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Making the Best of a Bad DecisionHow to put your regrets behind you, embrace grace, and move toward a better future
By ERWIN W. LUTZER
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Erwin W. Lutzer
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE WORST DECISION EVER MADE
Thankfully, it wasn't yours
What, in your opinion, was the worst decision ever made? No matter how badly you think you have blown it, I can assure you that others have made worse decisions. God was there to redeem their poor choices and set them on a different path, so we can be sure he is there for us when we take a wrong turn on the road of life.
In the Bible, we're told about a couple who made the worst decision of all time. Surrounded by the most perfect environment, they chose a path with incredibly far-reaching consequences. In fact, their decision has affected every generation since theirs, right up to today. No other decision has so negatively affected so many people for so long a time—for eternity, to be exact. Of course, at the moment of truth, they didn't know that their decision would boomerang and give birth to all kinds of evil: violence, natural disasters, and even death. Yes, Adam and Eve win the prize for the worst decision ever made. But if we can recognize that God was both able and willing to make the best of their self-made tragedy, we can be confident that he stands ready to help us, too.
The Opportunities They Had
Visualize Adam and Eve in Paradise. They enjoyed a perfect environment, with no unfulfilled needs. They lived in a beautiful garden, surrounded by God's masterful handiwork, and their five senses were undiminished and uncorrupted. Were they hungry? There were many trees in the Garden from which they could freely eat. And if they had wanted something they didn't already have, they could've asked God, and I'm sure he would have created it for them.
Eve had no insecurities. She not only lived in a perfect environment, but she also had a perfect husband! I'm sure Adam faithfully carried out the garbage and helped with the dinner dishes. No doubt he was sensitive, caring, romantic, and all those other things so rightly prized by women. Eve didn't have to worry about the woman next door becoming too friendly with Adam. She didn't have to compete with supermodels and actresses on every magazine cover. And she didn't have to lie awake at night wondering whether she had married the right man!
Adam and Eve also had the advantage of direct access to God. They walked with him in the cool of the day, evidently enjoying discussions and very likely having their questions answered. But one day they made a choice that ended their evening walks with the Almighty. Standing together by the one tree in the Garden they'd been told not to eat from, Adam and Eve made a decision that contaminated their relationship with God and with each other. In effect, by a single bite of a forbidden fruit, they became God's enemies, and their own beautiful relationship turned sour.
Now, if you ask why this couple chose to disobey God, even though they were in a perfect environment and had everything they wanted and needed, there's no good answer. The Bible doesn't give us a full explanation. What we do know is that, in our own day and age, people make bad decisions all the time, despite privileged circumstances and loving families. Like Adam and Eve, we often choose to do what we think is best for ourselves, and we disregard the warnings and wisdom of others, including God.
The Decision They Made
God's command was clear: "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die" (Genesis 2:16-17).
When Satan, in the guise of a serpent, approached Eve, he focused—as he so often does—on the one thing that God had placed off limits. He diverted Eve's attention from all the goodness surrounding her and Adam—the many trees from which they were free to eat—and called into question God's wisdom and love. He tricked Eve into thinking she could do better by disregarding God's clear command.
Adam, of course, doesn't get a free pass here. He stood by while Eve was tempted and then joined in her bad decision to eat the forbidden fruit. And so they sinned, even while surrounded by innumerable blessings.
Maybe your own story is like that. Maybe you were brought up in a stable home, with loving parents and wonderful opportunities. Yet the allure of doing your own thing distracted you from what you knew was best. Maybe you followed your desires and ignored your best instincts.
Let's look more closely at what drew Adam and Eve off track. It all began when Eve elevated her own desires above God's wisdom. The tree was desirable—it was pleasant to the eyes, and it appeared as if it would make her wise. At the moment of decision, that meant more to her than what God had said. She was deceived by her senses, and that gave her the courage to ignore God's word. In essence what the serpent said to her was, "Eve, feel, don't think. It looks good—do it! It if feels good, how can it be bad?"
Of course, our emotions don't always mislead us, but like Adam and Eve we are often tempted to take the path of least resistance when pursuing something we desire. The decisions we make can seem so simple, and yet the consequences can be devastating. God had warned Adam and Eve that they would die if they ate the wrong fruit, but at that point they didn't even know what death was! There was no example of death in Paradise. Perhaps Eve was curious: "I wonder what death really is? Maybe death will be a wonderful experience, better than life itself." Then there was the added promise that, if they ate, they would be "like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5).
A Window into Our Hearts
Our minds can justify anything that our hearts really want to do. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are driven by our desires. We may think we make decisions based on rational considerations, but we are much more influenced by our passions and our appetites. Because we have to live with our consciences, we carefully rationalize what we really want to do—and continue to rationalize after we've done it. Our minds become enslaved to whatever our desires demand. We tell ourselves, Nobody's perfect, but I'm basically a good person. Besides, it isn't my fault things turned out the way they did.
Moments after Adam and Eve sinned, the finger-pointing began. Adam passed the blame to God and to Eve, and she passed it on to the serpent. Adam and Eve were incapable of seeing themselves as they really were, and so are we. Our rationalizations become deep and lasting, and we become entrenched until we are shaken awake by a moment of reality—often it takes a crisis to awaken the conscience. You've heard it said that most people change only when they see the light, but it's more accurate to say that we change only when we feel the heat!
Eve gave birth to a son and they named him Cain. As Eve nursed him, she had no idea the consequences of sin that awaited their little family. When a second son was born, they named him Abel. He grew to be a godly young man who learned to bring the right kind of offering—a blood sacrifice—to God. Cain, the firstborn, also brought an offering, one from the fruit of the ground. But God rejected his offering even as he accepted Abel's. Jealousy now took root in Cain's heart, and in a fit of rage he killed his brother. Another terrible decision. Thus the long and sordid history of dysfunctional families began.
No Return to Paradise
Before Adam and Eve sinned, they were naked but not ashamed. Imagine having a relationship with God, and with other people, without shame or guilt getting in the way. Imagine if your thoughts were so pure, so holy, that you would have no shame even if your most private musings were known to your spouse, your children, your parents, and your friends. Imagine the freedom this would bring to your relationships: no anger, lust, pride, or selfishness.
Despite their deep regret, Adam and Eve could not return to Paradise. God set up a barrier that forced them to stay away from the home they once enjoyed. Every morning when they awoke outside of Eden, they regretfully remembered that things were not as they once had been. Their innocence could not be restored; no amount of tears would grant them the privilege of spending so much as a night in the idyllic surroundings they had once enjoyed.
The young couple who have surrendered to temptation and slept together can never have their virginity restored. The man who has foolishly gambled away his savings or squandered it on a get-rich-quick scheme cannot recover what he has lost. The woman who has married against her parents' advice and now regrets having to live with an indifferent husband cannot retrace her steps and back out of her vows.
Ever since the days of Adam and Eve, we have been deceived by the attractiveness of sin just like they were. In fact, we're often eager to believe the lies that tell us we can do whatever our sinful desires dictate. It's as if we long to be deceived. We live with regrets, just as they did, and we wish we could undo our foolish decisions, but all those bad decisions create a barrier that keeps us from ever going back to the way things were.
But even as the door to Paradise was closing to Adam and Eve (and to us), the door of hope swung wide open. God assures us that something good can still be made from the pieces of our broken lives.
Hope amid Regret and Loss
After Adam and Eve sinned, they hid themselves among the trees of the Garden. They who had felt no shame were now crushed by its powerful effects. The trees that had once been a pleasant backdrop to fellowship with their Creator now became a wall to hide themselves from him and from one another. From then on, much psychological energy and ingenuity would be expended to keep hiding. Adam and Eve had reason to feel ashamed.
Shame is a powerful emotion. I'm told that in Japan, if a man is fired from his job, he often will not tell his family; and if he continues to be out of work, he will not go home. This has contributed to the rise of a street culture in Japanese cities. Suicide is on the rise. We so desire acceptance that we will be emotionally destroyed if we don't get it.
Albert Camus, in The Fall, writes, "Each of us insists on being innocent at all cost, even if he has to accuse the whole human race and heaven itself." Some people, filled with narcissistic obsessions, are psychologically incapable of taking responsibility for anything, no matter how unjust, corrupt, or abusive their behavior. They appear incapable of entering into the pain of others, but interpret such misfortunes only in relationship to themselves. They will go to their graves without uttering the words, "I have sinned" or "I'm sorry."
Adam and Eve both admitted to what they had done, but they wouldn't take responsibility for it. As the saying goes, the man blamed the woman, the woman blamed the serpent, and the serpent didn't have a leg to stand on! We have clearly followed in their footsteps, stoutly resisting our own responsibility; blaming others; shaping the facts to protect our selfish egos; and if necessary, destroying those around us in order to preserve our own sense of self-worth.
After the Fall, Adam and Eve weren't trying to find their way back to God; they simply hid from him. It was God who initiated the search (as he always does), walking in the Garden and calling out to the disgraced couple. If anything, they sought to become their own gods, so that they wouldn't have to be exposed to the holiness of the one whom they had wronged. But thankfully, the true God wouldn't let them go. His search among the trees of the Garden was the beginning of their redemption—and ours.
Into the middle of this mess, God came to inject a healthy dose of grace. He cursed the serpent, to be sure, but in doing so he gave a wonderful promise of hope to humanity. In Paradise Lost, John Milton speaks of it as "the fortunate fall," because when we are brought back to God there is glory in our restoration. Sin has no glory, but reconciliation does.
When God confronted Adam and Eve about their sin, he also spoke to the serpent: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel" (Genesis 3:15).
What does this promise mean?
A Redeemer committed to rescuing humanity from their sin and folly was on his way! The woman's offspring—a reference to Jesus Christ—would crush the head of the serpent, even as the serpent would bite him on the heel. In other words, the heel of the Redeemer would grind the head of the serpent into the dust. The Redeemer would win the battle decisively. No contest.
This story is familiar to anyone who has studied the Bible, but I recount it here because it is central to God's plan for making the best of our bad decisions. Bad decisions cannot be undone, but they can be redeemed. And Jesus Christ is the key.
Centuries later, when Jesus died on the cross, the serpent deceived himself by thinking, Now that I've killed him, I've destroyed my opposition! But three days later, Jesus rose from the grave; and a few weeks later, he went to heaven in undisputed triumph. His wound was light and temporary; the serpent's wound was fatal, decisive, and permanent. It's in the power of the Redeemer that we're able to make the best of our bad decisions.
"Through your faith in the working of God, ... [he] made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" (Colossians 2:12-15). Jesus disarmed Satan, exposing the devil as a shimmering fraud.
After they sinned, Adam and Eve clothed themselves with fig leaves. No doubt if they'd had enough of them, they might have been able to make dresses and shirts. But even though the fig leaves enabled them to hide from one another, their self-styled clothing did not hide them from God. Fig leaves might make a dress, but they soon wither. God knew they needed a more permanent covering; an expensive covering that only he could supply.
"The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them" (Genesis 3:21). Where did God get the skins? Evidently, he killed one of the animals of the field. With this sacrificial provision, God began teaching a basic principle: Blood must be shed for the forgiveness and covering of our sin. There could be no cheap covering for sin.
God dressed Adam and Eve so that their fellowship with him could be restored and their sin and shame covered. Those animal skins had no intrinsic value, but they symbolized what would become clear later: that sin must be not only forgiven but covered. Throughout history, many animals were sacrificed, pointing to the future coming of Jesus, "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).
Withering fig leaves wouldn't do. Centuries after Adam and Eve, God himself had to suffer on the cross so that we might be forgiven. His forgiveness, though costly to him, is given freely to us. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). That truth doesn't change just because we make some bad decisions.
What God Does with Our Sin
Many people today have a neurotic preoccupation with their sin. Sometimes they confess their sins to one another, which brings them temporary relief. Most often, they resolve to do better, trying to find within themselves a reason why God should forgive them. Even when they confess their sins to God, there is no permanent relief from the feeling that they have messed up and are condemned to mess up again in the future.
The first step toward breaking out of this trap is to understand that nothing within us merits God's forgiveness. Minimizing our sin does not make us worthy before God; magnifying our sin does not give us reason to think we are beyond forgiveness. Forgiveness and reconciliation with God are given freely, apart from what we have done or who we are.
We are pardoned because of the death of another—the promised Redeemer sent by God. We have been justified by his blood (Romans 5:9); we have our consciences cleansed by his blood (Hebrews 9:14); and the serpent—our accuser—has been defeated by his blood (Revelation 12:11). The work of Christ is the one and only basis of our forgiveness. Neither our goodness nor our badness affects this objective fact.
Excerpted from Making the Best of a Bad Decision by ERWIN W. LUTZER Copyright © 2011 by Erwin W. Lutzer. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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