Those who love to discuss ethical dilemmas will enjoy Shakespeare's Measure for Measure.
In this play, a young man named Claudio is condemned to death for committing an act of adultery. His sister is Isabella, a novice nun who attempts to persuade the legalistic tyrant Angelo to spare his life.
Isabella speaks eloquently of Christian grace:
Why, all the souls that were forfeit once,
And He that might the vantage best have took
Found out the remedy. How would you
be if He, which is the top of judgment,
should but judge you as you are?
(Act 2, scene ii, lines 72-77) Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. G.B. Harrison, (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc.) 1968.
"All the souls that were" refers to the unredeemed state of the world. The "remedy" is the gift of God the Son from God the father, or in other words John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (ESV)." We are reminded of Matthew 7:1-2, which states: judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you (ESV)." This is of course where the name of the play comes from.
The purity and eloquence of her appeal is lost on the tyrant Angelo. He is filled with lust. He demands that she compromise her virtue and honor in order that he should pardon her brother.
How should she react? Retain her honor and see her brother executed, or lose her honor and save a life?
A contemporary secular humanist might reason that since mortal life is all there is, the preservation of it is paramount and therefore the ends would justify the means. Better to commit a repugnant physical act than to allow a death to occur.
A Christian, however, will see things in a different light. It is not only this life we care about, but the life of our immortal souls. Isabella replies:
Better it were a brother died at once
Than that a sister, by redeeming him,
Should die forever. (Act 2, scene iv, lines 106-108).
To think that we must commit a terrible sin in order to accomplish a desirable goal-that the end justifies the means-is to demonstrate a lack of confidence in God. The Lord has given us principles to live by. We know that if we obey God, we can trust in his divine plan, his providence.
Isabella goes to speak with her brother Claudio. She expects him to affirm her decision to retain her honor but is shocked to discover that her brother is consumed with cowardice. He states: "The weariest and most loathed worldly life that age, ache, penury and imprisonment can lay on nature is a paradise to what we fear of death." (Act 3, scene 1, lines 129-132). Isabella will not waver. Things look grim for the brother.
Many twists and turns of the plot ensue with the result that the brother's life is saved. It turns out that the evil tyrant would have sentenced the brother to death in any case. Isabella would have thrown her honor away for nothing if she had chosen to do so. Not surprisingly, the same man evil enough to present her with an agonizing choice was deficient in integrity when it came to honoring his word.
This play is rich in meaning for the Christian who cares to interpret it. While it ostensibly illustrates the "measure for measure" scripture mentioned previously, it also perhaps proves the beauty of trusting in God's plan. In Ephesians 1:7, for example, we are reminded that:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (ESV).
Moreover, we can take comfort and joy in Philippians 4:8:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me-practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (ESV).
In faith and fellowship,
Patrick McKitrick more...