Two mountains, one choice. Choose Wisely

Ebal and Gerizim: Which mountain will you climb today?

“…I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.  So choose life in order that you may life, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him…”  Moses

On labor day I went for a stroll with my wife and youngest daughter up in the Cascades.  We were on the famous Pacific Crest Trail for a few miles (and met a wonderful man who had been hiking on it all the way from the California/Oregon border to our location over 450 miles north), until we eventually came to junction and needed to make a decision: leave the trail and take the road to the left back to our cabin, or continue on in order to summit Mt. Catherine.  We convened, considered all the elements of work still to be done that day, a party we wanted to attend, and the state of our bodies, and made a decision:  it’s time to start making our way home.  By choosing the one, we were, of course, saying no to the other.

I wish all decisions were that clear, that simple.  It seems that life is filled with complexities and nuances, as we try to navigate the choices in front of us related to career, romance and sexuality, shopping, politics, food choices, and what to do with our free time.  We make thousands of choices every day, many of them based on habits and values already deeply ingrained – so much so that perhaps we don’t even think of them as choices.  “Of course I’m going to…” and then you can fill in the blank with any number of things that come automatically to you.  These automatic choices shape the majority of how we invest our time and money, and if we’re not careful, we’ll soon find that the possibilities of our own transformation are dramatically diminished because so much of life is “just the way it is”.   WARNING:  We’d better address this or it will kill us!  If you think I’m exaggerating, consider these three truths:

1. Today I have set before you life and death, blessing and the curse.  So choose life in order that you may live. Moses

2. There is a way which seems right to a man, but it’s end is the way of death.  Solomon

3. The unexamined life is not worth living.  Thoreau

Put another way, our the health of our lives is nothing more than the fruit of the endless choices we make, and so we’d be wise to find ways of remembering this, moment by moment as we live out our days.  Healthy food or junk?  Enough sleep or mindless distraction from our pain by staying up and watching too much TV?  Worry or prayer? Self-comforting in the midst of pain and weariness through choosing addictive pleasures, or leaning into Christ as a source of comfort?  Giving the finger to someone on the freeway who cuts you off, or inhaling and praying for them?  Writing that check for generosity or buying that extra fleece jacket?  Voting for X or Y? Choices shape us.  Choices matter.

I love the way Moses addresses this in Deuteronomy 27 and 28 because it’s imagery so powerful, so clear.  You’re standing between two mountains and Moses says that one mountain represents listening for God’s voice and following it, while the other represents ‘doing your own thing’ (my paraphrase).  The former leads to the summit of life, the latter to death.  Death?  Yes; at the very least in the sense that to the extent we’re living lives of lust, anxiety, greed, fear, bland consumerism, and quiet desperation, we’re stuck in a trench of death.  “Choose life” says Moses, “that you may live” which is nothing more than a way of saying two things:

1. Seek revelation from God for your daily choices. Inherent in the conversation is the notion that none of us get it fully right, that without revelation from the outside, it’s overwhelmingly easy to make choices that are easy, comforting, and wrong.  We’d rather hear lies from Neville Chamberlain, than the hard truth from Churchill.  But that’s the whole point of it: truth, in the end, leads to life.   I have habits of Bible reading and prayer because I don’t believe that I have all the answers in life, and while the Bible can be tricky to figure out and easy to abuse, it’s also true that the end of its story, where history is heading, is a place of unspeakable joy, saturated with beauty, justice, healing, celebration, and yes – life!  That’s the story I want to choose in every choice I make.

2. Respond to that revelation.  When Moses says “Choose Life” he’s saying that in the end, we can’t stay in the valley between the two mountains, that we will, all of us, make choices about time, relationships, sexuality, how we treat the planet, what we do with our addictive and destructive behaviors.  What’s more, he’s saying that the “road less travelled by” to quote Frost, is the road of life.  Moses isn’t saying that to create some sort of self-righteous, “I’m in – your out” paradigm, whereby we’re constantly judging others.  Rather, the whole point of it is force us to choose; moment by moment, and day by day, the road that leads to life.

To put it another way, looking at the map is not the same thing as climbing.  In a highly educated community like the one to which I belong, that’s a challenging statement.  I’d like to think that another Bible study, another blog post, another thought for the day, another argument about some esoteric ethical issue can replace obedience but I’m wrong – it’s about the living, not the talking!

Time to go call my mom, clean the dishes, and greet the guests upstairs.  Time to choose life.


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  • Ryan Hofer

    One disconcerting aspect of choice is the limits we work within. My choices are contingent upon my context and the chances I encounter in life. Those chances are difficult to narrate and piece together, but still quite real and potentially full of change. But if every chance is fraught with life or death, that’s a real mind-bender. Seems to me that most people are piecing together appraisals as they go along, and sublimating many past choices into a mood of the present. That’s more of Frost’s point; both roads are pretty much the same, but he chooses one and follows it for no particular reason. Only at the end, looking back, does he make his choice into a kind of heroic decision. This could apply to many choices: career, friends, and religion. Catholics, Protestants, Mormons and Muslims (to name a few) could all fit themselves into a process of feeling justified, after the fact, by choosing the road of greater meaning and justification.