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Did you know that “if” is the middle word in life? OR The Consequence of Choice

I’m a rather introspective person and I tend to dwell on what was, what is, and what might be. But, I’m also prone to ponder the notion of what might have been.

When I was a kid I remember reading Ray Bradbury’s short story, “A Sound of Thunder,” which details the ramifications of going back in time to a “prehistoric” era and accidentally killing a butterfly. I picked up on the idea that changing the past, in even a small way, could have big consequences.

I assume that Bradbury was picking up on chaos theory:

It has been said something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world. -Chaos Theory

The idea is that a tiny change (cause) could produce a huge change (effect). Change one thing, change everything.

This concept is seen in the movie “The Butterfly Effect,” taking its name from the chaos theory speculation above, commonly known as the butterfly effect.

In the movie the main character discovers the ability to relive the past, but in such a way that he can make changes in the past. These changes, of course, affect the events that transpire afterward, thereby giving a different present.

Several times I have watched the movie and each time I wondered about the implications.

Actually, if you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t ruin it for you, but it’s something along the lines of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but with a twist.

We have so many decisions in our lives, which may or may not seem big at the time. Who should you marry? Where should you go to school? What job should you take?

It’s likely that where your parents lived when you grew up impacted where you went to school, which impacted who you would meet, which impacted who you married, which impacted who your kids are, etc.

My theological perspective is such that I don’t believe in accidents when considering the scope of God’s providential plan, but it is intriguing to wonder what might have happened had one done B instead of A at various forks in the road.

Remember the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books? In essence, one choice subsequently gives different choices than if the other choice was chosen and so on.

In the same way, your life is a matter of making choices, choices that dictate future options from which to choose via the effects of those earlier choices and so on.

What if I went to a different university? What if I married someone else? What if I didn’t go to (that) seminary? What if I didn’t take this job? What are the ramifications for my kids (and subsequent generations) based on the choices I make?

We’re talking about decisions we make where Scripture is typically silent. In other words, we lack objective biblical counsel in such areas. That can be frustrating and folks will often misrepresent the subjective with objective terminology (e.g., “God told me to …” or “It’s God’s will that I …”), but at the end of the day this is merely an attempt to pin the blame on God.

The reality is that we live in a world whereby we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7). That means you’re probably not going to have divine guidance of an objective nature for the vast majority of the decisions you will make, recognizing that the mark of spirituality is not necessarily greater certainty, but a willingness to live with the ambiguity, trusting God nonetheless.

I hear men praying everywhere for more faith, but when I listen to them carefully, and get to the real heart of their prayer, very often it is not more faith at all that they are wanting, but a change from faith to sight.

Faith says not, “I see that it is good for me, so God must have sent it,” but, “God sent it, and so it must be good for me.” Faith, walking in the dark with God, only prays Him to clasp its hand more closely. ~Phillips Brooks (1835-1893)

Before making any decision it would not be inappropriate to prayerfully ask, “What if …?” before acting. Sometimes we ask, “What if …?” with regard to the past, but it’s too late at that point. But it’s not too late for the present or future, though your past choices have brought you to this present and limited your possible futures.

they flutter behind you your possible pasts
some brighteyed and crazy some frightened and lost
a warning to anyone still in command
of their possible future to take care
-Pink Floyd, “Possible Pasts” from The Final Cut

Today’s “if” impacts tomorrow and the subsequent “if” therein. Lord willing, you will have many more days of life ahead of you.

Life is comprised of many choices, many “if”s. In fact, “if” is the middle word in life.

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About Eric "Gunny" Hartman

Gunny is pastor of Providence Church in Plano, TX, and has taught at Dallas Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has completed coursework for a PhD in Rhetoric at University of Texas at Arlington and tries to be a good father to his 4 kiddos, exhibited by coaching a girls soccer team.

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