A Catch 22?

To be caught in a “Catch 22” situation is to find yourself in a dilemma where you are left with no right decisions or choices. That is, “if I do this, it is bad, and if I do the opposite, it is also bad.” It is frequently used as an excuse for wrong choices in life. It is used to excuse sin.

The phrase “Catch 22” comes from a 1961 novel by that title written by a war protestor, Joseph Heller. In the story, an Air Force bombardier wants to get out of flying a dangerous mission by having himself diagnosed as insane. So he volunteers to be evaluated by the flight surgeon. The result of the test is that he is sane, and must fly, since no sane person would volunteer to be judged insane. As a result, he must fly the mission whether he gets the evaluation or not. There’s no way out, and he is left with two choices—both are bad.

It was not only the 1960s revolution that brought about this faulty logic. It is common even for Christian people to think, when faced with choices in life, that there is no right way out. Temptations are deemed overwhelming. Sin becomes a necessity. Many martyrs surely had to deal with this situation: “Do I deny the Christian faith, or do I subject myself to death and leave my wife and children behind?” In WWII, that dilemma came to those who were harboring Jews in their attic. “Do I lie, or do I tell the truth and have them and myself killed?”

Severe temptations come to all of us in our daily lives. How do we deal with decisions that appear to have no right answer? Our God graciously gives us an answer. It begins with a warning: “Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). In 1 Corinthians 10:13a, we read, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man.” Paul is here telling us, not just that all men will be tempted, but that our particular situation is never an exception which allows us to do something sinful. Others have faced similar situations. Many Israelites failed when they were tempted (10:6­–11), and it is recorded as a warning and example to us. When tempted, we would like to think that our situation is a unique exception. Think of Abraham who was called to sacrifice Isaac. He obeyed God.

In our day, we are often left with the decision where, “if I do this, I will be miserable, and if I do something else I will be sinning against God.” Unfortunately we often opt for avoiding our own misery when it comes right down to it. Is there not a right thing to do when tempted? Are we really caught in a “Catch 22”?

God also answers that apparent dilemma for us when He says, “… but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13b). Over time, we have been pretty good at excusing our sin as “doing what is best for us at the time.” We may conclude that God does not want us to be miserable, so therefore a wrong action can fall under the heading of “doing the will of God.” Such an action will require no repentance, but never give us peace.

The key to unlocking such a dilemma is to focus on the faithfulness of God. He will never place us in a situation where both choices are wrong. God is faithful to never allow his children to face a temptation that leaves no choice but to commit a sin. The way of escape is to trust and obey God, without placing ourselves above the will of God or assuming that a sin is actually the will of God. It may well be that we will pay for the decision with our very lives. But God has provided everlasting life for us through Jesus Christ.

After all, it was our Lord who was faced with temptations three times as He began His ministry. Would He accede to the temptations of the Devil or would He remain perfectly obedient? His answer to each enticement was to go to the Scriptures and rely on those promises and commands. God is faithful.

Should we do any less? When faced with decisions we must inevitably make, the immediate outcome may not always be pleasant for us. But what will bring peace to our hearts and glory to God is when we choose to do the will of God as He reveals it to us in His Word. In every situation there is a right thing to do.

What greater comfort do we have when we think we are caught in a “no win” situation than to be faithful to a God who has declared and shown that “He is faithful” and will preserve us forever.

PHT, Modesto, CA

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