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I am interested in the Christian and biblical view about when it is right to do something wrong in order to prevent something worse from happening.

This question is mainly inspired by a documentary I saw about scam baiting.

Scam baiters aim to trick the typical internet scammer (think Nigerian prince who wants to transfer large sums of money into your bank account!). They pretend to be naive, foolish and gullible internet users that fall for scams. Their aim is simply to waste the scammer's time and resources, even in some cases tricking the scammer into actually flying to another country in order to transfer money which of course is non-existent.

In the documentary the scam baiters did present some compelling moral arguments for their actions. For example, if they are successful at "scamming the scammer" then the scammer may start losing confidence, and therefore in the future may be less likely to succeed when they encounter a real gullible individual. Or the scammer may just give up altogether and get another job etc.

However, entertainment also seems to be quite a motivating factor for these people as well.

I can certainly understand the anger people have towards scammers -- for example just recently an elderly man was tricked out of $140K:

Victim loses $140,000 in love scam

But the flip side of scam baiting is that you yourself are essentially lying and deceiving, far more so than a simple "white lie".

So, my question is, from a Christian/Biblical point of view, is an activity where a lesser evil has a potential to prevent a greater evil OK or not OK? Or should we take the probably less effective route of simply chastising the scammers and not play their game? Or should we simply do nothing, other than trying to educate the people that fall for these scams?

I am sure there are other examples where this question is applicable but scam baiting is the one that I am thinking of at the moment.

Just to make it clear I am not asking for opinions about the issue but for an interpretation of Christian tenets applied to this problem.

Further links:

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marked as duplicate by Andrew Leach, Jayarathina Madharasan, warren, Flimzy, Narnian Apr 9 at 14:13

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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This is very closely related to Are white lies sometime justified?. The essence and spirit of the questions are pretty much identical. –  David Stratton Apr 7 at 23:09

3 Answers 3

For those that are not pacifists, which would encompass the majority of those churches which claim Christian beliefs, the obvious answer would be a cautious 'yes'. The reason why this must be so is that if you believe it lawful to be a soldier waging war against an enemy state, deception and trickery are a vital part of warfare. Being an undercover spy for example, necessitates constant lying and this can easily be backed up (at least for a just war) in the case of Rahab the spy.

By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. (NIV, Hebrews 11:31)

Joseph who at first deceived his brothers when they came to buy grain, might be another arguable example.

Rahab lying to the Canaanite army under cover so to speak as a harlot-hostess of a tavern, being considered as a 'hero' of faith provides a clear example of such a scenario. However, we should keep this as a 'cautious' yes because one must honestly evaluate a given situation and have the conscience clear that an appearance of external sin, is actually righteousness. In other words does the situation truly call for a sheep in wolves clothing? In many cases it might just be a vain assumption that any mere appearance of good justifies an actual deceitful desire. The truth is that the Bible leaves most all detailed decisions to our own conscience based on broad biblical principles and promises the Spirit to guide us if we fully rely on his word as a light to our path. Furthermore, when we doubt the legitimacy of a particular case, not knowing how to act, we may find more clarity through prayer until our conscience is persuaded one way or the other. In general, deception can't be used for good as lying is by nature devilish:

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (NIV, John 8:44)

However, again back to the case of Rahab lying for God, this was good given the situation.

With respect to the specific scenario that you painted about 'scamming-scammers' one would not be wise to pronounce an absolute judgment either way and we must accommodate the potential motives of each private person as well as specific circumstances of the events. Man looks at the outside but God looks at the heart. For example, what if there was a person who knew a godly old lady that was scammed her life savings and by coincidence fell into the same scam. What if that person was smart enough to scam the scammer and it actually lead to an arrest and return of the funds to the godly old women. Well who would say it was wrong? But on the other hand what about a dare-devil teenager that is just looking for a way to get some satisfaction of being 'smarter' then a scammer. Nothing more then an ego and a lust for lying motivating him to the trade of scamming. Who would admire such behaviour and call it a work that glorifies God?

Even when the principle is established that deception is sometimes justified for a greater real good (like with Rahab) it does not mean that all deception for apparent good, are either always right, or always wrong. Personal motive and circumstances must always be factored into a sober judgment and evaluation in order to maintain a genuine clear conscience in the sight of a pure loving God who treats all souls equally under his infinite eye.

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The question appears to be: Is it ok to deceive the deceiver? NO.

Proverbs 14:8
The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way, but the folly of fools is deceit.

Romans 12:21
Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

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Your question carries the implicit assumption that all false statements are sin. I challenge that assumption.

The Ten Commandments do not say "do not lie", certainly not "do not ever say anything that isn't true", but "do not bear false witness". Many commentators I have read say that the original Hebrew literally means, "do not give false testimony in court", or perhaps is intended more broadly to mean "do not make false accusations". It's a very, very long way from "don't accuse your neighbor of murder just because you think everyone of his skin color is probably a criminal anyway" to "don't tell your wife that you liked the dinner she made when you really didn't".

God specifically told people to make false statements on at least several occasions. For example, in Exodus 8, God tells Moses to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelis go for a 3 day journey to make a sacrifice. The clear implication is that they will then come back, but clearly they had no intention of doing so. On several occasions Jesus tells people that he has healed not to tell anyone. In many contexts not telling the truth is considered the equivalent of lying.

The classic example always given is: Suppose you are standing in some public place and someone runs into the room and hides in a closet. Just as you are wondering about this puzzling behavior, an obviously crazed person carrying a gun comes in and says to you, "Where is she? Do you know where she is? I'm going to kill her!" Is the morally correct thing to do to say, "I cannot tell a lie. Your intended victim is hiding in the closet over there"? I have heard people insist that the morally correct, Christian thing to do is to reveal the hiding location, because while this may facilitate a murder, at least you are not compounding the sin by adding lying to it. Excuse me, but no.

Or to take an opposite extreme of seriousness, if you were playing a board game or a card game with a group of friends, and someone asked you to reveal information that the game rules says you are allowed to keep secret, I do not believe it would be a sin to refuse to answer or to say, "You want to know what my cards are? Okay, I have four Aces."

How many parents have told their child that the dog ran away when really they had him euthanized because he was suffering from some incurable disease? Is that untruth to spare the feelings of a child a sin? I don't think so.

All that said, on a broader scale, there are many actions that, by a literal interpretation of the law, would be considered sins, but that I really really doubt God would condemn you for.

For example, suppose that a crazed gunman takes a bunch of people hostage and starts shooting them one by one when his demands are not met. You are one of the hostages. At some point the gunman gets tired and carelessly puts down his gun and looks the other way for a moment. In that instant you grab the gun. Assuming that he acquired the gun legally, then technically you are stealing when you take his gun. I can't imagine the police arresting you for stealing and ordering you to give the gun back.

I can imagine plenty of situations that I consider morally difficult. Suppose you knew that if you sent a sexy female spy to seduce a member of a terrorist group, she could likely get information from him that would allow you to prevent a terrorist attack and save dozens, maybe hundreds of lives. Would one adultery be justified to prevent a hundred murders? I can't give a clear Biblical or logical argument either way on that one.

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