WARNING: Spoilers ahead for a manga and the associated anime that ended six years ago. Just saying.
In volume 22-23 of the manga, Alphonse Elric had a secret up his metallic sleeve. He had a philosopher’s stone. He pulls it out in order to help defeat, or at least stall, the homunculus known as Pride. As he’s able to stall them and knock both him and the powerful, evil Alchemist named Kimblee. Alphonse is able to temporarily imprison Pride and defeat Kimblee. While standing before each other, knowing he is evenly matched Kimblee asks Alphonse why he does not merely use the power of the philosopher’s stone to restore his body, restore his brother, and just disappear. He could get away from all this, he could be fully healed. Alphonse looks at Kimblee saying that it helps no one but himself and that he is unwilling to selfishly use the power. He refused to believe he had to give up helping and saving others before helping himself. He believed he could harness the power for good outside of himself.
Now, a step back needs to be taken. As a reminder for those who have not read the manga or watched the anime series, Philosopher’s Stones are created by murdering people and trapping their very souls within the stone. Alphonse did no such thing, he was given the stone. But, in the end Alphonse knows full well that the power of the stone is based on the many people whose lives were stolen from them to create it. In this scene he shows an unwillingness to use the power which was created by others from the lives of others to help himself. While he does effectively reject the temptation of a quick fix to save himself off the lives of others, he is still willing to use the ill gotten power for what he feels to be a good ends.
In life there are many temptations to drive us away from what we should be doing. We have offers of money, of power, of easy access to sex. Are these offers going to actually help you? Hurt you? Help others? Hurt others? Avoid responsibility? You may be offered an incredibly high paying job, but you will be working 100 hours a week and never see your family or go to church again. Is that a life worth living? Was that worth the money? You may be offered power, easy access to people in positions of power – but in order to gain said access there are unsavory tasks you must complete, people who must be squashed. Even if you do end up doing the right thing with the power you were given, was your path justified? Did the ends justify the means?
From a Biblical perspective, doing evil is still doing evil even if, in the end, you do good with the power you were given. We need to reject these offers outright as Paul reminds us in Romans 3:8. The perfect example of this comes from Jesus.
In the Gospels (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13) we see the story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by Satan. For 40 days, Jesus fasted and was tempted with food, money, and ultimate power. He rejected it all. Jesus could have been given ultimate authority right then and there on Earth. He said no. He could have been given the food His body needed right then and there, He said no. It seems odd to us that Christ could even be tempted by such things knowing full well that He is God from a Biblical viewpoint. Yet, He was also fully man; a man who had not eaten for 40 days. Starvation takes its toll on a person’s body. Matthew Henry, in his commentary on Matthew 4:1-11 wrote:
Concerning Christ’s temptation, observe, that directly after he was declared to be the Son of God, and the Saviour of the world, he was tempted; great privileges, and special tokens of Divine favour, will not secure any from being tempted. But if the Holy Spirit witness to our being adopted as children of God, that will answer all the suggestions of the evil spirit. Christ was directed to the combat. If we presume upon our own strength, and tempt the devil to tempt us, we provoke God to leave us to ourselves. Others are tempted, when drawn aside of their own lust, and enticed…but our Lord Jesus had no corrupt nature, therefore he was tempted only by the devil. In the temptation of Christ it appears that our enemy is subtle, spiteful, and very daring; but he can be resisted. It is a comfort to us that Christ suffered, being tempted; for thus it appears that our temptations, if not yielded to, are not sins, they are afflictions only. Satan aimed in all his temptations, to bring Christ to sin against God.
All are tempted, but not all of us succeed in resisting. Now, the question is – did Alphonse succeed in resisting the temptation of using the power forged by the murder of many? Yes and no. He chose not to use the power on himself selfishly, but he still used the power of murdered people. He still used an artifact created by evil. If Jesus had given in to Satan and ruled as a just King on Earth, would the ends have justified the means? Of course not. Same here. Alphonse may have had a noble end in mind, but the means were still evil. Doing evil so good may one day triumph still means you committed evil. Noble intentions do not overcome the use of evil.
Would I have done the same thing in Alphonse’s steel shoes? I’d like to think I would not and would instead choose to try to destroy the stone finding some way to free the souls within. Yet, I know I’m not that perfect, I’m not that incorruptible. Absolute power like that is hard to resist. Luckily, I have the strength of the Spirit within me and a Savior who willingly died for my sinful nature to reconcile me to God. Even so, I am thankful I have never been put into such a situation…