Monday, February 3, 2020

Choosing to Turn Around

While driving home from work one night, I decided to stop for dinner at a local barbecue place that I’m fond of. However, a few minutes later I ended up missing the highway exit that would have taken me there. Instead, I had automatically passed it while taking my normal route home. Angered at myself for forgetting, I turned around at the next exit and headed back for the food.

This story might feel like it came completely out of left field, but it struck me as a good little illustration of something we all experience. We do a lot on instinct and out of habit. My being hungry was not something I chose to do. It could be argued that the restaurant I selected was also the result of subconscious forces. And obviously, heading for home when I meant to get a meal did not involve a decision. Not all of our actions are the result of conscious choice. But some of them are, and it is important to hold onto the distinction. What I did have control over was turning around.

The obvious truth is that human beings have special minds capable of willing and choosing. We aren’t helpless robots. We have a valuable freedom, and with freedom comes duty. If our choices are our own, then we are responsible for them.

That’s where the trouble comes in, and where some people chose not to accept this truth. There are philosophies that say consciousness and free will are illusions. They say that mind is nothing more than matter, and that thought is the result of random chemical processes in which there is no purpose or meaning. We think that we think, but in reality, everything we do it predetermined by physical motions that we cannot subvert.

It’s actually pretty clever to try to live that way. It presents a different type of freedom. If instinct and reaction are all we have, then we are free to follow them wherever they lead. There is no responsibility, no accountability, no consequences to fear. No one can be at fault for choosing to do what they do, so they cannot be punished for it. If anything goes wrong, it is the fault of nature, not the individual.

As much fun as that might sound, though, it has the distinct disadvantage of being ridiculously untrue. My little detour is just one proof of that among the thousands of big and small moments each of us experiences every day as we plot our course through life. Again, I don’t doubt that there is more to our minds than our conscious thoughts. People often give in to their desire for drugs, pursue destructive relationships, and even kill others without really thinking. But that does not show them lacking control. It shows them losing control, making the choices along the way that bring them to undesirable ends. We can pretend that isn’t so, but it doesn’t actually help us.

Help for the bad decisions can only come when we realize we made them. Maybe not the whole way through, but we chose to make them happen. Both sides appear very clearly in Is. 53:6:

We all went astray like sheep;
we all have turned to our own way

Sheep are just about the dumbest animals we know of. They’ll wander aimlessly because they don’t know any better. The prophet Isaiah tells us that is what we become. But unlike sheep, we become that way because we resolve to forge our own selfish paths rather than following God’s. We want to find ourselves, and instead, we lose everything. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to end there. Isaiah 53:6 concludes by saying,

And the Lord has punished Him
for the iniquity of us all.

This was the promise that accountability for our chosen faults could be wiped away, but not through convincing ourselves that they don’t exist. Instead, God chose to love us in spite of them and to pay the price for them by taking our place and accepting our punishment. We cannot run away from the fact that we sin, missing the mark through selfish and self-destructive decisions. But we can be forgiven for them by trusting in Christ.

We live in a world that wants us to forget that and instead pursue a broken vision of freedom. If you know the truth, don’t let the pressure get to you. These philosophies often sound smart and look appealing, but they are empty. Don’t be afraid to point out that the emperor has no clothes. And if you are hearing this for the first time, don’t miss the obvious. You have a choice to make. Make the right one, and you will find actual freedom. If you have wound up on the wrong road, turn around.

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