Tuesday, August 23, 2011

7.20.2009 What If?

I’m a remarkably decisive person.  No second guessing or turning back once my mind is made up.  I’ll make my bed and gladly lie in it. 

But during the process of decision making, I like to play the “what if?” game, also known as “what’s the worst that could happen?”  If any of my decisions yield poor results, I simply stop moving in that direction and try something else.  But the idea of the best possible outcome is so exhilarating that it far outweighs the risks of failure. 

The what if? game isn’t just a tangential method of decision making.  It’s not just about imagining the potential outcomes; it also requires me to take action based on those possibilities.  And those actions speak volumes to my character, to my values – to my life. 

Today, I considered the account of Noah and the ark.  You know it, right?  God tells Noah to build this massive boat because a flood is coming to destroy the earth.  It’s kind of a big deal.  It takes Noah quite a while to build this thing, and it’s not like he could hide it in his back yard.  I mean, everyone saw him build it.  I’m sure they asked questions.  He couldn’t have been quiet about the impending doom – he must have warned the people that they would need to enter the ark to be saved. 

Noah appeared to be an absolute fool.  But…what if he wasn’t?  What if just a few more people had asked themselves…what if Noah is right

If Noah is wrong, then he calls out, “hey, the flood is coming, get in the ark”, everyone boards, they wait, nothing happens, then they all get out.  He becomes the village joke for generations, the ark is declared an historic monument, and he is ridiculed endlessly.  I admit, that’s not exactly the memory you want to leave with your family forever. 

But consider the alternative – what if Noah is right?  He declares the flood is coming, everyone takes shelter in the ark, it actually rains, and no one dies.  The entire human race is no longer completely obliterated.

As I reflected on this today, it saddened me.  The people – the ones who were destroyed in the flood – had no excuse.  The ark was right in front of them, the warning clearly given.  But they ignored it.  Or, they were too afraid to believe it because the potential risk of Noah being wrong, of the shame that might become theirs, was too much.  No one wanted to risk that Noah might have been right, and it cost them their lives.   

Blaise Pascal, famous for his groundbreaking mathematical concepts, also made an important theological realization.  He reasoned that it was better to wager that God actually existed because so living has everything to gain and nothing to lose. In other words, what if Jesus really is the savior of the world?  

This is actually why I decided to follow Jesus.  I had run out of arguments against him, even though I didn’t want to believe he was true.  But I figured that seeking him couldn’t make me a worse person, so I’d try it and see what happened.  And the fact is, if I’m wrong, I spent my life for a lie.  Which would be sad.  But if I’m right, then the glorious payoff that’s coming is unimaginable.  And the terrible destruction…well, that’s what saddens me today. 

A skeptic might ask, how can a good God execute vengeance at all? 

Do we question the goodness of a parent who, in the face of a disobedient child, cautions that punishment is coming and then effects that punishment when the child ignores the warning?  Friends, the ark is still being built, the warning is still being issued…and the message is still being ignored. 

Wager on God.  It’s a much safer bet.      

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