Posts tagged ‘Decisions’

The Shadow-Side of Freedom

Credit: Khairul Nizam /

Last week, the latch on our backdoor handle got stuck. After working it loose, I discovered that the whole handle was worn out and needed to be replaced. I groaned inwardly because I am not known for being handy. To put it mildly, I am “home improvement compromised.” But, after trudging to Lowe’s to purchase a new handle, I scoured YouTube and found a guy with a thick southern accent who walked me through the process of replacing a door handle step-by-step. Everything was replaced, rekeyed, and ready to go within a few minutes. And I was more than a little thankful for the YouTube handyman who was wiser to the ways of door handles than I was.

In a famous 1946 lecture, existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre quipped:

Man cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself. He discovers forthwith, that he is without excuse.

Sartre argues that when it comes to living, you just have to “figure it out.” He goes on to tell the story of a young man, who was once a student of his, who struggled to decide whether to stay and care for his mother in Paris or join the Free French Forces and fight the Nazis. Sartre asks of this young man’s moral dilemma:

What could help him to choose? Could the Christian doctrine? No. Christian doctrine says: Act with charity, love your neighbor, deny yourself for others, choose the way which is hardest, and so forth. But which is the harder road? To whom does one owe the more brotherly love, the patriot or the mother?

If values are uncertain, if they are still too abstract to determine the particular, concrete case under consideration, nothing remains but to trust in our instincts.

According to Sartre, this young man was just going to have to “figure it out.”

Sartre concludes his lecture:

Life is nothing until it is lived; but it is yours to make sense of, and the value of it is nothing else but the sense that you choose.

Sartre’s lecture, at first glance, carries with a lucrative offer of freedom. There is no higher authority of power, he argues, to which you can appeal to make life’s decisions than yourself. You can choose for yourself by looking to yourself. But, as my door handle experience reminded me, there are times where looking to yourself is not freeing, but frightening. Sartre admits as much when he says:

Man is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet is nevertheless at liberty, and from the moment that he is thrown into this world he is responsible for everything he does.

Too much freedom, it turns out, can feel like condemnation because, as initially nice as it may be to jettison a higher authority who looks over your shoulder and tells you what to do, you are still not truly free in one very important way – you are not free not to choose. You must choose something and then live with the consequences of your choice, no matter how awful. Everything rests on you, and you just have to “figure it out.”

The promise of Christianity is not that it removes or avoids all human responsibility and choice. There are plenty of calls in the pages of Scripture for humans to live morally and to choose wisely. But all of this human responsibility is placed inside a larger story of divine sovereignty. God is ultimately in control, offering guidance so that we may make righteous decisions and offering forgiveness for all the times we do not. We are not left merely to our own devices to “figure it out.”

One of the implicit criticisms Sartre levels against Christianity is in the story of his young student who is trying to decide between remaining in Paris to take care of his mother or joining the Free French Forces to fight the Nazis. Sartre explains that divine guidance will do this man no good because there is no divine guidance to tell this man what to do:

What could help him to choose? Could the Christian doctrine? No. Christian doctrine says: Act with charity, love your neighbor, deny yourself for others, choose the way which is hardest, and so forth. But which is the harder road? To whom does one owe the more brotherly love, the patriot or the mother?

But Sartre misses something in his characterization of God’s guidance. The young man in Sartre’s story faces two choices that could be considered moral. But just because there is no divine command that will make this young man’s particular decision for him does not mean that there is no sovereign help.

The Psalmist says:

The LORD is with me; He is my helper. (Psalm 118:7)

A lack of specific guidance from God about a specific decision does not mean that there is a lack of the presence of God through every decision. God will be with us – in our best decisions and our worst – with a freedom that removes burdens instead of one that creates them. For even when we don’t know what to do, He will help us through, and He will work things out, even when things – or when we – go astray. We don’t just have to “figure it out.” Instead, we can trust in Him.

March 8, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Wise Decisions in a Crisis

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It’s been a tragic couple of weeks in aviation.  Following the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 two weeks ago, similarities began to emerge between this crash and the crash of Lion Air Flight 610 last October.  Both planes went down only minutes after takeoff.  Both crashes involved sudden changes in altitude with the planes crashing at a nose down angle.  And both tragedies involved Boeing 727 Max 8 aircrafts.

An investigation by The Dallas Morning News uncovered five complaints, filed by domestic pilots, about problems with a new software system in the Max 8, known as MCAS.  The system is supposed to force the nose of the plane downward if needed to avoid a stall.  But erroneous data from a sensor might have forced the noses of the recently doomed flights down into their crashes.

It is also being reported that Boeing had been heavily involved with the federal certification process for the Max 8 in 2012.  Boeing employees were able to help FAA officials in certifying the aircrafts for flight, and, according to The New York Times, senior FAA officials weren’t even aware of the new MCAS system.  The FBI has now joined an investigation into the certification process as people wonder whether having a manufacturer play such a large role in the safety certifications of its own products presents an inherent conflict of interests.

With so many questions out there, people are scrambling for answers.  Why didn’t the FAA ground the Max 8 aircrafts sooner?  The FAA didn’t ground the Max 8s in the U.S. until days after nations like Canada, Australia, and the whole European Union grounded theirs.  Why weren’t pilot complaints made months before heeded?  Why didn’t pilots initially receive any specialized training on the MCAS system?  And why, ultimately, did Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash?  There are still no firm answers.

In a crisis like this, decision making can be difficult.  Of course, safety concerns are paramount.  But investigators don’t even know for sure whether there is a broad based safety concern.  When one combines a lack of information about the recent Max 8 crashes with the inevitable confusion and suspicion that ensues when planes are grounded and investigations are launched, air carriers, aircraft manufacturers, and government regulators are left with no particularly appealing options.

Scripture is clear that, whether it’s with crisis over planes or personal problems with piety, people are not particularly skilled at making wise decisions that involve high stakes.  Before following Him, Jesus invites people to carefully consider the cost of being His disciple:

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?  For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, “This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.” Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be My disciples.  (Luke 14:28-33) 

Jesus’ final line is jarring.  What will following Jesus cost?  Everything.  And some people, after doing a cost-benefit analysis, find the cost unbearably high.  Just consider the rich young man who, after Jesus invites him to “sell everything you have and give to the poor, and…then come, follow Me,” becomes crestfallen and walks “away sad, because he had great wealth” (Mark 10:21-22).  The rich man thought the cost of following Jesus was too steep.  Selling everything he had was too risky.  So he chose to stay his course.  And he was sorely mistaken to do so.

One of the reasons we make poor choices is because most of us tend to have a bias toward preservation over and against modification.  The rich man did not want to modify his spending habits.  The FAA, Boeing, and major airlines did not necessarily want to modify how they certify aircraft and how they train pilots.  But so often, our bias towards preservation – maintaining the status quo – only makes matters worse.

Risk taking is a part of decision making.  And sometimes, a decision that initially looks riskier – like the grounding of a bunch of planes and the launching of a thorough investigation into the airworthiness of these planes – is the decision that winds up being safer.

Thankfully, for most of us, these past couple of weeks did not involve decisions with stakes so high.  But this does not mean we should not consider the costs of the choices that are laid before us.  And, as the FAA and Boeing are learning, if our first decisions turn out not to be our best decisions, we need to be humble enough to make the right decisions.  You’ll be better because of it.  And the people around you will thank you for it.

March 25, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment




I have a confession to make:  I suffer from decidophobia.

Now, before you accuse me of making up words, this term is not my own.  Walter Kaufmann, who served as a philosophy professor for over 30 years at Princeton, coined it.  He explains decidophobia like this:

In the fateful decisions that mold our future, freedom becomes tangible; and they are objects of extreme dread.  Every such decision involves norms, standards, goals.  Treating these as given lessens this dread.  The comparison and choice of goals and standards arouses the most intense decidophobia.[1]

Here’s what Kaufmann is saying:  decisions form futures.  Those who suffer from decidophobia worry that their decisions will tank their futures.

Now, to a certain extent, this is true.  Foolish decisions can lead to bad futures.  If one wracks up a lot of debt now, it leads to a lot of bills in the future.  If one is having an affair now, it can lead to a heart-wrenching divorce in the future.

But there are other decisions – decisions that don’t always carry with them the ethical clarity that getting into a bottomless pit of debt or having an affair do.  Decisions like, “What job should I take?”  “What vehicle should I buy?”  “What house should I live in?”  I am trying to make a decision on the last of these three quandaries.  And I have come down with a bad case of decidophobia.

As I have looked at neighborhoods and floor plans and features and storage space, I’ve become worried and concerned.  Will I make the right decision?  But here’s what I’ve come to realize:  decisions like these, though not always easy, are not devastatingly determinative of my future.  If a house does not have all the features I might like, it will still provide me with a roof over my head at the end of the day.  If a job you take does not meet all your dreams and expectations, you will still have a paycheck at the end of your pay period.  If a car you buy isn’t the one you’ve dreamed of since you were a teenager, it will still get you from point A to point B by the end of your trip.

I have long suspected that God gives us some decisions to make not to teach us about decisions themselves, but to teach us about the anxiety that so many of us feel when we are in the throws of a decision-making process.  I read somewhere that we should “not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:34).  Many of the decisions we make carry with them no biblical mandate.  Any decision we make will be fine.  Being free from worry, however, does carry with it a biblical mandate.  That’s why it’s time to stop incessantly fretting.  Decidophobia is sinful.

So what’s causing you decidophobia?  Before you get your stomach tied in knots, remind yourself of Christ’s words in Matthew 6:34.  These decisions are not worth your worry.  You are in God’s care.


[1] Walter Kaufmann, Without Guilt and Justice:  From Decidophobia to Autonomy (New York:  Peter H. Wyden, Inc., 1973), 3.

July 14, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Daunting Decisions

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we kicked off a new series called “Unresolved” where we are addressing some of the biggest issues and struggles which are often left unresolved in people’s hearts and lives.  This weekend, we asked the question, “What happens when you are unresolved as to which direction you should take or which decision you should make for your life?  How do you receive direction from God?”

I have learned that, in general, God gives us direction in one of the three ways.  First, there are some things on which God directs us, “Go!”  These are things we ought to do and directions we ought to take.  For instance, God instructs the prophet Jonah, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me” (Jonah 1:2).  Jonah, however, disregards God’s commission and hops a ship to Tarshish, a city in the opposite direction of Nineveh.  Understandably, God is not pleased with Jonah’s rebellion and sends a storm in judgment on Jonah and his sailing companions.  In order to save themselves, the sailors throw Jonah overboard so that God will calm the crazy seas.  When Jonah is cast overboard, God appoints a fish to swallow Jonah and spit him up, poetically enough, right on the banks of Nineveh!  From Jonah, then, we learn that there is grave danger in not heeding God’s direction to “Go!”  In theological parlance, we call a failure to “Go” a “sin of omission.”  That is, when we know what we should do and where we should go, but we fail to do and go, we commit a sin of omission.  We omit God’s direction and instruction from our lives.

Second, there are some things on which God directs us, “Whoa!”  These are things we ought not to do and directions we ought not to take.  For instance, the famous “Thou shalt nots” of many of the Ten Commandments are things to which God says, “No!”  Should I sneak away with a lover and ruin my marriage?  “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).  Should I tell a lie about someone else?  “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).  Should I spend my time trying to coax others into giving me their things?  “Thou shalt not covet” (Exodus 29:17).  If we do not heed God’s commands and go where God says “Whoa,” in theological parlance, we call this a “sin of commission.”  That is, we cross a boundary God has drawn and thus commit a sin.  These sins too, like sins of omission, are gravely dangerous and offensive to God.

Finally, there are some things on which God directs us, “Grow!”  These are some decisions that God leaves us to make.  For instance, there are times that God will leave it up to us to choose a job, choose a place to live, or choose the stocks we invest our money in.  God can give us clear guidance on these decisions, but He does not promise to.  Therefore, sometimes He guides us in a specific direction concerning these issues and sometimes He does not.  The times when He does not specifically guide us help us grow, for we learn to make wise, reasonable decisions for ourselves.  The times when He does specifically guide us also help us grow, for they teach us to listen closely and carefully for God’s leading and prompting.

As I mentioned in ABC, it is with decisions like these – where God gives us no clear direction in His Word – that we do well to include three things in our decision making process.  First, we must ask for God’s wisdom and guidance.  Though this may sound obvious, far too many people do not do this!  They do not even consider the possibility that God may indeed have an opinion on a life decision!  Thus, learning simply to take your decisions – big and small – to God in prayer not only allows you to experience God’s guidance, it also strengthens your relationship with Him because you are speaking with Him about the significant and small things of your life on a daily basis.  Second, we should wait expectantly and intentionally for God’s answer.  So often, even when we do pray to God about a decision we must make or a challenge we must face, we do not wait for God’s answer.  We simply continue charging ahead at full speed, expecting God to strike us like a lightning bolt out of the blue with His answer.  But we must not only learn how to ask God for guidance, we must also learn how to listen.  This means taking time in slowness and solitude, seeking God’s direction.  Finally, we should counsel with other Christians.  Just as God can lead and guide us, he can lead and guide others.  Thus, the wisdom of other Christians is invaluable in helping us make wise decisions..

God can and does direct you.  As the Psalmist prays, “Direct my footsteps according to Your word.”  May his prayer be our prayer!  And may God give you His guidance!

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January 16, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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