It’s one of the most cited “new” Scripture passages of the past generation, “Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live.” The pro-life setting is a different context, somewhat, from the original. The lectionary gives a bit more. It also is in today’s Lectionary, the Thursday after Ash Wednesday:
Moses said to the people:
“Today I have set before you
life and prosperity, death and doom.
If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God,
which I enjoin on you today,
loving him, and walking in his ways,
and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees,
you will live and grow numerous,
and the LORD, your God,
will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.
If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen,
but are led astray and adore and serve other gods,
I tell you now that you will certainly perish;
you will not have a long life
on the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and occupy.
I call heaven and earth today to witness against you:
I have set before you life and death,
the blessing and the curse.
Choose life, then,
that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God,
heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.
For that will mean life for you,
a long life for you to live on the land that the LORD swore
he would give to your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
Motivation is certainly key in the Christian life. Are we urged to avoid bad things, and live our lives in fear of trangressions? No doubt some people live that way. I can count myself as among them, especially when I was younger.
In sports, there is a principle of playing not to lose. Quite often, a team, with victory within reach, will change what has been a successful game plan in the closing seconds of a contest. And many sports fans can recount a time when their favorite team just collapsed, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
In my personal competing in games, especially chess, I can attest to the same mindset. It set me back as a chessplayer. I avoided delving into complications, for fear I would miss something. I liked the players who uncovered a small advantage and nursed it to a safe victory. I avoided early sacrifices and gambits, preferring to preserve a certain equilibrium and avoid the possibility of an early loss.
I had a fair amount of success in ten years of playing tournament chess. But I felt I left something behind, and I never achieved my goal of becoming a Master.
I think the spiritual life has similar pitfalls. I think I’ve been better off as a believer by trying to actively love God, walk the paths, keep God’s decrees, laws, and statutes–not from a sense of fear of consequences. But because I’ve known the fruits of a positive Christianity.
After seventeen years of marriage, I still befriend women. But there is no danger of getting into trouble. My wife and I enjoy an active and intentional marriage. And I make friends with people of the opposite sex, and I enjoy fruitful relationships in ministry and in other aspects of my life. Sure, it would be safe to avoid women totally, as some men, particularly celibates, do. But I feel no fear or worry.
Certainly, every person has to make judgments within her or his sphere of comfort and with self-knowledge. Sometimes avoidance is a necessary thing when we feel vulnerable.
But the sense I get from this reading is primarily that we choose life. We don’t choose not-death. There is a difference, and the difference is found partly in the quality of the life we will lead in walking with God. My sense is that we Christians shouldn’t play to avoid losing. Play to win. Live to the fullest. Expect God’s companionship to always provide the grace needed to be fruitful.