Friday, December 6, 2013

Complex Ethics: When You're Invisible


What would you do if you were invisible?
Would you spy on people?
Would you do something illegal?
Would you save it for extreme occurrences?
Would you live life invisible as often as possible?

Invisibility has been a common literary plot device since before Christ. Plato writes of the Ring of Gyges which makes its bearer invisible. There have been stories of magicians and superheroes, soldiers and average Joes who miraculously become invisible. From The Hobbit to Halo, invisibility plays our imagination. So what would you do? In The Hobbit Bilbo decides to use his invisibility for grace, but by the time The Fellowship of the Ring rolls around, he uses it for vanity.

But while the history and literary criticism involved in invisibility is extremely interesting, there are countless times when you are invisible—practically speaking. When you shower, when you drive late at night, when you’re walking through the grocery store. Are there people around? Sometimes. Do they pay you note? Sometimes. But what do you do during those seconds, minutes, and hours?

Ethics is usually understood as relational… Whereas morality describes your personal value system and integrity, ethics denotes the lived out standard of relationships: ethics involves ”The Other.” (I recognize the many ethicists who would change the particulars and argue between ‘alterity,’ ‘mitsein,’ ‘dasein,’ and other things, but please remember that I am amateurspeaking to amateur.) But where is the relationship when you are sole in the world, swallowed by the deep sky and looming moon? Does it matter if you sin in those moments?

Oh, sure, any believer would say it’s never right to sin. That God always sees you even when the Elf on the Shelf doesn’t. But there’s more to it than that.

You are an eternal soul being built up by the Spirit of God to indwell eternity even while existing with one foot in the eternal Kingdom of Heaven now. There are significant consequences to the things you do when you’re invisible. But I’m not even talking about the Last Day; I’m talking about here and now. Anything and everything you do is to your benefit and growth or degradation and stunting.

But let’s take a step back. Relational living is something like a carnival of bumper cars: every interaction you have with others bumps and pushes them somewhere—for good or bad; toward Christ or Gehenna. So Paul commands the church to “Make the most of every opportunity” and take part in the eternal care of souls (Col.4.5, Eph.5.16, Phil.2.12ff.).  There is no neutrality in morality, nor are there impotent relations. When you interact passively or actively, you nudge the souls of individuals toward or away from grace and faith in the knowledge of God revealed through Christ. And you are responsible for the way your creek’s current pushes others’ rivers. Some people have more water, and even small streams can carry poison: so you have more influence than you realize. The point of the invisibility discussion: when you’re weaving through the forest, your direction and speed will change what happens when you flow into another.


While you are invisible, you are yet living and shaping your being for good or evil. If you choose evil, you will be less the woman or less the man than you might have been. The next time to you speak, act, emote, avoid, or otherwise engage another, you will love less than you could have loved if you had loved God when transparent.

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