Making choices is something distinctive of our nature. In the hierarchy of creation, we are up there and what makes us qualify to be in that spot is our ability to make choices; our ability to enter into a purposeful assessment of a given choice and its wider implications on all that are impacted by it. While that faculty is meant to aid and assist us in our deliberations of which option is best, the reality is that it does not get to its potential. There are quite a number of cases when such faculty has had stunted growth. Therefore, when opportunities of choice present themselves before such impaired faculty, the end results do not reflect sound judgments. This is the reason behind the allegation that a choice has been made by reason of insanity. There are choices that had been done in the past which were arrived at, not through a healthy mental faculty but as results of affections and passions that had not been tempered by reason. Also, there had been choices made not only because of impaired judgment but by simplemindedness as illustrated by the choice made while singing the nursery rhyme, “Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe”.
Indeed, the entire process of making choices could be quite complicated, even on the average. A healthy, sound and unimpaired mental faculty does not always function without disruptions; as there are factors that continually compound the level of difficulty. Unsurprisingly, they become even more challenging if we add to the equation the issue of accountability – to ourselves; our fellow creatures and to God, the source of our well-being.
I’d like to believe there are those of us, who, quite regularly, have reflected on how those choices have impacted our lives and those of others. Our life is the result of all our choices. Most of those choices have made positive contributions to our journeys of living lives that befit our nature as children of God but some, unfortunately, have been quite detrimental.
On this regard, we could be tempted to look at the past and focus on the reasons behind those erroneous choices and wander off to the world of “what-would-my-life-be now”.
What would my life be now if my mother had decided that the distress of pregnancy and childbirth was not worth the effort? What would my life be now had I listened to the suggestions of my parents to be careful in choosing friends? What would my life be now had I considered the future of my children rather than the perks of my job? What would my life be now had I observed the lessons taught me by my faith community? And more “what-would-my-life-be” scenarios flash before us letting us wander off farther and farther away from our reality. That, by the way, is not a healthy exercise. We cannot do much to change our past, although they could prove useful in our future choices.
The Book of Ecclesiasticus lends some insights on the issue of choices. Writing in the 2nd century B.C.E., Jesus ben Sirach, the author of the Book of Ecclesiasticus, also known as the Book of Sirach, tells how important it is to choose rightly, to use our free will for good rather than for evil. Whereas Genesis deals with the origin of sin in all of creation, Sirach is interested in the individual and how that individual makes choices. Sirach sees God as the one who uplifts the righteous and keeps him or her from sin. He sees sin as the product of each individual’s free will.
Again, for Sirach, God is not a God who forces us to make decisions. Rather, He is a God who allows us and the whole of His creation to make choices in life, choices that are out of our own free will and accord.
Every choice, borne out of that free will, brings with it a corresponding consequence. In the Book of Sirach15:15-20, there we read of the options “to choose between fire or water, death or life”: good images representing the fundamental choices in life.
In these seemingly easy options, the preferred choice seems quite evident. To stretch hands over water is way better than touching fire and Life is to be preferred than Death. But would water be really the better choice if one is lost in a damp and cold forest? Will fire be a better choice? Will life still be the better choice for a loved one who merely exists because of the attached contraptions and by the aid of a respirator? Will that kind of life be preferable knowing that he or she is in a vegetative state?
These are some of the difficulties we face when we make choices in life. And this difficulty surfaces in our lives in situations that necessitate a consideration of what the implications are in our relationship with our God. Christian theology teaches us that poor choices end up with alienation from God and the poorer our choices are the greater our alienation become. We are therefore encouraged to be careful when making important choices in life. We should not only consider how pleasurable they could get or how they could be advantageous to us or how far they could advance us in our position in our workplace but more importantly, how such choices will prohibit us from that possible alienation from God.
There will surely be those occasions for making choices and while they could be difficult at times, let our consolation be that we have the faculty and the ability to do it.
Someone once told me that he thinks the reason why God put the head above our heart is for us to be guided accordingly; by free will and a well nurtured faculty by which we consider things relative to our present, as well as our future happiness and so it can temper our passions while we make those choices. Not to be unfair to the heart, I retorted that, perhaps, it was there for the other noble reason; that the workings of the mind need to be supported and upheld by the murmurs of the hearts so that those choices become reflections of the love harbored by the heart. Let our choices therefore be guided by both; each in support of the other.
Making choices will surely come our way; at times, difficult, at others, with relative ease. They could be as profound as in the choice between life and death. They could be as binding as in making poor and malicious choices or as in choosing the ones characterized by goodness. May they all be welcomed as opportunities for us to make good use of such a brilliant gift; one that only the God of Wisdom can offer; allowing His people a chance of becoming who they truly are; a thinking and loving creature.