Who is your God?

“One time doesn’t even count,” people often say in an attempt to diminish the weight of individual decisions and put them into a broader perspective. And indeed, what counts in the long run is not the individual misstep, but rather the fundamental inner values of the person.

Science tells us that people make some 20,000 decisions every day. Most of these are little decisions that are made subconsciously, which certainly do not require a process of hours or days to reach. But there are certain occasions in a person’s life when it comes down to something really fundamental, when one is required to take a stand and give a firm yes or no. Some of these decisions are quickly and clearly made, while others require some reflection.

Lecture, discussion, and decision

In approximately 1245 BC Joshua required such a fundamental decision of the people of Israel. Shortly before his death at the age of about 110, he called the representatives of all the tribes of Israel together for a conference in Shechem. Holy Scripture describes this historical assembly as a parliament and a covenant. Some 20 kilometres to the north of Jerusalem, all the elders, leaders, judges, and officials of the people met with Joshua, the successful military leader and spy, who had formerly been Moses’ servant.

Totally in keeping with the meaning of his own name—“Yahweh is salvation”—Joshua gave a lecture on the past the people shared. He established that God had freed them from captivity in Egypt, that he had taken care of them during their 40-year trek through the desert, and that he had ultimately kept His promise and brought them to the Promised Land of Canaan. His conclusion: this was a God in whom the people could always trust (Joshua 24: 1–13).

A dilemma of the past

The clever minds of the time agreed that this was all well and good: Yahweh was indeed a God of the desert and a faithful help in battle against other peoples. But now, in the land of the Amorites, there were different gods—such as Baal, Astarte, and others—who would surely also look after the people and provide them with fertility and happiness. Didn’t it then make sense to acknowledge these gods for their activity in this new land and in this new time period?

Joshua recognised this dilemma and thus demanded that the tribal leaders make a clear decision. And he also made his own personal resolution quite public: “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (from Joshua 24: 15). He would neither serve the gods that his forefathers had worshipped on the other side of the river, nor the gods of the Amorites.

A question for the present

Which of these two roles does the believer play today? Is it that of Joshua, who sought to use his experiences with God and the knowledge he had thereby acquired to persuade others, or that of the tribal leaders, who were still deliberating and had not yet arrived at a decision?

History offers more than enough parallels for arriving at one’s own position. Even though many things are different today compared to the time of the Old or New Testaments—after all, people of the twenty-first century live by a modern conception of personhood and begin to make their own decisions after a certain age, and faith is no longer decided by the family as a whole—it is still important today to make such fundamental decisions. One of these is whether we are for or against God.

Fundamental and individual decisions

Such a fundamental decision must be made by every Christian. For millennia it has been cited in baptismal and confirmation vows: the Christian accepts Jesus Christ as the Lord of his existence by believing in Him, the crucified and resurrected Son of Man and Son of God. And this resolution can also be recognised in daily life, namely when believers take Jesus Christ as their example and model. Like Jesus, Christians endeavour to treat their neighbours without prejudice, help them, comfort them, seek peace with them, and wish them eternal salvation.

And then there are also the many individual decisions we must make. As at the time of Adam and Eve, it is still important today to decide against the desire to be superior to God. As was the case with Judas Iscariot, it is just as important today to resist the temptations of disappointment and avarice. And just as with Martha, it is still important today to assign the proper priority to natural and spiritual matters again and again.

I and you

A fundamental decision for the Lord produces clear direction and strength, even for the plethora of individual decisions we must make. God has elected the individual. Now the individual is required to respond to God (Exodus 19: 5–6). Which God will he serve? Which God will he worship? Joshua had a clear answer—and it was convincing to the people who listened to him.

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Oliver Rütten
Divine service