A woman was walking her dog in the public park, when she came to a fork in the path. On the left hand, the path wound gently between lush flower gardens. On the right hand, the path meandered alongside a bubbling stream as sunlight danced lazily across the water. Which path should she take?
Not all of our decisions and choices in life are so pleasant, but there are often times where we face multiple options, each with a good outcome. Once, after I graduated college, I faced the inevitable question of “what do I want to do next?” On the one hand, I desired to serve other people and felt like I had a particular ability to counsel others. On the other hand, I knew it would be important to ground myself more firmly in my faith. So, since I could not make up my mind, I decided to leave it in God’s hands to see what His desire was.
I applied for graduate school in mental health counseling and at the same time applied for a bible school program, naively thinking: “if I flip a coin, God will decide which side lands up!” You can imagine how annoyed I was when, upon opening my mailbox a few weeks later, I saw both acceptance letters leaning against each other.
Certainly, serving others and attending to their needs is both righteous and fulfilling. Equally, learning more about God’s word in a structured and dedicated fashion would also be a good and noble venture. What was I to do?
Just as much as it’s difficult to choose between two positive options, it’s equally as difficult to pick between two negative options.
Sometimes, we have to make hard decisions. Ones that are not appealing no matter which way we turn. A dying relative on life support, admitting to your spouse that you haven’t been faithful, or whether or not to marry your girlfriend that you got pregnant. These are hard decisions.
We experience crossroads similar to this at many times in our lives. Choices that, upon initial examination seem of equal value. How are we to decide between them? We have written about tools and approaches to decision making in another article, but these types of choices are in their own category.
What is the lesser of two evils, and what is the greater of two goods? How does one determine for him or herself, especially when it seems as though God wants us to make our own decisions, like He did for my education options?
Examining the Impact
Even though two options may seem to have equal value, it’s likely the case that a deeper investigation into the outcome of the options will lead to discovering true differences. Besides the fact that a graduate degree in counseling would have set me back about 30 thousand dollars more than studying the Bible, they were both admirable options. Surely, God calls us to serve others and heal them from their infirmities just as much as He calls us to learn the intricacies of His way. Which would have had the greater outcome? More importantly, which would have had the greater impact over the course of a long period of time?
A degree in counseling and guaranteed job placement surely would have set me up for an early start to a lifetime of service, a solid income, and important tools for dealing with others. The other option, studying the word of God, would not lead to any immediate job or service calling. However, what is healing people without bringing them to, or strengthening them in, Jesus? Which would yield greater results in the long term, serving people immediately, or serving people after laying a strong foundation of faith and understanding?
My choice was made, and I was glad God allowed me to make it. For it is only through wrestling with decisions like this that we can come closer to the wisdom that was given to Solomon (1). However, it was only after understanding the two options completely that I realized the long-term impact of one outweighed the short-term impact of the other.
Taking a Look at Providence
Perhaps it’s a bit more difficult to choose between two bad options. We can see these struggles within the Bible as well. Sarah had to choose between not submitting to her husband or deceiving a king (2). Rahab had to choose between lying or letting some Israelites die (3). David had to choose between disobeying temple law or having his people starve to death (4). I do not pretend to be able to explain the intricacies of each of these situations and the doctrinal implications, however, there are many good articles and opinions which seek to explain these (5).
All of these individuals were blessed after their decisions were made. That’s the key, really. In which option lies the most providence? If you are unable to make any decision except a negative one, which one does God promise and provide the most assurances of providing and blessing?
Once, a close friend of mine admitted that he had gotten his girlfriend pregnant. They had some opposite beliefs on certain religious subjects. “What should I do?” he asked. Of course, the two options in front of him were: marriage with someone who does not believe the same things or ending the relationship and supporting the single mother and baby financially.
He was facing two hard choices. On one hand, a clear principle in the bible is that one should not be ‘unequally yoked’ (6). On the other hand, God requires the man in this particular situation to indeed marry the woman (7). The outcomes and impact of the choice made are both difficult: one leads to potential struggle and compromising of beliefs, the other potentially leads to a child growing up without a father. Neither is ideal, yet one must be chosen.
The Bible is full of promises and directives to full households: a husband’s relationship with his wife, a father’s relationship with his children, a child’s blessing and protection because of his or her parents. Subsequently, God’s providence in this situation is clearly stated: he makes the unbelieving spouse sanctified and keeps the son holy (8).
The Role of Your Heart’s Intent
If we are facing multiple good decisions or multiple hard decisions, we need only to examine closely the outcome and impact and the providence God gives to make our choice. In the end, a decision made in faith and in consultation with God will be respected and blessed (9). For God judges us based on the intent of our heart (10). If our intent is for the best possible, most righteous, and most noble outcome; we have His statements and promises as our assurance.
(1) 1 Kings 3:12, (2) Genesis 20:2-5, (3) Joshua 2:1-7, (4) 1 Samuel 21:1-6, (5) https://www.versebyverseministry.org/bible-answers/how-to-pick-the-best-of-two-bad-options, (6) Deuteronomy 7:3-4 and 2 Corinthians 6:14, (7) Exodus 22:16 and Deuteronomy 22:28-29, (8) 1Corinthians 7:14, (9) Romans 8:28, (10) Proverbs 16:2