This week’s commentary comes from Good Word out of the School of Theology at Walla Walla University. The audio of this conversation can be found on the Good Word website here.
Host: David Thomas
Guests:Brant Berglin and Jenniffer Ogden
Memory Text: “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15, NKJV).
Opening Question: Is human choice something real, or is it a figment or our imaginations, merely a way of speaking?
The lesson this week invites us to have a look at the whole question of humans and choice-making. There has been, and there continues to be, no small amount of debate about the human capacity and the human liberty to make choices. There are some who argue that humans do not really have the latitude to make real choices for, in their opinion, we are driven by our social conditioning or by our bio-chemistry. The way you answer this question has a profound effect on what you think about human responsibility for, if I am not free to make real choices, how can I then be held accountable for my actions? If choice is somehow pre-determined, then how can a person be held accountable for their subsequent actions? On the other hand, if we are free to choose, just how free are we?
It does not take very much reading in the Bible to discover that, from the perspective of scripture, humans not only have broad latitude to choose, they also have to face the reality of whatever consequences come to them subsequent to the decisions made. The story of Genesis 3, and the memory text for this week are well-known places where decision-making is apparent in the Bible, the second item being that great and challenging story of Joshua drawing a proverbial line in the sand declaring that he and his family would “follow the Lord,” thereby challenging others to join with him.
One matter linked to volition is love. It is worth spending some time thinking about love and choice. Can love exist without choice, or is love something volitional that can only exist subsequent to choice? In other words, can you be required to love someone? Or is love something that you risk and give after you have chosen to love? It seems the second option is the viable one. And, since love comes after choice, since it is something that grows after a willing choice, the matter of choice becomes very significant. And, if God is love and wants a universe that responds out of live and in love, then the freedom to choose has to be held sacred. All this, and several items more, make decision-making into something of great significance to Christians.
One question that comes up right away is that of making “right” choices. Of course, some questions are quite easy to answer while some are very difficult especially when we are faced with circumstances where two high-level values clash. Furthermore, there is the issue of consequences. Hopefully, we learn quickly that every choice brings with it a set of consequences. Those who want to live well need, then, to make decisions that bring good consequences into their lives. A person who does that for the whole of life is likely to find themselves in very good circumstances, living well. They are likely to reach old age with a host of good consequences accrued to their lives, something they would be foolish to exchange for the mere potentiality of youthfulness.
With all this in mind, a pressing question arises. How does one go about making good choices? How does one make sure they are making the kinds of choices that bring good consequences into their lives? Key to good decision-making is the question of reference points. What reference points does a person use when making decisions, good ones? Several suggestions are below:
- Reference points that are outside the human self are often the best ones.
- Consult the scriptures to see if there are any guiding principles that might aid in decision-making.
- Consult with older and wiser people. We all have the option of either learning by observing and listening to others or getting our leaning by our own experiences. The first kind of learning is very inexpensive while the second can be very expensive.
- Progress through the decision-making process looking for convictions to grow rather than for signs that supposedly give an indication which way to go. Convictions are things that grow after thought and analysis and prayer and consultation while signs are singular events in time that do not require thought but only observation and immediate interpretation. While asking for signs might seem to be a good way to get the clearest indication of which way to go, it is often the case that the first thing a sign-seeker asks for when the sign they have sought materializes, is to ask for another one to confirm the first one. Gideon in the Old Testament would be a notable example of this.
- Discuss how one can find good reference points in life, established to enable good decision-making.
- Discuss how to go about choosing and nurturing good friends. What benefits accrue to you if you have good friends? What is the outcome of having bad friends?
- How would you go about choosing a husband or wife? What might you do in order to find yourself in a good marriage relationship?
- Give some thought and have some discussion about choosing a course in life. How can you best make decisions about a life-course, a profession, a plan for your life?
David Thomas is Professor of Practical Theology & Apologetics. He has been a member of the faculty at WWU since the summer of 2001. He served as Dean of the School of Theology for seventeen years (2001-2018). He is now focused on full-time teaching and writing.
Photo from Pexels.
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