We all make choices. Each and every day of our lives, we choose things like what to eat, what to wear, where to go, how to get there and almost an infinite number of other things. As Christians living in the developed world, we have more choices than we know what to do with.
For thousands of years, philosophers and theologians have discussed the extent and limits of human choice. Some have argued that we have no real choices because every aspect of our lives has been predetermined by fate, destiny or something similar. Others have argued that we have unlimited choices and that we have the power to choose anything we want.
Like most things, I tend to think the truth lies somewhere in the middle – we have choices but those choices have limits. Ultimately, only God is totally free to choose. The rest of us are restricted by our genetic makeup (nature), our upbringing and past experiences (nurture), our physical restrictions and the way in which we perceive the world around us. It all gets pretty complicated, and while I’m not able to fully explore the idea of choice in this message, I’m always happy to discuss it with people more if you’d like.
No matter how we might perceive the extent or limits of human choice, the reading from Deuteronomy 30:15-20 reminds us that we have choices. Moses was addressing the Israelites at the end of their forty-year wandering in the wilderness. He was just about to leave them and hand over to Joshua to lead them into the Promised Land. Earlier in Deuteronomy, Moses had reminded the Israelites that they are the people God has chosen for his own (see 4:37, 7:6, 7:7, 10:15, 14:2). In this part of his address, Moses tells the Israelites that God was placing before them two different ways to move into their future. One way would lead to life with goodness and blessings. The other to death with evil and curses (vv15,19). I really don’t think Moses was threatening them if they make the wrong choice. He was just telling them how it is. One path would lead them to walk with God who creates and sustains all life with his goodness and blessing. The other path would lead them away from God, to the absence of good, along with curses and ultimately death.
In our time and place, with the emphasis our culture places on our freedom and rights to make choices, it is important for us to listen to what God is saying to us through Moses. There are choices we make which lead us down roads that are good or evil because they have consequences for ourselves and for the people around us. These choices either create and grow life in us and in others, or they impede, damage or even end life in us or in the people around us. For a lot of choices that we make, we need to understand and accept that they can result in either life or death, good or evil, blessings or curses, for ourselves and for other people.
Moses helps us to make choices which bring God’s goodness, blessings and life to us and to the people around us by saying that we can choose life by loving the Lord our God, listening to his voice and clinging to him (v20, my translation).
When we are living in the reality of the perfect and infinite love of God for us in Jesus, we can love God for his goodness, grace and love which frees us from sin, death and the power of evil. Trusting in the love of Jesus will help us to naturally make choices that lead to life. Through faith in the self-sacrificing love of Jesus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can learn from Jesus how make choices that are based on love, choosing what is good and finding God’s blessings in our lives.
We encounter and grow in Christ’s love by listening to God in the words of Scripture. In my life, the Bible has been the clearest way that I’ve heard God communicate what he wants for us and how he wants us to live as his chosen people. I know that often the Bible doesn’t give us specific instructions on what choices we should make, but as we listen to God’s voice in his Word, the Holy Spirit will shape our hearts and minds in ways that will help us walk in step with God and lead us into the life God has for us in Jesus.
Clinging to God means that holding on to him in all the circumstances of life like we would a life buoy when we’re in deep water. Instead of thinking that we have to make a ‘right’ choice for God to love us, or worrying that God will reject us if we make a ‘wrong’ choice, clinging to God in faith means trusting that God’s love for us in Christ will change never change, no matter what choices we make. God won’t love us any less if we choose wrongly and he can’t love us any more if we choose rightly. When we make choices which are grounded in love by listening to God in his Word, we can find a lot of freedom because in Jesus God loves us unconditionally and can even create good when we get it wrong (Romans 8:28).
As our family faces the choice between staying here at Tea Tree Gully or accepting a call to serve another congregation, Moses’ words from Deuteronomy 30:15-20 aren’t just some abstract theological theory. These are words that give me guidance, comfort and hope in the decision that faces us. As people God has chosen for his own, like the Israelites about to enter into the Promised Land, God gives us freedom to make choices. Do we choose paths that take life away from us and from the people around us, leading us into evil and curses? Or, in the freedom we have through God’s liberating love for us in Jesus, do we choose life by loving God, listening to him, and clinging to him in all the decisions we make?
It’s not always easy, but God’s promise is that through his liberating love and grace for us in Jesus, we can choose life!