A couple posts ago, I suggested that you’ll never create a culture in which a church can be planted until you actually make something. My example was pancakes. We made lots of them, and in making pancakes, we not only brought round, flat, fluffy edibles into existence; we also cultivated a context for making and partaking of said edibles.
There’s another sort of plunge you’ll have to get used to taking if you’re going to cultivate a community and/or plant a church. This time, the making isn’t necessarily going to result in material culture: something as concrete as a pancake. No, the thing that needs made here is a decision.
Making pancakes is easy. There’s a recipe. Follow it. Making moral decisions without the chance to deliberate extensively or consult the ‘specialists’—this is pretty much no fun at all.
The philosopher Jacques Derrida was interested in such moral dilemmas requiring immediate action. He suggested that what makes a judgment call what it is is precisely the fact that there is no calculus through which to run a dilemma, and no ethics textbook that unambiguously provides the answer to the present problem. It gets thornier. When you’re faced with a true crisis, you cannot not act. To do so would be more devastating than to act amiss. And yet, you cannot decide.
When you’re planting a church, you will be pressed to make very quick decisions. These decisions will have weighty pastoral significance. You will not have the luxury of deferring the decision until later or referring the matter to a specialist. When the action must happen now, you have to decide now.
You’re a finite person with limited reasoning capability. You have limited storage of facts and limited recall powers of those facts. You have limited ability to retain principles and limited ability to bring those principles to bear fittingly on concrete situations. What you do have in terrifying abundance, if not infinitude, are very, very concrete situations!
The chimneysweep just left. I waited tables for years in college, and I believe very strongly in the moral imperative to tip appropriately. Do you tip a chimneysweep? I had recourse to Google on my smartphone. It doesn’t appear that you tip a chimneysweep. I was able to determine this in 20 seconds while I was writing the check.
This is not the sort of undecidable decision that we’re talking about. Google does not have all the answers. It has a wonderful search algorithm, but there is no algorithm for immediately deciding what to say to someone, or how to help someone, when they, and you, are caught between two imperatives of seemingly equal strength.
Charles H. Spurgeon insightfully discerned that “discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It’s knowing the difference between right and almost right.” I agree. And yet, his insight is not going to make clutch moral judgments any easier, but rather more agonizing.
By definition, you don’t know when an out-of-the-blue moral dilemma is going to face you. Once there’s more information, once you’ve spent more time reflecting on the relationship between the principles and the concreteness of the situation, you’ll kick yourself for deciding how you decided. But in the spontaneousness and concrete contingency of the moment of crisis, the one thing you precisely do not have is more information and more time.
The one thing you can and must have—both in the throes of the undecidable crisis and at the moment you realize you should have decided otherwise—is the decision of God in Jesus Christ to love you. You will need to act and rest in the certainty that your loving Savior has acted and rested in creation, redemption, and even in the good providence that brought about your critical dilemma.
Knowledge is not the enemy. Time constraints are not the enemy. Ambiguity is not the enemy. Finitude is not the enemy. Acting or failing to act apart from the covering of the grace of God in Jesus—this is the enemy.
There’s a proverb in Latin America about the foreign missionaries that come there– “There are only two kinds of missionaries: those who take siestas, and those who leave the mission field.” Before, during, and after deciding the undecidable, siesta in the grace of Jesus.
This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength.” – Isaiah 30:15