Some of the most difficult ethical dilemmas occur when people are forced to decide between the demands of competing authorities. What happens when the state demands one thing and Scripture requires the opposite? Peter and John had no trouble making such a decision when the Sanhedrin told them to stop preaching in the name of Jesus; they boldly proclaimed, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). When any human authority requires the Christian to sin against God, this must be his answer. But what of those who are not Christians? How do they resolve such a dilemma? One of the classic treatments of this subject is Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone, the latest addition to the literature website. The play asks the reader to choose which is more important, loyalty to the government or loyalty to the gods, and the decision is complicated by the fact that both sides of the question involve responsibility to the family. The central characters in the play both stake out extreme positions – Creon, the king, insists that the good of the state must take priority, even if this necessitates violating the decrees of the gods, while Antigone maintains that any human demand must take a back seat to divine standards. The playwright provides an ambiguous ending – both extremists suffer for their choices, leaving the audience to decide what path is the right one. Unlike the situation in today’s society, where many are very willing to reject both the authority of God and that of the state, Sophocles assumes that both forms of authority are valid. An increasing number of people today are left with no real authority beyond their own feelings or popular opinion, but for the Christian, the authority must always be the Word of God, which does not change with the shifting winds of human thought and feeling.
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