The end justifies the means

Why does the church teach that the ends don’t justify the means when the bible is full of examples in which the ends DO justify the means?

Examples off the top of my head:

  • The sacrifice of Jesus to save everyone else
  • All the plagues/death sent to Egypt to free the Israelites
  • Killing all the sinners in the flood to get a clean start with Noah et al.
  • Lying to Abraham to test his faith re: killing his son
  • Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple

I’m sure there are others …

Plus, the same Catechism that tells us the ends don’t justify the means also tells us that God allows evil to exist “because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it:

So the very existence of evil would appear to be an ends-justifying-means scenario, right?

Another example from 1 Kings 22:

Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the Lord. I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left. 20 The Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that. 21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’ 22 The Lord said to him, ‘How?’ And he said, ‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and also prevail. Go and do so.’ 23 Now therefore,** behold, the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets;** and the Lord has proclaimed disaster against you.”

None of the examples you mention fit the ends justifying the means.

Because it depends on what the end is, and what the means are.

In at least the first three examples you gave, the ends was freedom from slavery to sin, slavery and ending a sinful world so that Noah could rebuild it.

In the example of Abraham, it was to test Abraham’s resolve(in my opinion more accurate than saying his faith was tested).

In the final example, Jesus did this because it was defiling the temple with what we would call today a form of “systematic corruption”. The human authorities allowed this to happen because they were being paid in money for the “changers”(ancient word for what we would call Exchange Bankers today) to operate. The “changers” were doing business in a place where frankly it was inappropriate to do so. Jesus also mentions that they were not just doing business in an inappropriate location, but they were also driving people to homelessness and poverty(with all of it’s associated afflictions) in Luke 20:47, and that no doubt was also a factor, in particular in his “angry” response. So in driving them out he was ridding the temple of corruption.

The ends justifying the means – i.e. doing something bad with the intent of achieving a good outcome.

  • The sacrifice of Jesus to save everyone else
    God arranged for Jesus to be killed (bad) to save everyone else (good)

  • All the plagues/death sent to Egypt to free the Israelites
    God sickened and killed innocent people and animals in Egypt (bad) to free the Israelites (good)

  • Killing all the sinners in the flood to get a clean start with Noah et al.
    Killing people (bad) to make the world a better place (good)

  • Lying to Abraham to test his faith re: killing his son
    Lying (bad) to give Abraham a chance to demonstrate his loyalty (good)

  • Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple
    Threatening and/or assaulting people (bad) to defend a sacred space (good)

  • Example from 1 Kings 22
    Lying again (bad) to get some king killed in battle (good? I don’t really know why God wanted that particular guy dead)

But that’s exactly the opposite of what the church teaches. The church says a bad act is always bad regardless of whether it creates a good outcome or not.

So killing one person (or a couple hundred) to save thousands of people from slavery isn’t allowed. (And yet that’s exactly what God did … hence the question.)

These sorts of questions come up on the ask an apologist forum sometimes. Here is one such question and an answer that I think will help:

forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=19671

God is the author or life. It is His to give and take away as He pleases.

As for God lying - I don’t think any of the examples commonly given (the two you note and others) actually support that charge. Allowing deceiving spirits is not the same as God lying.

There is no lying to Abraham by God in Genesis 22.

OK.

First Jesus is God. He laid down His life in order that we might be saved. Jesus gave His life which was a good. Jesus didn’t do something bad.

  • All the plagues/death sent to Egypt to free the Israelites
    God sickened and killed innocent people and animals in Egypt (bad) to free the Israelites (good)

What was bad was the Egyptian’s defying God. He justly punished them. It was not a means to an end.

Killing all the sinners in the flood to get a clean start with Noah et al.
Killing people (bad) to make the world a better place (good)

God is the other of life. He can create or destroy as is His will. It is your opinion that it was bad. It was not.

  • Lying to Abraham to test his faith re: killing his son
    Lying (bad) to give Abraham a chance to demonstrate his loyalty (good)

As you state it was a test. What lie was involved. Abraham was told to sacrifice his son. It did not involve a lie.

  • Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple
    Threatening and/or assaulting people (bad) to defend a sacred space (good)

It is called justice. People being bad and being corrected is not the ends justifying the means

  • Example from 1 Kings 22
    Lying again (bad) to get some king killed in battle (good? I don’t really know why God wanted that particular guy dead)

What lie was that? It doesn’t matter it wasn’t an example anyway. Most of what you list as bad, is merely your opinion.
What is bad? Bad is going against the will of God. God is all good. As I already stated, none of what you posted fits.

Thank you.

When we say “the ends don’t justify the means” we just mean that an immoral action can never be performed, even if the motivation for doing it is good.

For example, selling drugs on the street is immoral; even if you are doing it in order to raise money for charity, the action as a whole is still immoral.

Regarding your examples, we need to be a little careful. In all of the cases you cite, the agent is God Himself. Unlike us creatures, God can dispose of our lives as He sees fit—he is not committing a sin by doing so. However, He always does so for our good.

Even if we consider the ten plagues, say, from a “moral” perspective, I am not sure that they violate the principle. It is not immoral for the properly constituted authority (and no one can deny that God is that) to threaten punishment if reasonable demands are not met. It is not immoral to follow through with that punishment if the offenders are obstinate. God gave the Pharaoh plenty of opportunities to let the People of Israel go; God only went through with the plagues because the Pharaoh was obstinate.

It was certainly not wrong for Jesus to drive out the money-changers from the Temple. (They were, after all, what we would call “scalpers”: they were making money off the poor pilgrims who were compelled by law to come to Jerusalem every Passover.)

So, you see, in none of these cases is the means a moral evil. Therefore, the principle that “the ends do no justify the means” does not apply.

(Scriptures scholars have struggled with the sacrifice of Isaac for millennia. God was not really “lying” to Abraham, however: He had promised unequivocally that Isaac would be Abraham’s heir. He commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but that is not a lie. God has the authority to test us, if He wishes to.)

This one in particular is not a moral evil on Jesus’ part. He allowed himself to be crucified, but he did not procure his own death. The moral evil was perpetrated by those who had him put to death. That evil was, in fact, not justified at all, which is why it had to be forgiven.

People who say that the ends justify the means are usually looking at a temporal, and self beneficial or culture beneficial, end, such as becoming wealthy, good in itself, or safety from terrorism, good in itself, as ends. But they want these ends inordinately, at any cost.

In Catholic teaching, our end is knowing ourselves good in union with our good God.

We understand that we cannot be ourselves good in our union with God if we seek to gain the presence of God through not-good acts - if we do those we are not good ourselves and then not suited for union with God. We will not be one with Him.

And we carry that understanding to every temporal good end we seek, knowing we cannot consider both ourselves good and the good end we seek as properly united if we are engaged in evil to gain that good. Good cannot be properly in union with evil - there is no true satisfaction of an end if it is procured with evil.

We see it, as Catholics, as a fact of life, that the ends do not justify the means, but instead a good person doing good obtains a good end. Jesus was a good person, doing good (sacrificing himself), to obtain a good end of our union with him by his union with us.

In Catholic moral teaching, both the chosen end and the chosen means must be moral. The expression “the end does not justify the means” rejects a morally-evil means chosen to obtain a morally good end.

Examples:

Euthanasia seeks the good end of relieving suffering by the evil means of killing an innocent.

Direct abortion to save the life of the mother seeks to save an innocent life, but by means of killing an innocent.

Of course, sometimes the end and the means are both morally evil. Other times the means is good by the end is evil.

All that we knowingly choose must be good to avoid sin: the end and the means, the intention, the type of act, and the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned.

Note the word “totality” here refers to the “on-balance” (foreseeable) consequences. Good acts may give rise to a set of consequences, some of which are not good.

Proportionalism is an erroneous version of ethics in which all the factors that affect morality are weighed, and if the good outweigh the bad, then the act is said to be justified. Veritatis Splendor condemns proportionalism.

However, in Catholic moral theology, the third font (consequences) is evaluated in just that way; the third font is proportional, weighing the good and bad effects of an act. If the good equals or outweighs the bad, then the third font is good. This is not proportionalism because the other two fonts are not evaluated in the same way; they are not proportional. Any bad intention makes an act a sin. Any evil in the moral object makes the act a sin.

A good intended end (first font) does not justify the deliberate choice of an inherently bad act (second font).

Correct.

Exactly. In fact the ends are all important for the morality of an act. Ends means the goal or purpose. Is cutting a man in the stomach right or wrong? It is right if the cutting is part of a surgery. It is wrong if it is in the commission of a robbery. In a very real sense the ends do justify the means. The phrase is catchy, but it would be better to say something like ‘an immoral act is not justified by a moral goal’.

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