Our grandson Zachary is about to complete his residency in anesthesiology. After four years of medical school, this five-year program, as you would expect, has been highly focused on what an anesthesiologist must know.
But along the way, nuggets of truth tangential to his training have also proven to be valuable. He gave me an example.
Some time back, he listened to a talk a medical doctor had given to a chapter of the Christian Medical Fellowship. It was about how to make good decisions.
The doctor, he explained, set forth two reference points that should be reckoned with when one is making decisions: righteousness and wisdom.
The doctor’s first point was that the standards of righteousness are fixed. They are set down in the Scriptures, and these standards, God’s Ten Commandments, are solid and unchanging reference points.
They may not break down for us the thousands of questions our minds can raise but our decisions are more to be trusted if we act in accordance with them.
For example, we are to worship no other gods, and to revere God’s name; we are not to steal or bear false witness, etc. Issues like these are not negotiable (Exodus 20).
At the same time, the standards of righteousness, though changeless, do not need to be consulted for every decision. For example, whether to wash the car on a Saturday afternoon may not require moral pondering. But whether to return an extra five dollar bill given out unintentionally by a cashier requires a clear and instant moral response.
What to wear to a picnic may not take a lot of moral thought, while whether to enter a business partnership with someone whom you sense may not always be honest does trigger a process that should lead to a clear moral decision.
Wisdom, Zach heard, is the application of common sense undergirded by our understanding of righteousness. Both of these aspects of our reality must be factored in for good decision making.
For example, wisdom helps us to choose our friends wisely. It aids us in making good vocational moves. Working together with the demand that we must aim to be righteous, wisdom applied can save us from entanglement with false friends and such entrapments as substance abuse, pornography, and other soul-destroying enticements.
Wisdom encourages us to maintain our commitment to righteousness and at the same time wrestle with the unknowns and perplexities of life. That is, our commitment to righteousness gives us a solid footing for decision-making while wisdom helps us probe the options, imagine consequences, and evaluate godly advice.
The point the doctor made that seemed most helpful to Zach — and would have been most helpful to me at the same age — was that when we must make a decision for which there is not an obvious “wisdom-directed” answer, after we have satisfied the righteousness criteria we can move forward without paralyzing fear.
That’s because when our first impulse is to honor God and always make righteousness our primary aim, and when we use the best wisdom at our disposal, we can believe that God will take our decisions and bless their outcomes, or even teach us from them. And we can believe as well that he will deliver us from the paralysis of second-guessing our decisions.
Photo credit: Richard Elzey (via flickr.com)