I like to believe if push came to shove, I would stand upon my convictions and abide by my morals, but there’s always the nagging question in the back of my mind: what if I wouldn’t?
If it came down to my life, would I compromise?
If it came down to the life of someone I loved, would I compromise?
I’m an avid fan of Jordan Peterson’s YouTube lectures, and in one he discussed his concern with the modern philosophy of superiority to individuals in the past. He says if you cannot acknowledge your own potential for evil, instead refusing to admit it, you are blind. If you cannot admit that under some circumstance, you might have become a Nazi, you have too high an opinion of yourself.
That thought strikes us with such abhorrence, most of you shuddered. “No,” you’re thinking, “I could never have become a Nazi.” Well, Peter also swore he could never deny Christ three times. And, when it came to it, he compromised, because that’s what people who want to save their mortal lives do: they do whatever it takes to live. This makes martyrs extraordinary—they have such perfect faith in whatever they will die for, it stands out from the rest of humanity. (Peter later died a martyr… quite a change from that brash, impulsive man who denied his martyr prophet, huh? It is proof anyone can change if they believe enough.)
I hadn’t given this topic a lot of recent thought until I watched Banished on Amazon Prime. It caught my eye because it’s a costume drama and they’re the air I breathe. But as each hour unfolded, I realized the theme of the series is compromise. Morals. Beliefs. Bodies. The characters seek it, they barter themselves away to receive it, and they all sacrifice an element of themselves.
The pastor’s wife compromises her beliefs, to find peace—her religion does not provide immediate closure for her miscarriages in the way a local “witch” can through her séances.
A young woman compromises her body, to keep her lover alive—and, as her rapist opens up to her and shows physical restraint, she compromises her feelings in thinking more positively toward him and growing away from the man she loves.
Another woman compromises her body, to save the man she loves—and only winds up causing his later downfall. She asserts that she will never sleep with a soldier. What does she do within the same hour? Sleep with a soldier to reach out to her lover!
The governor asserts a moral stance, then compromises it to keep control. The letter-writer for the penal colony compromises the truth to comfort rather than hurt. A soldier compromises his self-respect out of loneliness and despair. Another soldier compromises his ethics, to avoid being shot himself. A man compromises his life, to punish another for an insult and abuse. A man compromises his integrity, to avoid his own death. A man backtracks on a promise he made, to stay alive. Two men forever compromise their friendship, to find out the truth… and administer “justice” in the name of self-preservation.
It is a series of tough choices in which almost everyone chooses self-preservation, as humanity often does. Though it pains them, it’s an admission of their own brokenness and their need to survive. Jesus was not immune to this instinct when he prayed for God to remove the burden of impending death from Him in the Garden. But, he also said, there is no greater love than for a man to die for his friends. And, some characters compromise their bodies to defend their loved ones.
The reverend in Banished often remarks on how the criminal Tommy Barrett resembles Christ, due to his willingness to die for his friends. At a crucial point, when a friend tells him the only difference between them is Tommy has “courage,” Tommy shakes his head. “No,” he says, “I have love. I would have died for you, but you will not die for me.”
Hopefully, none of us will ever face a life or death choice that demands we compromise our moral center, but we face it on minor levels each day—in how we treat one another, in what we allow to go unaddressed in our lives, in the small “sins” we enjoy, and in our desire to please ourselves. God does not demand perfection from us; that’s unattainable… but He sent Christ to exhibit an ideal. Love one another as you love yourselves.
And, as with all things, He leaves us to decide what that looks like…