I do love The Big Bang Theory. It’s light weight and funny and I don’t have to think too much about it. It’s like junk food for the mind. In one episode, Sheldon Cooper, the genius physicist with serious inter-personal skills, decides to live his life based on the roll of two dice. He thinks that his precious brain is taken up with too much time in making decisions and so he leaves the decision making to the dice – everything from what to order for dinner, to whether to go to the bathroom or not.
You can see the flaw in the plan.
But we see issues with decision making in the Bible. Contrary to Sheldon Cooper, the issue isn’t that people are asking frivolous questions or asking too much. The issue is that they are not asking enough. And this is not asking based on two dice or a magic 8-ball. They are making decisions without recourse to God.
In the Old Testament, we hear a lot the phrase “they inquired of the Lord.” At a difficult point in her pregnancy, Rebekah inquires of the Lord to find out what is happening (Gen. 25:21-23). Later, while in exile, the Israelites want to inquire of the Lord and so go to his prophet, Ezekiel (Ezekiel 20:1-3). There is a noticeable high point in the frequency of the use of this phrase – it is used 8 times in 1 and 2 Samuel either by David, or at his behest. It gives a bit of a rhythm to these sections of the Bible and so when you find the phrase “did not inquire of the Lord”, you really trip over it.
Firstly, why point it out at all? Big deal – they turned left, they turned right, what difference does it make if they didn’t talk to God about it? It is said because, in our puny human wisdom, we clearly don’t know what is important and what isn’t and we need to lean on God for his greater understanding. The first time we read that the Israelites did not inquire of the Lord is when the Gibeonites trick the Israelites into making a treaty with them – something that God had forbidden his people to do. They were to go into the promised land and defeat everyone and take it, driving all the non-Israelites out. They weren’t to make a treaty with anyone – they were to be God’s chosen and separate people. The Gibeonites pretend to visit them from far far away and, without thinking, and without inquiring of the Lord, the Israelites make a treaty with them (Joshua 9:1-26). So by not including God in the process, they have already broken a commandment from God, and they aren’t even fully in the promised land yet.
Second, it’s there because we, as God’s people, need to know that there are consequences for not including him. The example above is one – its an unintended consequence to be sure but a consequence for their foolishness and thoughtlessness. But there are deeper consequences. 1 Chronicles 10:13-14 tells us that “Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.” Jeremiah tells us that “The shepherds are senseless and do not inquire of the Lord; so they do not prosper and all their flock is scattered.” (Jer. 10:21).
Without including God, we are disobedient. This might be unintentional, like Joshua, but that thoughtlessness means that God is not front and center in their minds. They are living and acting without thinking how their choices might be right or wrong.
Without including God, we are arrogant. Like Saul and the shepherds of the people in Jeremiah, when we don’t include God, we are leaning on their own understanding. We are putting ourselves in the place of God.
Without including God, we are foolish. We have access to the one who created, and holds together, everything in the universe. Why would we not ask him? In addition, by involving him in our choices, we get to be active participants in his plans and, as disciples of Jesus, that should be an actual goal.
So how much should we include him?
“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15)
Certainly the big things: job moves, house moves, investing money. Many of us may do this. What about the medium sized things? How about parenting decisions or what to do with discretionary money? And the small things? OK we might not involve God in every little thing but there might be some “small” things where it would be wise to include him – and it can certainly never hurt. I’m thinking things like whether to call this friend or that one because you only have time to call one of them to check in. Or how about whether to email that teacher about something minor that happened at your child’s school? Or whether we should get out of bed and go to church? There are lots of decisions we make every day that might well benefit from inquiring of the Lord.
But how are we supposed to know what he says? In the Old Testament God often gave clear and unambiguous answers, speaking clearly through his prophets. Today we have Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This means we can pray and feel drawn one way or another, or feel a particular sense of peace over something. But we can’t decide on feelings alone – I mean, what if that sense of peace is felt because I just had a caramel donut? We also have teaching in the New Testament that molds and shapes our consciences so we can approach our decisions with discernment.
I have to say, when I tripped over that first “did not inquire of the Lord” in my Bible reading, it smacked me in the face how often I don’t inquire of the Lord in most things. Which says to me that God is not front and center of my mind enough. But it also says that I’m out of practice. I need to consciously include God in more of my choices and test the feelings against my Bible-shaped wisdom – or even the Bible-shaped wisdom of trusted Christian friends.
But the idea that I could be an active participant in God’s plans by including him in more of the little things, is more exhilarating than I can say. Inquiring of the Lord is part of being a good and faithful servant. It is part of worshipping him. It is part of our relationship with him. The fact that God includes us in his plans is thrilling. There may be wisdom and obedience involved, but we gain so much more from him.