The RMS Titanic was the largest ocean liner of its day. It was four times the size of the ships that set the standard when laws regarding lifeboats were written. So the company provided the legally required number of lifeboats when it set off on its maiden voyage in April 1914. There was room on the ship for more, and the company fully intended to supply the “extra” lifeboats when the law required it. But on that fateful day, they knowingly (and legally) set off for New York with one-fourth the lifeboats they knew they needed.
When the boat struck an iceberg and sank, 25 percent of the passengers were saved. One-fourth. Maybe “the letter of the law” was not a sufficient moral ruler on that occasion.
We get angry with corporate executives who excuse their behavior, which may have resulted in horrible job losses or crippling lawsuits, by saying simply, “We did nothing wrong. We operated fully within the boundaries of the law.” Well, those are two different things. You may or may not have stayed within the law. But the law is not a guarantor of morality. Never has been.
God’s law, which defines morality objectively, is somewhat different. But even so, we can struggle with the urge to “check boxes” in such a way as to absolve ourselves of blame in God’s eyes (or at least in our own) but leave undone a possible and needful work of service.
Our choices should not be about “Will God send me to hell for this?” but rather about finding ways to do the right thing in every circumstance — or as Paul phrases it in Ephesians 5:10, “trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” If we are consumed with finding enough lifeboats for those who may need them, the law will take care of itself.