Sunday, January 25, 2009

Decisions, decisions

Isaiah 2:4 “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”
Joel 3:10 “Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears.”

I stopped for gas yesterday. As I stood there in the cold, some seagulls swooped down nearby, hoping for a few dropped fries from the Burger King at the rest stop. I looked at them and marveled that the same basic skin and feathers protected them both in this biting cold and in the heat of summer. I thought about the way God designed the creatures of air, land, and sea to live in their environments. And I thought of the way that God provided each of them with some form of defense from enemies and how some of them were actually given offensive weapons: talons and claws and very sharp, pointy teeth.

“But what about human beings?” I thought, as I shivered under several layers of clothes and coats. Our God-given skin protects us from neither snow nor sun. It is not thick enough to protect me even from the cat kneading my lap and no porcupine quills or skunk spray spring up to throw at those who threaten me. What was God thinking?

I continued to think about that on the way home (it’s mentally exhausting being me) and realized that what God provided for us was a body that could be used for many different endeavors and in many different circumstances. Like getting a naked Ken and Barbie in a box, however, we have to be intentional in deciding how we will dress and equip ourselves. Our hands are designed for delicate work, but whether we perform surgery, tat lace, or make bombs is up to us. We have legs that are designed to propel us, but whether we use them to compete in sports, run from our enemies, charge into battle, or dance with our children is our decision. We can digest foods of so many types that almost all options, from the vegan to the cannibal, are open to us.

I think that range of choice is evident in the seeming contradiction of the biblical prophets. Isaiah’s call is for a time when wars will end as people elect to use the raw material of metal to cleave soil rather than flesh—swords to plows. But Joel calls people to a different task: to leave their farms and seek vengeance in war—plows to swords. And just a few verses later, in verse 14, Joel describes all the nations under God’s judgment: “Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision.”

I think that is indeed how we will be judged—by the decisions we have made. How have we decided to equip ourselves? Have we made more plows or more swords with the raw metal of our lives? Have we used our hands to push others down or to raise others up? Have we used our legs to kick or to dance or to support a child on our shoulders? Have we nourished ourselves with what is good? God gave us our bodies for a reason, but elected not to make that reason entirely clear. If we had a big rhino horn instead of a nose, we could make some assumptions. Instead, however, we were deposited naked into the valley of decision.

The good news is that just as I can put away my winter clothes and dress for summer when the weather changes, so I can decide to change many other things. I might be surrounded by swords, but at any time I can begin to beat those swords into plows. Or not. God gave me hands capable of wielding either and left the decision to me. Our new envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, put it in this hopeful way: “Conflicts are created, conducted and sustained by human beings; they can be ended by human beings.”

And so we sit in the valley of decision—our decisions about our own lives and God’s decision about whether our choices have helped or hurt the world. It’s both the most hopeful gift and the most weighty responsibility. Swords or plows? It’s up to us.


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