The Lesser of Two Evils Principle: Myth or Biblical?
- Hope Bolinger Author
- 2020 8 Dec
“I voted for the lesser of two evils.” “I chose the lesser of two evil options.” “Sometimes you just have to pick the lesser of two evils.” We likely have heard or have said one of these phrases in the past year. With the world becoming increasingly dicier, and with this past election season, many of us had to choose between what we deemed was the lesser of two evils. But does this phrase show up anywhere in the Bible?
Similar to the phrases “time heals all wounds,” and “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” we can’t find anywhere in Scripture that says, “When you have a difficult decision to make, choose the lesser of two evils.” In this article, we’ll dive into the origins of the phrase, whether this saying holds up against what the Bible says, and whether we should really choose between the lesser of two evils.
What Does the Lesser of Two Evils Mean?
The meaning of “the lesser of two evils” essentially signifies that a person, when faced with a tough choice between two bad choices, must pick the less-evil thing. By human standards, we do have different punishments for different sins. We know that someone who robbed a store will get less jail time than someone who committed manslaughter.
This phrase appears when we have to make a tough call. Maybe we have to decide between lying or stealing. Or perhaps we have two choose between two politicians whom we believe to be corrupt.
No matter what the case, this phrase essentially says that evil has a hierarchy and that, when applicable, we need to choose the lesser of the sins.
Origin of ‘the Lesser of Two Evils’
Since this phrase didn’t originate in the Bible, when did it first enter our lingo? Although we don’t know the exact origins, we do know that an Ancient Greek poem contained a similar mantra to this phrase, according to Dictionary.com. It entered the English lingo in the 1300s thanks to Chaucer and his Troilus and Cressida. The phrase doesn’t seem to have gone in and out of style, but instead, remains evergreen. We’ve continued to use this phrase throughout the centuries with great regularity.
After all, we often do find ourselves, for lack of better terms, in a pickle. At times it seems as though we have to choose an evil option. But do we really? What does the Bible have to say about rock-and-a-hard-place situations?
Is the “Lesser of Two Evils” Biblical?
In short, no, we don’t see this phrase appear throughout the Bible. Even though humans have a hierarchy for sin, we have to remember that all sins earn a person eternal separation from God. After all, his holiness would obliterate our tainted natures. God sees all sin as the same: sin. The separation tool that divides man from being in eternal paradise with the Creator.
Scripture seems to indicate the complete opposite of this phrase, in fact.
James 4:17: “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
1 Thessalonians 5:22: “Abstain from every form of evil.”
1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
In short, the lesser of two evils presents a false dichotomy. Even though it may seem as though we must pick a course of action that will lead to sin, we often have a “way of escape” as 1 Corinthians indicates. Often this “escape route” doesn’t look very pleasant to us. For instance, it may require us to say a difficult truth to someone instead of a lie. It may result in an unfavorable outcome for us. Or if we had chosen to live sinfully, the “escape” may look like a punishment for our previous actions. But Scripture makes it clear, we should abstain from every form of evil. Yes, even so-called “lesser evils.”
The lesser evil conundrum also enters a slippery slope, philosophically speaking. If we choose to base our morality on what we think is evil or less evil, rather than what Scripture says, our “lesser evil” may look totally different than another person’s lesser evil. For instance, let’s say I think gossip is a “lesser evil,” but my friend “Stacey” believes gossip to be a greater evil. Then we’ve reached an impasse that could ruin our friendship. We have to rely on what the Bible says. And Scripture tells us to avoid evil.
Should We Vote for the ‘Lesser of Two Evils?’
This, of course, brings up the awkward question of if we should vote for “the lesser of two evils,” meaning we believe all candidates in an election to be corrupt in nature. But we choose the one who has beliefs closely aligned with ours. Many of us faced this choice this past election season, and we will, no doubt, encounter it again in the future.
To best answer this question, I highly recommend reading this article by Rachel Dawson. The article in which I write now cannot cover the depth needed for this hot-button issue. With that said, I encourage everyone, as Dawson does, to analyze the motives behind what you cast in the voting booth. Make sure to pray for discernment and ask God for the correct course of action. When it comes to voting, we may have entered a sacrificed-meat-to-idols situation that Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians 8. The correct decision may look like someone abstaining from a vote. Another correct decision may be someone voting based on the Holy Spirit’s guidance. First and foremost, go to God in prayer so that you may make a decision according to his will.
What Does the Bible Say about the 'Lesser of Two Evils?'
Since Scripture does not advocate for us choosing the lesser of two evils, what does it say about the nature of evil in general?
Isaiah 5:20: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”
We will encounter many people who call evil good and good evil. In such cases, we must refrain from the mindset of this world and turn to the words of Scripture. Although God has a purpose for us here on Earth, we must not forget to run the race of life well.
God hates evil. And as Christians (our name meaning “little Christ) we strive to become more like God. Therefore, we must hate evil as well and avoid it at all costs.
Ephesians 6:12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
This verse, which inspired Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness, reminds us that every day spiritual war wages around us. We fight against the forces of evil on a daily basis. This means that when faced with a false dichotomy of “the lesser of two evils” that we choose to do good. We choose to follow the paths of righteousness, even if, at first glance, we don’t like the outcome of where that decision will lead.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Bulat Silvia
Hope Bolinger is an acquisitions editor at End Game Press, and the author 21+ books. More than 1400 of her works have been featured in various publications. Check out her books at hopebolinger.com for clean books in most genres, great for adults and kids.