Tonight we have a busy night. It’s one of those nights when I wish I could be truly ubiquitous, or at least in two places simultaneously. Lynsey, my fellow Minister, is hosting the latest Cafe Church at one of our local Costa Cafes. I would like to be there to support her, to enjoy the coffee and be blessed by the event.
At the same time our Girls’ Brigade Company is holding a Quiz Evening for the girls and their families. I have been invited to to some magic tricks (woohoo!) and to share a brief message (the brief bit may be more difficult than the tricks). I am delighted to accept this invitation and am really looking forward to the evening.
What this illustrates is what all of us experience every day. Life is about choices. Other than breathing in and out (which comes automatically to most of us) we have to make choices from the moment we emerge into the consciousness that passes for awakeness in the mornings. Do I open my eyes or try to go back to sleep? When do I get out of bed? What will I have for breakfast? Bath or shower? What clothes will I wear?
And those choices continue throughout the day. In many ways we are defined by the choices we make and the choices others make that affect us. We even choose how to respond to the consequences of those choices.
The Bible contains an interesting balance of choices when it comes to God. There are passages in the Bible that talk of God choosing us. He chose the people of Israel to be an example to the whole world of what a relationship with him could be like…
Deuteronomy 7:6 “You are a holy nation. The LORD your God has set you apart for himself. He has chosen you to be his special treasure. He chose you out of all of the nations on the face of the earth to be his people.”
He expressed to Jeremiah how he had chosen him for a special purpose*…
Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in your mother’s body I chose you. Before you were born I set you apart to serve me. I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations.”
Jesus told his followers…
John 15:16 “You did not choose me. Instead, I chose you.”
At the same time it is clear that God has given us all free will. He has given us the ability to choose whether or not to be his friends / children / worshippers / family / people. The account of Adam and Eve deciding on the ingredients for a fruit salad is all about them exercising their freedom to decide whether or not live within God’s parameters. Although the people of Israel were God’s chosen people they also chose on many occasions to ignore him and do their own thing. Many times God commends people for the choices they make – there would be no point if the choice was not genuinely free.
Theologians have tried to resolve the tensions between these different aspects of choice in creative, complicated and convincing ways. I am of the simple opinion that while God chooses us it is up to us to agree to be a part of his plans. He chooses to limit his sovereignty so that we can choose for ourselves, which is incredible if you choose to think about it!
And now you can choose whether or not to read on for a joke about choosing…
After a very successful career, a Human Relations expert found herself at the pearly gates.
“Welcome to Heaven,” said St.Peter. “Before you get settled in though, it seems we have a problem. You see, strangely enough, we’ve never once had a Human Resources Director make it this far, and we’re not really sure what to do with you, so what we’re going to do is let you have a day in Hell and a day in Heaven and then you can choose whichever one you want to spend an eternity in.”
With that St. Peter put the executive into the infernal elevator and she went down to hell. The doors opened, and she found herself stepping out onto the putting green of a beautiful golf course. In the distance was a country club, and standing in front of her were all her friends – fellow executives that she had worked with – and they were all dressed in evening gowns and cheering for her. They ran up, kissed her and talked about old times.
They played an excellent round of golf, and at night went to the country club, where she enjoyed an excellent steak and lobster dinner. She met the Devil, who was actually a really nice guy (kinda cute) and she had a great time telling jokes and dancing. She was having such a good time that before she knew it, it was time to leave. Everybody shook her hand and waved goodbye as she got on the elevator.
The elevator went up and opened back up at the Pearly Gates, and she found St. Peter waiting for her. “Now it’s time to spend a day in heaven,” he said. So she spent the next 24 hours lounging around on clouds and playing the harp and singing enjoying a sense of blissful relaxation. She had a great time, and before she knew it, her 24 hours were up and St. Peter came and got her and asked her to choose.
The woman paused for a second and then replied, “Well, I never thought I’d say this, I mean, Heaven has been really great and all, but I think I had a better time in Hell.”
“That’s the way God wants it,” said St Peter sadly. “He always respects your choices.” So St. Peter escorted her to the elevator and again she went down-down-down back to Hell.
When the doors of the elevator opened, she found herself standing in a desolate wasteland covered in garbage and filth. She saw her friends were dressed in rags and were picking up the garbage and putting it in sacks. The Devil came up to her and put his arm around her.
“I don’t understand,” stammered the woman, “yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and a country club and we ate lobster and we danced and had a great time. Now, all there is is a wasteland of garbage and all my friends look miserable.”
The Devil looked at her and smiled. “Yesterday, we were recruiting you, today you’re staff.”
* Fans of the film ‘The Jerk’ may snigger here