How far do you think your horse can take you?

Girl riding a pony in the rain All of us choose a way of making decisions in life and a way of determining what we will say and do. For many of us a philosophy has been built up by following a learned scholar or following the system used by family or friends. For others of us, there is a religious system that we have subscribed to that is the vehicle that we use to make our decisions about life. Many people have a cause that they have come to believe in that shapes every waking moment and consumes their very being--be it political, religious, environmental, or social. There have been those who allowed a fantasy to be the thing that drives everything that they say or do. All of these things are vehicles that allow us to make decisions and function in a way that we have deemed to be where we want to go. We make moral decisions, invest our money, form friendships, and use our time in the ways that these systems teach. It is important to be sure that whatever we have chosen to guide our lives is right. For many of us there has been very little thought about all of this. We have inherited a belief system from our parents, or we have accepted the system of our peers and go on using that system without ever really having thought through where it will lead us. In this article we would like to suggest some thoughts about how we can be confident about the basis of the decisions we make in life and what each of us needs to consider about where the belief system we are using takes us, and how far it goes. None of us really wants to try to go too far on something like what my granddaughter is riding in the picture on the cover of this issue of our journal.

Our son Tim Your vehicle always has to be accessible. Life has a way of putting you in situations where nothing that you have experienced in the past will help solve the immediate crisis. I can remember when the doctors first told us that our son Tim (picture at left, at two years old) would be blind, mentally retarded, and have neuromuscular problems. The emotions that charged through me were nothing like I had ever experienced before. None of my peers could relate to what I was going through, because none of them had ever been there. I can still remember the blank stares of friends who were lost as to what to say to me when I told them what I was facing. Philosophy 101 does not provide you with answers to this kind of experience. Not even the rituals and platitudes of religion can help with a new pain that is beyond anything you have ever had or thought of before. You cling to your loved ones physically, unable really to deal with your own pain, much less theirs.

Your vehicle has to deal with the real world. In a very similar way, whatever belief system you have, has to be able to deal with what really happens in life. As an atheist, I used to espouse the teachings of a famous philosopher known as Ayn Rand, who wrote numerous books promoting the new morality of the day in which I was a college student. Ayn Rand's philosophy sounded good on paper, and her books made it look like it would work. The problem with Ayn Rand's teachings were that they did not deal with the real world. Ayn Rand herself was unable to deal with the death of her husband. Problems like children born with multiple handicaps did not fit realistically into a philosophy that assumed that if everyone strives for what is best for them, everything will turn out all right. Children born with disabilities due to the drug or alcohol use of their parents or with AIDS, massive human loss in war, economic chaos produced by corporate greed and mismanagement, inherited poverty--these things and dozens of others like them are the real world. If your decision-making system does not allow you to deal affectively with these, it is an inadequate system.

One person calmly taking arrows, another running in panic Your vehicle has to be flexible. What happens when a person who has grown up in a middle-class white American home with three cars in the family and all of the luxuries they can imagine in life is suddenly thrust into a primitive native village in Africa? I have taken students in my high school into an area of monstrous poverty and had some of them just sit and cry, others cling to me as if this were a horror movie that will go away soon, and others go into catatonic state and just refuse to believe what they are seeing. Many of our belief systems can function only in the environment in which we were raised, and if the environment is changed then the belief system collapses. There have been missionaries who have come back from the mission field with a completely different system of beliefs than they had when they left because the belief system they left home with simply could not handle what they saw happening in the mission field.

Your vehicle has to have purpose. Why are you alive? When I ask that question of my students, the first reaction is usually total silence. This is followed by a uncomfortable smile in most cases. For many of us, the question is either not answerable, or answered by something we really do not believe or at least do not understand. "To make this world a better place" is a stock answer, but my response to that is "why?" What difference does it make whether the world is a better place or not --especially if you are about to leave it? Religious people may answer "to go to heaven." An atheist will correctly respond that such an answer is a totally selfish answer and shows no love or appreciation beyond one's own self. Our belief systems have to have a direction and a purpose, or they really do not offer the kind of support we need to really live them successfully.

Angry man pulling his hair out I would like to suggest to the reader that the only totally workable answer to what belief system will function totally and completely in all these areas is a belief system that involves a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and His will for our lives. I am not talking about Church here as an institution, but the teachings and relationship that God calls us to in Jesus Christ. This is a strong apologetic for the Christian system, and it is based upon the criteria we have been looking at. Let's look at them again from the Christian's perspective:

Your vehicle always has to be accessible. Jesus Christ made the promise that "I will always be with you, even to the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20). In the Christian system there is no human between man and God. There is no place you have to go, no procedure you have to go through, and no conditions you have to meet if you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. When Peter was walking on the water and he started to sink, all he had to do was say "Lord, save me" (Matthew 14:30) and his need was met. The Bible principle of "In Him we live and move and have our being" guarantees us the accessibility of Christ in all situations and without reservation. We are even told that when we do not know what to ask for, the Holy Spirit will take over and do it for us (see Romans 8:26-27).

Your vehicle has to deal with the real world. One of the impressive things about the work of Jesus was that he dealt with all kinds of people in all sorts of situations. He broke down the stereotypes of His day and of ours. He went into Samaria, when the average person of His day avoided it due to racial prejudice. He talked with and worked with women in real situations--a woman taken in adultery, the woman at the well, and the widow who had only a mite to throw into the temple offering--all of whom were outcasts in the eyes of the religious leaders of Jesus' day. Jesus dealt with poverty and fed 5,000 when they were hungry. He worked with lepers and blind people without hesitation. Christians have the ability, if they will follow Jesus, to adapt to all kinds of situations and to meet all kinds of needs. Jesus did it and gave the promise to help His followers to do it.

Your vehicle has to be flexible. The followers of Jesus Christ were an incredibly diverse group. Some were fishermen, and some were tax collectors--lowly occupations in that day. Paul was from the educated elite, and Luke was a medical doctor. Not only did the followers of Jesus deal with the real world, but they themselves came from the real world, and were able to be flexible enough to work with all kinds of situations. The Apostle Paul stated it so clearly when he said "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11-13). Christians have the ability to adjust to all situations, and the lesson of history is that Christians have done this in remarkable ways and changed the face of history in good ways as they have done so. We are not talking about the perversions of Christianity that the media like to point to like the crusades or the Ku Klux Klan--but the massive amount of medical educational and benevolent help that has been given by people in the name of Christ through the centuries.

Your vehicle has to have purpose. One of the reasons that most decision-making vehicles do not work, is that they do not understand the basic purposes of our existence--individually and collectively. One of the oldest, if not the oldest, book of the Bible is the book of Job. In this book we are given a glimpse of the reality of our existence. The struggle between good and evil and man's role in that struggle is laid out in clear terms. Throughout the New Testament we see continual references in passages like Ephesians 3:9-11 and Ephesians 6:12. ("For ours is not a struggle against flesh and blood, but against all the forces of evil that hold sway in the darkness around us, against the spirited host of evil arrayed against us in the heavenly warfare.") Any life-decision system that is based solely upon achieving something in this life is going to be disappointed, because an indisputable fact is that death awaits us all. If your decision-making system is based solely upon this life, than it is doomed to failure because of the fact of death.

Followers of Jesus Christ develop a relationship with God that really is a father-child relationship. In Galatians we are told that Christians are the adopted children of God and that Jesus is our brother (Galatians 4:4-7). Our relationship with the father is a love relationship. It is something that grows throughout our lives and brings us stability to do all of the things we have discussed previously in this article. Heaven is heaven because it brings that ultimate purpose to a culmination--a total unity and complete oneness with God that is like the one Jesus talked about in His prayer for unity. "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.." (John 17:21-23). It is only when we have that kind of unity with something greater than ourselves that we can face all that happens in life, and deal with all the circumstances that life brings our way. What horse are you riding? What is the vehicle that guides and controls your behavior and your life in a positive way that both now and in the future will give you happiness and productivity? I would urge you to consider the system of Jesus Christ, and begin that walk that brings the oneness that Jesus prayed for.

--John N. Clayton

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