Maybe in my old age I’m getting wistful, but lately I’ve been thinking a bit about choices I’ve made over the years. And why some of them have been repetitive… good and bad. Especially in light of our series Perfect Takes Practice that Joe Boyd wrapped up this weekend.
Just prior to his death, Moses addressed the nation of Israel. They were about to enter into some real estate that God had promised years before. Moses knew that the only way they would be successful in settling it would be if they continually chose to live for God and follow His ways. Sadly, he also knew prophetically they would not. And so with a philosophical “Whatever...”, he gives them a simple encouragement regarding their choices:
“… I have set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Oh, that you would choose life; that you and your children might live! Choose to love the Lord your God and to obey him and to cling to him, for he is your life and the length of your days.” Deuteronomy 30:19, 20 Living Bible
A few verses earlier he put it even more succinctly. To paraphrase, “Because you are made in God’s image, you have this remarkable ability to choose between life and prosperity or death and destruction.” Living our lives for God and the resulting wholeness is a continual string of choices. Moses is simply saying that a full life is largely about choices.
C. S. Lewis made a classic comment about this in his little book Mere Christianity that has stuck with me for decades:
“…every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.”
With that in mind, consider the absolutely PC-less comment Jesus made to a hurting man in Jerusalem:
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda (Bethesda means “the house of kindness”) and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?" John 5:1-6.
Excuse me, but shouldn’t that have been obvious? Really? After all, wasn’t the man at the “healing waters” of the House of Kindness?
Get the picture: There could have been hundreds of people lying about this natural spring waiting to be healed. The rumor was that the water rippled ever so often when a supernatural being touched it…and the first ones in would get healed. When Jesus arrived, he headed for one person in particular, a man disabled for nearly forty years. His muscles would have atrophied to the bone. It’s obvious what’s wrong, but there was something deeper. And so Jesus gets to the core of the problem with a simple question: “Do you want to get well?” There is a flash of divine psychoanalysis. “You need to be whole. Do you want to be whole?”
As harsh as this may sound, many of us have problems that we don’t want to get rid of. There are varieties of Biblical ways to get rid of them: restitution, forgiveness, confession, repentance and so on. All of them require being painfully honest. I feel on a regular basis that God asks me, “Do you really want to get well?” There are those of us who will not—do not want—to be healed of our emotional stuff. Our identity may be wrapped up in our problem. “I have a right to feel like this…this person hurt me deeply…this employer stiffed me…” It gives us an excuse for certain behaviors. Some of us would have very little to talk about if it wasn’t for it.
When I was a little kid, if I got sick enough to stay home from school, mom had a routine. For some reason, Campbell’s chicken noodle soup and a laxative were always involved. It didn’t matter if you fell off the playground slide and your collarbone poked through your skin, you had to take laxative. For mom, it was like “digestive bloodletting”. But she also had this wonderful tradition of going to the corner drugstore and buying a comic book for me to read while she worked if I was sick at home. Sometimes I’d just act sick to get a new comic book, in spite of the laxative.
For some of us, that becomes a way of life. A pattern for identity that we carry throughout our adult lives. I’ve learned there’s always a question whispered behind the choices I make. And those questions reveal more about the Real Me and the choices I make than anything else. Further, those questions expose the depth of wholeness I actually desire with my Father.
And despite how we may want to redefine heaven and hell, it seems they still have more to do with our choices than we dare to admit.
I think many of us would find it easier to blame God.