The other day I was listening to the radio and a gentleman came on the line. He was relating a story about his wife. Apparently she was rather sick, possibly terminally ill. As the details spilled out, the part that caught my attention was how he dealt with it. As my mind drifted in contemplation of his plight, I put myself in his shoes, as tired, worn out from working all day, and coming home, to my wife asking me if she’s going to make it through the next week. In the gentleman’s words, you could hear the years of pain and sorrow in his voice. It was thick with his sorrows. Then the story changed. He said he couldn’t be morose, he couldn’t be down; his wife, his son — they looked to him for help and support every day, even after his long days. He said he would sit in his truck before going in the house, and maybe even cry, but he would come into that house, and he would put on a positive face, the good foot forward. His story got me thinking, he had it exactly right: We choose our attitude, and even more broadly, we choose our life. This is a thread that runs right off the pages of the Bible and into our lives.
Consider the first of these Biblical threads, concerning Adam and Eve.
“Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Has God indeed said, “You shall not eat of every tree of the garden”?’ And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.” ’ Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Gen 3:1-7).
This story is very familiar to most everyone. We know it, as the title in my Bible says, as “The Temptation and Fall of Man.” This is the first thread of the lesson God is trying to teach us. The serpent presents Eve with a choice, the choice of trusting God, or, as the Bible coyly notes, eating a fruit that was good for food, pleasant to the eyes, and could make you like God. I would surmise that Eve had thought about that fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil long before she ate it. Like placing a cookie jar on an ever higher shelf to remove the temptation, the woman had forbidden herself to even touch it. God’s original instruction was simply just not to eat of it; He said nothing about not touching it. Eve, and then Adam, were given a choice, and they chose to disobey the command of their Creator.
Put yourself there for a second and then listen to James…
“each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).
The decision of Adam and Eve follow that exact pattern. They looked upon the fruit, drawn to its tasty-looking delightfulness. Their eyes now bright, you can imagine, whether with bated breath or with driven impulse, they hear the words of the serpent, stroking their ego, saying, “you’ll be like God” and thinking, “well it is tasty” and so they choose, they bite, and then the consequences followed:
“In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19).
So, as Paul would say, and James would elaborate, the wages for those who choose sin is death.
The choices in the Bible are not always to continue in the path of fallen man. Man sometimes can go the opposite way. In the Chronicles of the Kings, we find the story of Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah. Hezekiah is always noted as one of the more faithful kings in the Old Testament. He did many good things in the eyes of God, and God helped him in the great battle with the Rabshakeh, Sennacherib and the Assyrians. But after him, came Manasseh. We read a summary of his reign:
“Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. But he did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel” (2Chron 33:1-2).
The writer of the Chronicles make it pretty clear that Manasseh’s choice was to not follow in the way of his father Hezekiah, or in the ways of the Lord. In fact, he emphatically rejected them. The end result was that…
“Manasseh seduced Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord had destroyed before the children of Israel” (2Chron. 33:9).
As you would expect, his enemies came to him, and drew him out. He was in the deepest of hells, as the Assyrians “took Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze fetters, and carried him off to Babylon…and when he was in affliction…” (2Chron. 33:11).
He was in the hell of his choosing. At this point, it seems he finally came to his senses; desperation and plenty of time to contemplate the consequences of one’s choices will do that. So what does Manasseh do? What would you do?
“He (Manasseh) implored the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed to Him; and He received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God” (2Chron. 33:12-13).
The second thread we pull is that not all choices are of the Adam and Eve variety, the ones which end in sin. Some choices bring redemption, for that is how God created us. He created us with a choice. Manasseh is emblematic of that dichotomy; he made the choices that walked away from God, and in fact defied God to His very face in that he was worse than the people God kicked out of the land to make room for His chosen ones. In the end, though, Manasseh made the choice to come back to God.
In this thread we pulled, I think we see choices in our own lives. Like the original story we started with, the man in that story wasn’t confronted with an easy choice. It may seem obvious, but obvious does not make easy.
Some other choices are not so obvious, even in Manasseh’s case: Was it obvious he was going to choose God, when to do so he had to turn his back on how he had lived his entire life? It’s like an alcoholic admitting to himself that he is the problem, it’s not someone else’s fault. Again, from the outside it can seem to be an obvious choice, even a simple one, but it’s like teaching an old dog new tricks; it isn’t easy, nor is it easy for someone to truly look into the mirror and strip away everything that they are, and turn away from it. But that’s what Manasseh did.
It is exactly what the New Testament writers are talking about when Nicodemus says to Jesus, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4).
Life is full of choices, some seem simple, some innocuous, some difficult, some simply don’t seem to have an easy answer.
We all face them each and every day. The Bible is full of stories of choices, but sometimes we gloss over them, and think to ourselves: Adam and Eve, how dumb can you be! You kind of messed that one up for everyone! Or, on the flip side, it may appear obvious that Jesus was going to give it up, all of it, for all of us, and with that I don’t mean to understate the gravity of those decisions, but I am relating sometimes how we think. Maybe you scream at David for betraying his servant and taking his wife, or grumble at Peter for denying his best friend. And you swear, I would never do that to my best friend. And, most definitely, I wouldn’t try to steal someone else’s wife or husband…
Yet we are all partakers of that flesh; we are Adam, we are Eve, we are Abraham, we are Rahab, we are David, we are Peter, we are even Manasseh. God made us flesh; he gave us free will; he gives us a choice. Just like the guy on the radio, who makes that choice every day to put on a brave face, a face of comfort, a face of happiness, even if it’s not always what he feels inside, in the end, it is still our choice.
Going back to the choice of Manasseh, he repented and turned his back on his former self. Isn’t that what baptism is all about it? God wants us to be like Jesus, and this leads to the choice to put off the old man — an easy phrase, that rolls off the tongue, but what it means, is making the choice to change our nature, to reject what we have been born into, and to choose something else. As Paul writes:
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Rom 6:1-6).
In the end, just as it was in the beginning, it is our choice.
Nathan Sleeper (Glendale, AZ)