Decisions, Decisions

Genesis 24 is all about decisions. And it’s long, really long. It sort of feels long and drawn out like a lot of decisions in life. Here’s a frequent conversation Kaylan and I have. Maybe you can relate.
“Where do want to eat?”
“How about pizza?”
“Eh…what about tacos?”
“Nope. Thai?”
Fast forward 45 minutes, and we’ve driven around Napa three times, and somehow always end up at In N Out. 
I can’t promise that Genesis 24 will solve all of your date night decisions, but I think it does point us in some helpful directions. So take a look at it. I’m not going to include it all here, because it’s roughly the length of the dictionary. Here’s the cliff notes.
Abraham realizes Isaac needs a wife, so he calls in his most trusted servant. He makes him place his hand on Abraham’s…man parts…I’ll explain later. The he has him promise he’ll go back to where Abraham is from and find a wife for Isaac. 
His servant promises and heads out. When he arrives, he sits by a well, where the young women would be going to get water. He thinks to himself, “Whoever offers me and my camels water might be the right type of person.” Lo and behold, a woman named Rebekah comes up and does just that. 
After some quick conversation, the servant is welcomed to Rebekah’s family’s home. It doesn’t take long before he admits to the family why he’s there, and everyone (including Rebekah) agrees that marrying Isaac is good idea. After working out the details, Rebekah returns with the servant, sees Isaac, they marry, grow to love each other, and the rest is history. No Tinder or Christian Mingle needed.
So, then how does this help us think about decisions today, thousands of years later? We shouldn’t take it (or a lot of things in the Bible) as a template. Instead, we should look at what the story is moving towards, and have our decision move in the same way. When we look at the context of the story, we find that certain parts of it are pretty radical for their time, and point in a certain direction. So, let’s check out three ways this happens.
Moving Away from a Fatalistic View of God   
The decision in this story is really important. You can tell that by the weird “put your hand on my man parts” piece. It sounds really odd to us, but at that time, it was sort of like saying “Swear on your kids.” I wouldn’t recommend trying to bring that tradition back.
Even though this is a really big decision, this is one of the only stories in the surrounding context of Genesis that doesn’t include God’s direct intervention. If you look at the stories around it, God is always talking to someone or telling them to do something. In this story, Abraham just acts, and hopes that God will show up in that action. He doesn’t claim any divine authority, or wait for a divine word. 
There’s a good reason for this. Scholars generally agree that this is one of the last stories added to the narrative of Genesis, and because of this it reflects a different understanding of God. It was probably included after Israel had seen some stuff – slavery, exile, war and a host of other tragedies. This had to have shaped their view of God. It’s always harder to say anything is God’s will once you’ve seen enough hardship. They still trusted that God would show up. They just weren’t claiming to know what that would look like.
Here’s where this comes into play for us today. Thousands of years later, we still tend to have a pretty fatalistic view of God. When it comes to big decisions, we often get anxious wondering if we’ve strayed from God’s path for us. I think this story is trying to lead us into greater freedom when it comes to decisions. 
We often think of God’s work in our lives like a set of train tracks that we have to stay on if we want to get to the good things God has. It’s fatalistic. If we stray, life may spin out of control. But that metaphor doesn’t really work for this story. It’s more like wandering down a really wide path, and trusting that God can use our exploration to lead is somewhere worthwhile. 
Before Kaylan and I got engaged, we went through this incredibly angst-filled period where we tried to figure out if it was God’s will for us to get married. You know what? We never figured it out. We knew we loved and admired each other, wanted the same things out of life, and ended up taking the leap. Seven years later, it has been the best decision I’ve ever made, and the one that has taught me the most about God. I don’t think there’s some sort of perfect path. Life is filled with lots of great paths, and God is on all of them. Choose one with freedom and confidence. 
Moving Towards Divine Values
This story offers freedom. It also offers us guidance, mainly by pointing us in the direction that God seems to be moving. When trying to find a wife for Isaac, the servant seems to do something superstitious. He lays out a sort of divine test: “Who will offer me water?” In reality, this wasn’t superstitious at all. He’s trying to identify values – hospitality, openness to strangers, generosity. These are the same values that the narrative of Genesis identifies with God. He’s looking for someone who seems to get what God is about, and is shaping their life in a similar way. 
For us, then, we don’t get a narrow path of God’s will, but we do get a direction. The Bible contains movement. It’s movement towards love, wholeness, hospitality, grace, humility and much more. It’s what we sometimes call shalom. The Hebrew word that means completeness – the entire embodiment of divine love. 
So if you’re looking for guidance in a decision, the biggest question to ask is. “Is this moving in the same direction as God?” If an action moves us towards shalom, then run towards it with freedom. If not, maybe think twice about it.
When Kaylan and I were moving from Los Angeles to Indianapolis, I began looking for a job that would support us while she was in grad school. We were looking, and even prayed for, a couple specific things. We had an amount we needed me to make for us to get by, and we needed it to be close to our apartment because we only had one car. Within a few weeks, I had a job offer that met both of those requirements. We felt like our prayers were answered.
Then I started asking some questions about what type of values the job embodied. First, it was at a for-profit college. Not all for-profit colleges are bad, but many have garnered a reputation for taking advantage of students to make money (think Trump University). Next, I looked at the nature of the job. It was labeled as a student services job, but as they described it, the objective was to keep the students enrolled and paying tuition. Finally, they noted that most of their students fell into a lower socio-economic bracket. The job seemed to be doing whatever it took to keep people in poverty paying for an education that was semi-accredited. 
All of a sudden, I realized this job wasn’t moving the same direction as God. What initially seemed like an answer to prayer now seemed like a potential injustice. So I turned it down. I’d like to say another great paying job popped up right away, but it didn’t. We were really poor for a year while I pieced together work. And I’ve never regretted it. 
Moving Toward Empowerment
There’s one particular value that this story is begging us to consider when we make decisions. It’s the value of empowerment, specifically of those our society pushes to the margins. Abraham, for all of his flaws, does something pretty revolutionary in this story. He gives Rebekah the final say on marriage. From the start, Abraham tells his servant that if the woman doesn’t want to marry Isaac, she shouldn’t. At this point in history, women were basically considered property. Abraham could have essentially purchased a wife for Isaac, but he didn’t. He let the person with the least amount of power in the story have the final say. And she turns out to be the hero.
She’s the one who embodies God’s hospitality. She’s the one who has the faith to leave home, just like Abraham did, and travel far away in pursuit of God. She becomes the matriarch of the family. 
So when we’re making decisions, this story asks us to consider how our actions empower those that society gives the least amount of power to. Because they likely are the ones who understand God best. I haven’t lived in Napa long, but it doesn’t take long to see who are often offered the least amount of access to power. A few come to mind – migrant workers, homeless individuals, people of color, people with mental illness. This story, and really all of Scripture, asks us to shape our decisions around empowering those who haven’t been. Not because we’re doing them a favor or because we have some savior complex, but because when we don’t, we’re completely missing God.
I hope this story offers you freedom when you make decisions. I hope it points you in the direction of divine love. I hope it causes you to empower others with your choices. Maybe most importantly, I hope it assures you that whichever path you take, God is on it with you, nudging you, and all of us, toward wholeness.