“Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers…” (Ps 1:1-3)
We live with the consequences of our choices, don’t we? Whether for good or ill, we make our beds and then lie in them. Erich Fromm’s comment on relationship makes the same point: “Love is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision.”
So what do you choose? How do you decide?
The Bible –like life itself– is full of these moments of choosing: ”Choose today whom you will serve.” “Repent and believe. “
A classic choice- moment headlines the book of Psalms. My Bible titles Psalm 1: “The Two Ways.” Here we have both choice and consequence, in elegantly phrased picture-language.
The consequence is spelt out in unerring detail. What is the consequence of settling in to let God’s Word take centre-stage? That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers. It’s a picture of fruitfulness, permanence, solidity. And, er, the others? “Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand…”
The Bible makes no doubt about the starkness of that divide: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” (Deut 30:19) Choose life! Who wouldn’t? And yet the Psalm rings true. History is littered with the debris of wrong choices, and our own personal histories too lack the fruitfulness which the Psalmist promises. Why is that? Because our choices are often poorly made.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Prv 14:12)
And Jesus pointed out that this choice of life was by no means a foregone conclusion or even a popular one: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt 7:13-14)
Paul used the metaphor of a harvest to describe how our choosing today has consequences tomorrow:
“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Gal 6: 7,8)
Do you see the analogy drawn between the natural world and the spiritual world? Imagine an author who wrote two books on quite different subjects, but whose style was evident in both. And if the visible and invisible worlds are like two books written by the same hand, then they are marked by the same idea. Or –to put it somewhat differently –they are one book, separated and simplified to make it possible for our little brains to take it in! But everything connects. And one idea – one connective principle- integrates the whole in one complex system.
Jesus taught in just this way. He assumed that connectedness and so read God’s will in the laws of nature. Will God give his Spirit to those that ask? Just take a look at the birds and the flowers and learn from them the answer. As if he was saying “It’s pretty obvious to those who just understand how nature works.” That is to say: there was a principle there: God supplies the wants which he has created. He feeds the birds – he clothes the flowers – and so he will look after those who seek him. Fruitfulness is guaranteed if we choose Him.
Paul does the same in Galatians 6. He tells us that there is a law in nature according to which success is proportionate to the effort spent on the work, both in kind and in degree. You plant apples, you get apples. Not oranges. Celebrity footballers do not necessarily make good gameshow hosts! (With all due respect to Gary Lineker) They’ve planted differently in their lives! And it depends on how much you give: a little gets a little. The hardworking student passes the exams. The principle of cause and effect is straightforward enough. But then –and this is interesting- he offers the spiritual dimension. And I have the conviction that if I just got a grasp of this principle, it would save me –and maybe you- a whole world of bother and disappointment.
Ready? Here it is: you get to choose what you do with your life. You decide where, what and how much effort you put into the things that you choose.
And whatever you plant, you reap.
And we are not only the farmers of our own lives, but the planters and harvesters of our fellow humans too.
I have a dogmatic certainty:
God is in every person’s life.
God is in everyone’s life.
Even if the life of a person has been a disaster,
even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else
—God is in this person’s life.
You can, you must
try to seek God in every human life.
Although the life of a person is
a land full of thorns and weeds,
there is always a space in which the good seed can grow.
You have to trust God.