I was teaching the fourth and fifth-grade religion class, and the theme for the day was about choices and their consequences. To get the students thinking about choices, I had them try to recall some of their choices and how they thought if they were good or bad choices.
One student said that when he was little that he got mad at his mom and tried to run away from home. I asked him how far did he get. He said, “I got as far as the end of the garage. And I was glad that my mom found me because I didn’t know where to go from there.”
Every day we have many choices, and we need to be thinking through them to arrive with the best of consequences. I wonder how many little self-talks we have throughout any day about our choices. Hit the snooze button one more time or jump out of bed now? But the blankets are so warm, and the floor is so cold. Another cup of coffee? Sounds good, but I am trying to cut back on the caffeine. A salad or hamburger for lunch? Well, I’ve had two days of doing well with my diet, so I guess I deserve a hamburger, even with fries.
We make our many choices from a combination of using our heads with critical thinking based on facts, our hearts that have a wide range of emotions, and our consciences that tell us our morals. The percentage of each category of mind, feelings, and morals used for a decision varies with each choice.
The student in my class made his choice to run away from home when he was angry with his mom. After his anger subsided a little, and as he was looking at the world that began at the end of his driveway, logic kicked in as he thought about what he would do for a bed and food.
When we were growing up, our mom sometimes bought the little boxes of cereal that came in a variety pack. The pack had all kinds of cereals loaded with sugar, chocolate, marshmallows, but one box usually was plain old bran flakes. Can you guess how many little boxes of bran flakes were left inside our cupboard? Our dad started to eat the bran flakes to get rid of them, and he found out that things went better with more fiber. I didn’t know what he meant at the time about things going better with the fiber, but now that I’m older, I appreciate my bran flakes, too.
To say that we have a world of choices is not an exaggeration. And everything is out there from the worst to the best. We can eat Cocoa Puffs all day long if we like. And if I want, I can pour chocolate milk into my cereal instead of white milk. In one way, our decisions about our choices don’t have any large effect on us. One day of eating nothing but chocolate will not do me any harm in the long run. But if all I ate was nothing but sweet cereal and candy bars every day, I am sure it would have an effect on my health.
I am not sure how many times in my life that I set out with good intentions about a choice that I had made, but I later found that the choice didn’t have the good outcome that I had expected. Although we do have control and are responsible for ourselves when it comes to what we think, say, and do, the kicker here is that the outcomes of our choices are often out of our control.
In our confession of sins, we ask God to forgive our sins that we commit in thought, word, and deed. Of course, God forgives every one of those sins. We know that only “bad” can come from sin. In our sins, we can only be miserable. When God forgives our sins, we might think that in God’s forgiveness that things will start going better for us.
But we have to say, although God does forgive us of every sin, we do have to live out some of the consequences of our sins. If a person gets a speeding ticket, God will forgive that sin, but that person still has to pay the fine. At times, we receive the consequence of other people’s sins. A person says something offensive to us, and we are hurt by what was said.
We are not always knowing the results of what will happen in our lives, even if we are controlling our thoughts and actions. When things do go badly, we can believe that all is working out for the good. God does have a lot to say about how our faith in Him can get us through quite well in all the circumstances of our lives.
Often, after a terrible tragedy in the world like a mass shooting, people will ask, “How did God let this happen?” Part of the answer to that question is in the question. God does let things happen at times, even if they are evil because God gives free will to all people. From the very beginning when God created everything, He meant for people to have free will. In the garden, God gave the first humans a choice between knowing good and evil.
God did command the first man and woman not to eat of the fruit of the tree of good and evil. The command was clear with the consequences that would happen if they ate the fruit. Not to make excuses for the first humans, but Satan did twist God’s instructions about the tree and its fruit. Still, Adam and Eve should have known better, and they insisted to disobey God.
In their disobedience, they had to suffer the consequences of their sin, and God did have them leave paradise. They would spend the rest of their lives choosing between right and wrong. God does not force anyone to obey His goodwill.
After Pharaoh let the nation of Israel leave Egypt that ended their centuries of bondage, God brought them to the Promised Land. As they stood on the edge of the Promised Land, God told them that he set before them good and life, and evil and death. It would seem at first that since this new land was to be flowing with milk and honey that it would be the perfect place with only good things.
But God is also about keeping everything real. We would not know good if we did not know also the bad. If we trust all that God says and directs for us, evil will never have power over us. After all, we know God is our creator and how we are His beloved children.
God gives us everything, so it’s not God’s fault that we at times choose the bad. We can also say it’s not the devil’s fault. The devil wants us to choose the bad, but he can only try to trick and persuade us to make bad choices. If we make a bad choice, it’s our own decision, so it’s our own fault. If our lives are going badly, we can only blame ourselves.
Getting back to that we do live in a world with evil all around us, and at times, how that evil winds up at our doorstep, we have problems that are not a fault of our own making. But we are never to take the position that shows us as the victim. If we do choose bad or if bad just happens to us, we are to turn and fight against the bad.
This fight is an unusual type of fight. We do not come out with our fists ready to knock out all that is bad. In all of this talk about choices, we remember that God first chose us in Christ. As God’s beloved and redeemed children, we know God has given us all that we need to have good lives in His Son, Jesus.
Jesus made the decision to follow God the Father’s goodwill to take our punishment for our sins by dying on the cross. We read in Scripture how on the night when he was betrayed Jesus had to think through this decision to die a long-suffering death on the cross. Knowing it was the Father’s will for him to die a painful death for others, Jesus went to the cross out of obedience and devotion to the Father.
When we have made bad choices, and when we are suffering the consequences of our actions, and even when we are hurting because we live in a sinful world, we can go to God and have forgiveness in Jesus’ name, And in that forgiveness, we have the power to move through and past the consequences of bad choices to better things.
A popular Christian youth skit is done to the song, “Beauty from Pain.” The skit shows the possible choices that a young person sadly has these days like drugs and alcohol. When a young person chooses these things, we see how this person declines towards loneliness and more problems. At the end of the skit, the young person sees Jesus and how Jesus takes all the problems away and gives the love and power of God.
In the song, there is a line about the beauty that we do get after the troubles of life. The line about his beauty is “Though it may not be today.” God has His ways of turning our lives around, but we don’t always see immediate results. Although we do have to suffer consequences at times, we can also know that God is progressive and is always giving us forgiveness, is always giving us His grace and is always giving us His power.
In the worst of times, whether from the natural losses of life or from the consequences of bad choices of ourselves or others, we know that beauty of God in Christ Jesus was here, is here, and will be here also for us in the future. As we think about choices, we listen to our faith that tells us that God chooses us first, and His choice is always to be loving us in Christ.