While the proverbial advice to “take each day as it comes” has some validity, it also masks the dangerous assumption that the choices we make today won’t have consequential carry-over tomorrow. In fact, while it is both harmful and a waste of time to worry about the unknowns of the future, it is always wise to consider what effect my decisions today will have on the options available to me later.
It is a common parenting tool to tell your kids as they are leaving the home to “make good choices.” We all understand that choices have consequences, and because we love our kids, we hope and pray and teach and train for the purpose of raising children who can lead healthy, happy and productive lives. But too often we don’t realize ourselves that each bad decision severely reduces the number of good decisions available to us.
Take, for example, the decision to lie. Once the lie leaves us, we only have two available options, and both of them are painful. First, we can continue down the path of intentional deceit that will most probably mean more lies, leading to even more lies. We will find ourselves trapped on the road of duplicity, forced to admit that we are liars, and consigned to keeping track of the minute, made-up details of our story.
The only other choice that follows a lie is to repent, admit we lied, and suffer the consequences. Either way, the choice to lie leaves us without any good choices left. And yet, we continue to use deceit intentionally, and watch as our national leaders turn lying into a daily business practice. The reason? Our national ethical foundation that once conceived of honesty as a cardinal virtue now considers pragmatism acceptable, with all its ugliness, as long as the outcome feeds our selfishness.
But the consequences of our choices are not always immediately seen. In marriages it is often the case that incremental isolation and indifference, intentionally played out in minuscule choices every day, take the couple down the path of incivility and conflict further and faster than any one skirmish might suggest. Then, one day they wake to the fact that they hate each other, and now they only have hard choices in front of them. Usually they choose what appears to be the least painful and head for divorce. But, as study after study, and plain old common experience have shown, divorce is a solution that only exacerbates the problem. Divorce, like a brick thrown in a pond, extends and deepens the ripples of pain outward, affecting children, friends, family, businesses and beyond. The only other choice is humility, repentance, forgiveness and reformation of hearts that have become hardened through the deceitfulness of incremental selfishness. In this case, the best option is still very hard.
The ugly truth is this: Every decision you and I make today will, in some way, determine the number of good decisions available to us tomorrow. Choosing an ethic today that values love, sacrificial service, honesty, self-control, humility and generosity will mean greater opportunities to love, serve and be loved tomorrow. In my world, all that is just another way of denying my natural, self-serving tendencies, identifying as a follower of Jesus Christ, and then setting my mind and heart to follow him closely.
When we let the biblical ethos set our ethical foundation, and choose righteousness, regardless of the temporal consequences, we will find that today’s good choices open up more good opportunities to lead lives of significance and contentment. You can only take each day as it comes if you have a coherent ethical foundation able to cope well with every eventuality.
Pragmatism simply won’t work long term. As a nation, and as individuals, we must demand better than that. If we are to live lives that matter, that make a positive, lasting difference, we simply must believe and stand for what is right, all the time. What we choose today will determine tomorrow’s opportunities. Now, let’s go out make some good choices.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.