British Prime Minister David Cameron has just signed an agreement with Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond for a referendum on Scottish independence from the UK. The Edinburgh Agreement allows a single-question referendum to be held in autumn 2014, answering a simple yes-no question as to whether Scotland should stay as part of the “United Kingdom”, or be allowed to go its own way. Surely the most important political decision for Scotland in hundreds of years, the other novelty is that 16 and 17 year olds will also be allowed to vote.
Some baulk at this, maintaining that few young people of that age are really in a place to be able to understand the ins and outs of political debate and should thus be barred from voting. Others counter that the majority of 20-somethings also are pretty clueless, not to mention the rest of the population, and that on this basis just about everyone should be excluded, leaving voting for a politically aware and educated minority. Hardly a modern concept of democracy. It certainly does seem that most peoples voting habits are either inherited (“my family’s Labour”), a reaction to how badly the previous government has done (“the others can’t be any worse”) or, worse still, the product of carefully designed and hugely expensive advertising campaigns that know how to manipulate an unwitting electorate rather than any thought-out position on the basis of electoral programmes or socio-political convictions. It really does seem that the future of our countries is in the hand of marketing experts and image consultants as much as anyone else.
This seems to be the case nowhere more keenly than in the upcoming US presidential elections. Obama’s fund-raising target for his campaign is $1 billion and Romney will not come far short of that. Overall spending by all presidential candidates during 2012 will pass the $8 billion mark. As in every other sphere, advertising combines information fed to our minds with material designed to elicit an emotional reaction, a non-rational choice. Whoever has most cash to spend on their campaign generally wins the race (see this USAToday article for a few details). And we really are naïve enough to think that the results of political elections are simply about a democratic choice of who we consider to be the best candidate?
Choice. Life is a series of choices. And the consequences of these choices. The Bible tries to educate us to choose well, and informs us in no uncertain terms that, while we certainly can be the victims of others’ choices, as a rule we make our own bed and will then have to lie in it. The book of Proverbs is dedicated to trying to help the younger generation make wise choices before they suffer the consequences of not-very-well-thought-through impulse decisions. A raft of unhappy events could be avoided by heeding some of the advice this book presents.
The Bible faces us with a number of other choices too, all ultimately with huger consequences than who who vote for in the next election. From beginning to end, we are faced with the choice humanity has to make between allowing God into our lives, including him in what we do, or preferring to leave him out. Following that initial choice in the garden of Eden, God is consistently inviting us all to take him into account and give him room in our lives. Or as the old book puts it, to listen to him and to follow him.
There’s so much at stake. Moses faced the people of Israel up with this choice: “I have set before you life and death… Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.” Life itself, both quality of life in the here and now and eternal life in the eternal “there and then” depend on this choice.
Paraphrasing Joshua’s challenge to Israel after they had entered the promised land, Bob Dylan tells us what this choice involves: “you gotta serve somebody”. By our very nature, we end up being the servant of what/who we choose to love, follow and listen to. Whether God with a capital G or some other god that takes his place, we end up serving someone or something, with all the consequences that brings.
Jesus faced his disciples with a choice too – just who was he to be for them? There are many opinions “out there” about who Jesus was, but in the end they don’t matter; what matters is what we think about him, who we say he is, and how we behave as a result. Jesus led his disciples through concrete experience with him to that place where they could say, along with Peter, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. And that declaration would change their lives. They chose to serve the one who they had seen would give them true life.
So choose well. Think deeply about what you want. Take time to consider the consequences of your choices. Refuse to blame anyone else for what you have chosen. Make space to listen to God. Let Jesus’ life impact yours. Follow him. Serve him. Choose life.