I was having a conversation recently with a mom of a toddler. Her daughter would be old enough to enroll in preschool the next year and the mom was talking about all the different choices that were available to her. I could tell she was feeling weighed down by the pressure to make the right choice. Which would be best for kindergarten preparation? Which would work best with her daughter’s personality? Then she had to consider schedule; there were some that met just in mornings and some few days a week. No wonder she was feeling overwhelmed!
After listening for a while, the only thing I really said was that there was more than one right choice. Her response was, wow, I’ve never thought of that.
The conversation moved on, but the thought has remained with me. As believers, we can become so consumed with trying to get it right. This isn’t new. It is the same question asked by God’s people on the scene when Jesus was on the earth. These people found various ways of dealing with the question.
The Essenes thought the Temple system was so corrupt that they created a new community and a new priesthood out in the desert to try to deal with the problems they saw.
Then there were the Pharisees. Hundreds of years ago, Israel had made the mistake of assimilating into the pagan cultures around them. Upon return from exile, the people decided it had been so bad, they never wanted to go through it again. Their way of dealing with the question of how to “get it right” was to build a wall around the Torah. If the command said, “rest on the Sabbath,” they were going to try their hardest to build in a healthy buffer so that they wouldn’t even come close to breaking that command, so they wouldn’t walk certain distances and even condemned Jesus for healing on the Sabbath.
Another way people were trying to deal with the world they lived in was the Zealot community. Their code said that if God was being dishonored, it was allowable, and even right, to do whatever it took to defend God’s honor, going so far as killing their Roman oppressors or those dishonoring God in the Temple. They were going to going to deal with the issue by using force.
There were a lot of choices on how to follow the law. The problem with all of these choices is that they failed to imagine another way. Jesus came on the stage and showed a very different way of living. He showed that you combat the corruption in Temple worship by engaging and making a stand with the heart of the system. You follow the law by seeking the heart behind the law. You display God’s honor by loving your neighbor. You engage instead of retreat, obey without legalism, and love instead of using force.
There were wrong choices, but there were lots of right choices. Jesus was surprising and ingenious in so many ways. By his very life and actions, he showed us that life isn’t about a prescribed set of rules that must be lived out exactly the same way in every circumstance.
Proverbs 26:4 says “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.” In the very next verse, it says, “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he is wise in his own eyes.”
Which is it? Should you answer or not answer a fool according to his folly? Where is my black and white instruction on how to deal with someone acting like a fool?!
While seeming contradictions like these can be extremely frustrating, they can also be freeing. Either way could be the right choice. We don’t have to live our lives in fear of missing the right choice, missing God’s will, taking the wrong career path, marrying the wrong man…the list goes on.
The important thing in any of our decisions is that we are loving God and our neighbor in each decision that we make. Whether it is a minor decision, like should I answer a fool according to his folly or not, or a decision about preschool, to a major life decision like changing career paths or moving to a new community, you can make one of many choices and still be honoring God and living in his will. If it is something that is way off for you, I believe that the Spirit will let you know. But there are many choices that you can make that would honor God with choice A, B, or C. The biggest thing to remember is to be keeping God and his Kingdom first in whatever choice you make and then seeking to honor him through the consequences, good or bad, wherever that choice takes you. Of course, you should continue to pray and seek wise decisions, ask for advice from wise companions, and do your research to make a reasonably good decision. But knowing that there is more than one right and good choice can be an incredibly freeing thought.