Do you make decisions easily, or you usually act as Buridan's ass?
On which basis do you make decisions?
Do you hold your ground whatever it takes, or do you give up easily?
Jean Buridan (1300-1358 AD) was a French philosopher who supported determinism, the idea that every event happens because of some given causes and that the same causes will give the same effects. He thought that all human decision should be made in favor the greatest good. But he enunciated this principle in so extreme way that he said that we shouldn't choose between two equally good alternatives until they change and one of them emerges as the best one. To ridiculize this idea, his opponents used the figure of a donkey which starves to death in the midst of two identical piles of hay, because it's unable of making a choice. The image is known as Buridan's ass, even when it was not created by him but used against him. Anyway, it's obvious that the donkey must choose one of the piles and eat, unregarding which is "better" - contrary to Buridan's opinion.
But in real life, not all decisions are so simple as this of our donkey's. The following passage shows us a very serious decision:
"Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him:"
“King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
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If you have compared NIV with the Interlinear Bible then you've seen that it is a very good translation. The passage shows us that the Jews had made a strong decision and that they wouldn't change their mind, not even with a death treath upon them. Certainly not all of us make a life or death decision so easily, and not all of us hold our ground, no matter what.
Why could be complicated to make a decision?
Let's go back to our donkey. The two piles of hay seem to be equal, but when we observe them more carefully, we'll notice that maybe one of them is fresher, or includes a more tasty kind of grass, or we can see some thorns in one of them... Sometimes we don't make up our mind because we are waiting for something "perfect". But "perfect" in the Word of God is not the same thing that we regard as perfect. God is far more wise and practical than us.
One of the apostle Paul's disciples was the young pastor Timothy. The Bible preserves two letters from Paul to him. In the second letter, chapter 3 and verses 16-17, the apostle wrote:
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work"
The original Greek includes a word that NIV doesn't. There is written, "...the servant of God may be PERFECT, thoroughly equipped..." This word "perfect" comes from Greek "ártios" which means complete, adequate, perfect. But observe that Paul remarks that the "perfection" he is talking about is "to be equipped for every good work". We all Christians know that we have been called to be conformed in Christ's image. But if we should wait to reach Christ's total perfection to serve the Lord, we would never do it, because this glorious goal is never reached in this life (that's why it remains a "goal" which leads us through this life)
Seeking "perfection" can lead us to try to elaborate some kind of "Frankestein's monster" with the "best" components. Some days later I decide to buy a new bycicle, the transportation I use to go to work. I had in mind some qualities for my new bike: strong and fast 28", with hardest tires, lights, internal gears - so that it has foot brakes... When I came to the store, the most "perfect" models for me were the fine, light and fast racing bikes, the stronger hybrid trekking bikes with internal gear, and the even stronger mountain bikes, with the strongest tires. But seeking a fast-strong combination, I asked for a trekking bike with mountain bike tires. The seller had to explain to me that those wheels are too wide for other types of bycicle. Finally, I bought a trekking bike, which was the "perfect" to meet my needs. Maybe racing bikes are faster, and mountain bikes stronger, but MY needs were to go work through asphalt pavements, and certainly not in Olympic speed.
Beyond the "perfection" issue, every decision has a cost. When we choose something, then we reject something. I wanted to purchase ONE bycicle, so when I bought my model, I rejected the other ones. Our donkey, in the example of the beginning, has to go to a pile of hay, no matter what happens with the other one. A decision which costed me a lot was to quit smoking. It would have been impossible to me without the Lord's help. Before mi conversion I tried to do it on my own - and I even succeded for two years - but when I seemed to be victorious, the vice caught me again. Only when Jesus helped me I was able to get rid of it.
It can be that we are seeking something perfect, or trying to elaborate something from different perfect materials, or we are unable to eliminate something which is too precious to us... There are many motives which make it hard for us to make a decision. And it doesn't get better by the fact that we have not considered our real needs and we don't have some help.
How do you make decisions? On which basis?
Maybe is human reason the most influencial factor: "it is the proper thing to do". The God of heaven who created us has given us wisdom and intelligence to decide things in a rational way. But the example of Buridan shows us that the pure reason, without wisdom, can mislead a very intelligent philosopher, and make him enunciate principles of doubtful use. Besides, we believers use to do "irrational" things which the nonbelievers don't understand, because they don't know God and His ways.
To make decisions, many follow the way of the majority. And there's some kind of wisdom in this. If you have moved to other place, maybe you need to change your normal habits because of a different climate, a different culture or a different society. Then it is helpful to imitate those who live there (they have the experience that you lack) Certainly God uses to talk to us through common sense, too. But there are limits to this imitation. One of Satan's ways to mislead us is to give us a false security, "it is the way all people do it". But the fact that some usage is a widely accepted one doesn't make it good and holy. You are not supposed to become idolater, polygamist or cannibal because you live among people to which it is "usual".
Another basis for decision makers are the usages or principles we have got from our ancestors, and that the family treasures. This is a so powerful influence that the Law of God strongly emphasized from the OT in teaching the children the Word of God, so that they should know God's ways and would follow Him throughout their lives. We get many kinds of instruction from our parents, not only verbally but with their example as well. One expression to refer to God is "the God of your fathers" - even He calls Himself that way.
But unfortunately not all parents use to lead their children the right way, neither by instruction or by example. The results is that for many persons, to make the right decision could be exactly the opposite of the previous paragraph: to reject the usages or expressions of the parents. If we have had adulterous or criminal parents, this "familiar example" is not exactly a good one to follow.
Besides sin and evil, there are different ways of living in a God fearing way. Two believers who marry, and follow the usages of their previous families, will probably find differences in those ones. How can they find a new familiar identity? Observe the words of our Lord Jesus Christ about this issue, in Matthew 19:4-6:
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
When the Lord is talking about "leaving father and mother" He is not only referring to abandon our previous family in order to commence a new one. He is talking also about new usages, new habits, a different life which both spouses have to find by themselves. Maybe you are an employe who comes from a family which had business of their own, or your parents were employes but your are about to begin your own business. Maybe your parents were farmers and you have moved to a city, to live and work there, or you have moved to the countryside by the same reason. Maybe you have migrated to a new country with another usages. Possibly when your parents got married the world was a quite different one (40 years ago you wouldn't see a PC in every house, INTERNET, cell phones and many other things which appear all the time and change daily life, habits and usages) There are thousand factors to cause that the usages of your previous family don't help you at all as a model for the new one you have created. This new family has to find its identity, and it will maybe include to "leave" behind many things the previous families did. The "one flesh" God is talking about is man and wife; it doesn't include parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts and everyone else.
A last factor to mention - certainly not the last one, but "our" last one right now - is to get help from diviners when it comes to make a decision. We have seen previously biblical examples of how the rulers of antiquity used to consult spiritists, astrologers and other diviners to decide even state matters. Unfortunately, this practice didn't end with antiquity. Even nowadays many people seek counsel in witches, spiritists, card readers, astrologers and other Satan's servants, perhaps without knowing that they are buying a ticket to hell. Do not be deceived; this usage is a satanical one and the Scriptures reprobate it in the strongest terms. See notes to Daniel 2:1-2 in this site to know more.
Lets go back to Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, confronting a death menace. The pure reason told them that it was too much to die "only" for their refusal to worship; the society to which they belonged (all "peoples, nations of every language" which formed part of Babylonia) were worshipping the image; it is not probable that they should have some familiar example about it (they were Jews, which means that their parents hardly worshipped something different than God) and apparently they didn't have some witch, astrologer or spiritist available to consult (all of them were prostrated before the king's statue; besides, these Jews were loyal to Israel's God)
How did they make their decision?
Notice their statement, "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand". They knew that God who called Moses and set his people free from slavery in Egypt. That same God commended Joshua, Moses' successor, to conquer the promised land, and he ordered strictly to him to keep the commandments fo the Law of Moses (it was the "Bible" by that time) Read Joshua 1:8:
"Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful"
"Book of the Law" is the translation to English of the Hebrew "séfer hatorá". "Torá" is the name of the Bible in Hebrew, but most exactly of the books of Moses. This word means "law", "instruction" or "prophetic teaching". The way in which the Hebrews should live, worship God and proceed in their relationship with each other was determined by God in this Law. To succeed in any undertaking depended of their obedience to God. Read Deuteronomy 28:9:
"The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in obedience to him"
There is a covenant there between God and Israel: they would be established as God's holy people by keeping the commands of the Law of Moses. If you read the whole chapter 28 of Deuteronomy, you will find blessings (the results of their obedience to God) and curses (the results of rebellion against Him) The history of the Jewish people is a vivid example of the fulfillment of this prophetic word. When they forgot that they were Gods "holy people" and they worshipped other gods or sought help in other nations, they were defeated and conquered by several empires, their nation destroyed and the people scattered worldwide. But when they confess themselves as God's holy people, seek Him and "keep the Book of the Law always on their lips, meditating on it day and night" to "do everything written in it", God gives them victory, even over stronger and more numerous enemies.
Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, as every Jew who is versed in the Scripture, knew these passages very well. But they knew also that life and death are in God's hands. Read Deuteronomy 4:1-8:
1 "Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. 2 Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.
3 You saw with your own eyes what the Lord did at Baal Peor. The Lord your God destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor, 4 but all of you who held fast to the Lord your God are still alive today.
5 See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?"
To listen and follow the "decrees and laws" (God's Law) would give them life and success in the conquest of the land (verses 1, 4) The holy people knows that its life is in God's hands, and not in the king's (even when Nebuchadnezzar had the power to send them to death in the furnace) The holy people knows that God is ready to listen and answer their prayers (verse 7) And the holy people know that there are other who do not follow God and who do not have His Law (verse eight) that's why they aren't "holy", SEPARATED for God only. The basis to choose a death sentence before desobedience to God was this. They were so convinced of this that they went even further, to proclaim "if our God don't want to save us, but leave us to die in the fire, even so he will be our God, and we will not serve or adore other ones".
There is a great faith in committing everything you have, even your own life, to God, because he rewards those who do that (conforming to His covenants, and all these verses we have seen) But there's a greater faith in committing everything you have, even your own life, to God, EVEN if He doesn't answer in the way we expect. There was a beautiful Jewish girl in the Scriptures which became the wife of the king of Persia. She had that kind of faith. When she was called to intercede for the Jewish people, her answer was, "“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” Have you ever said "if I perish, I perish"? This is the faith of Queen Esther. Israel's Messiah, the Saviour of humankind, knew the kind of tortures and the terrible death that He would go through. When He was praying in Gethsemane, he said to His Father, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." This "cup" He had to drink was a last and terrible trial of His faith; He would die for the souls of all sinners, on the cross. But this Jew had also this kind of faith in God, and He went to the cross. He teached his disciples, "Have faith in God". When was the last time - if there has been some - that you said to God, "not my will, but yours be done"?
God is the One who gives us life. In spite of the circumstances around uss, our destiny is in His hands, not only in this earthly life but in eternity. If you have not received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior yet, there's time! This earhtly life that we cherish so dearly, and which we are afraid of losing, can end because of multiple causes (wars, accidents, infirmities) and finally will end some day, because we all come to life, grow, mature, grow old and die. But God's promise to those who receive Him is resurrection and eternal life. Receive Jesus, and be save on the eternity!
May the Lord bless you.
In the love of Christ, your brother
PS. Jesus comes quickly!