about whether God is still progressing) there’s some overlap between these thoughts and whether a God can be stupid (lack insight or misunderstand things) yet have Godlike intentions. God could in that sense grow in insight, wisdom and understanding through time. Godlike intentions seem like they are foundational, with wisdom and insight coming in time with experience.

  18. #13: MrQandA

    It would take A LOT for me to accept that – probably a visitation from God or something equally profound.

    Our history as a Church over the past 150 years has been filled with good people who weren’t always right – sometimes on little things, but sometimes on big things. I believe them when they profess the doctrine of fallibility. I’m therefore willing to accept things when they make sense, but when they don’t make sense to me, I’d be more inclined to think this was an example of their “man-nature” as opposed to their “calling-nature”.

    Again, I’d like to think that if I was commanded to do something directly from God (and not with a man in between), I would do whatever it was. For some reason, I don’t ever see that happening in my lifetime.

  19. Rico, back to what I think is your original intent — yes, I think we often have to choose between bad and worse. I was hiking with my family when we all climbed up a big rock to take a picture. I was carrying my youngest in an older model baby-backpack which didn’t have straps. As we were preparing to climb down from the rock, my daughter, right next to me, started to fall. “Daddy!” she squeaked, reaching out to me. But as I leaned out to grab her hand, I felt the baby shift in the backpack. I knew I could reach my daughter, but I was equally sure that in so doing, the baby would fall out, so I stopped. The expression on my daughter’s face when she realized I was not going to grab her hand and fell off that rock haunts my dreams to this day. Fortunately, she wasn’t badly hurt, and she very much agreed I’d done the right thing, but it was a horrible experience for me.

    In more practical terms, a person contemplating a divorce is often deciding between bad and worse, and which is which is often very unclear.

    I actually think there’s a lot of spiritual growth that comes from choosing between bad and worse, but I’d have to think about it a lot more to formulate exactly what and how.

    Definitely something to think about.

  20. I think this gets all tied up with the view we ultimiately have about free will. There’s an “internal”, partial view of reality in which we can always tie cause to effect, past to future, and in that description, we choose.

    But that doesn’t mean that God has only an “internal” view, or that time is fundamental to His view of reality. In an “external” view with all knowledge, time and free will itself may look very different.

    It sounds a bit zen, but “Our choices are what makes us what we always were. Because of what we always were, we could choose no other.”

  21. Gosh…Abraham had some pretty big tests and decisions to make.

    Makes me feel kinda dumb about the “tests” I face: Is RedBull a sin or not?

    Ab must just laugh at us in our situation.

  22. #19 — Dang, what a horrible moment. I think if something like that ever happens to me, I will at least make a show of reaching out clumsily for my daughter’s hand as she plummets off the rock. That way, she won’t think I’m heartless — just klutzy. And she already knows that.

  23. Rico, isn’t bad, worse, worst and good, better, best all relative terms.

    What you think might be a choice for bad or worse, seems like it could also be viewed going the other direction of bad or good.

    View 1: Bad if my daughter falls off the rock, worse if the baby falls out of the carrier
    View 2: Bad if my daughter falls off the rock, good if the baby stays in the carrier.

    or even:
    View 3; Good that my baby stays in the carrier, better that my daughter learns Dad is making choices best for everyone in the family so I can trust he’ll always choose what’s best.

    Seems like everything is how you frame it.

  24. #18 – I agree that such experiences are not ours. What we seem to have is many experiences where we have to choose a ‘good enough’ response. Hence I see the value of both E. Oak’s and this speculation. Moreover I feel that when we honestly act according to what we feel us best then that should be acceptable to God and to ourselves.

    #19 – Interesting and horrible experience.

    #20 – A unique insight. I will have to give that some thought. If you are saying that we ultimately use our past in the present to create a future then I think I can agree with that, but any form of determinism I always find unsatisfying.

    #24 I agree that they are relative. However, seeing that we live our lives through such relativity merely pointing this out does not necessarily take away the experience of feeling limited to two or three painful choices, all of which we might consider to be destructive.

  25. Rico:

    The past does not “determine” the future, nor is the future “open”, because the past doesn’t become the future. The past and the future simply exist in eternal relationship to each other at the same point of spacetime they always did. The four-year-old you is still there and always was, as is the sixty-year-old you. (in fact, in most modern theories of cosmology, there are copies and variants of the four-year-old you and the sixty-year-old you scattered all over the past and the future.

    It’s not so much determinism vs. choice as a situation where ALL choices get made. That leads to the possibility of one or more very different frameworks to evaluate how actions impact the development of our souls.

  26. I have a vague understanding of the multiple and simulatneous worlds idea but it still seems to me that logically speaking the past is fixed and that the future has not been because it is still future. I don’t believe God can change the past eventhough there are multiple unrealised pasts still logically possible. I believe that the future is open to God’s and our agency.

    However, perhaps I just do not know enough to intelligently reply. Is there any place you can recommend that I look?

  27. I’ve written about how modern cosmology may change the framework in which we interpret Joseph Smith’s experiences here , along with links to some of the most accessable science on parallel worlds on the web. If you are interested in a non-mathematical, but more philosophical treatment that specifically addresses the logical contradictions of our everyday notions of time — before we even try to limit those conceptions to those held by God, try “The Fabric of Reality” by David Deutsch, one of the world leaders in quantum computation.

  28. FireTag #26

    your comments made me think of this scripture.

    D&C 130: 7 But they reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord.

  29. MrQandA:

    Although D&C 130 is not in a portion of the D&C that our two denominations share, I see where you’re coming from. There is a perspective from which the future is no less visible than the past.

  30. #31- I think we have to check ourselves on that as LDS, because there is an assumption sometimes that we share scripture. Thanks that has helped me think about things differently.

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