An intriguing article just came out in this week’s edition of Christianity Today. Entitled “Are You Worshiping the Idol of ‘Open Options’?” the English author Barry Cooper talks about how the false god of limitless choices, like those at a coffeehouse, is enslaving modern Americans. And how to resist this god.
He talks about how, for many of us today, making choices and moving on with our lives seems increasingly difficult. How we find ourselves paralyzed, he notes: “unable to make choices about relationships, dating, marriage, money, family, and career.”
He refers to the story in the Bible, in the Old Testament book of 1 Kings, chapter 18, of the prophet Elijah summoning the people of Israel to make a final choice between the God of Israel and a false god named Baal. “Elijah calls God’s people,” Cooper reminds us, “to choose once and for all between the living God who delivered them, and this false god who has captured their affections: “‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.’ But the people said nothing.’”
Like many of us today, they seem unwilling or unable to make a choice. “They want to hedge their bets, sit on the fence, and keep their options open.” Sound familiar? “How different are we Christians in the 21st century?” Cooper asks. “Would you prefer to make an ironclad, no-turning-back choice, or one you could back out of if need be? Do you ever find that you’re afraid to commit? Do you reply to party invitations with a ‘maybe’ rather than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’? Do you like to keep your smartphone switched on at all times, even in meetings, so that you are never fully present at any given moment? Will you focus on the person you’re talking to after a church service, or will you look over her shoulder for a better conversation partner?
“If so,” he says, “you may be worshiping the god of open options.”
Whether it’s declaring a college major or waiting years until getting married, we want to reserve the right to keep our options open. We think more options mean more freedom.
But the irony in all this is, he says, is that “this apparently limitless choice doesn’t actually make us happy. The number of choices available to us becomes overwhelming, and actually makes it difficult for us to ever have the joy of fully committing to anything or anyone. Even if we do commit, our culture then makes us feel dissatisfied with the choice we’ve made.
Like the person standing at a Caribou Coffee counter agonizing every choice–caf or decaf? chocolate or vanilla? skinny or regular? regular or extra foam? –we agonize over the small and even bigger questions: where we should work, where we should study, where we should live, whom we should marry, or whom we should worship? “It seems that the more options we have,” notes Cooper, “the more afraid we are of choosing. We become enslaved to being noncommittal.”
Even though the Israelites had seen themselves delivered from slavery—repeatedly, spectacularly and miraculously—by the living God, they struggled in 1 Kings 18 with whom to serve. As hard as that is to believe, Cooper asks, “…as God’s people today, how different are we? We have been delivered from slavery to sin by Christ’s death and resurrection, spectacularly and miraculously.
“Yet here we are, many of us, worshiping the very gods that Christ has triumphed over, when we know they are defeated gods, and will only drag us to our deaths if we cling to them.”
So while we worship the god of open options,” Cooper argues, “he is killing us. He kills our relationships, because he tells us it’s better not to become too involved. He kills our service to others because he tells us it might be better to keep our weekends to ourselves. He kills our giving because he tells us these are uncertain financial times and you never know when you might need that money. He kills our joy in Christ because he tells us it’s better not to be thought of as too spiritual.
“What is most frightening of all about the god of open options is that you may not even know that you are worshiping him. Because he pretends not to be a god at all.
“In fact, he promises you freedom from all gods, all responsibilities. ‘Keep your options open,’ he says. ‘Worship me, and you don’t have to serve anything or anyone. No commitment necessary. Total freedom.’
Similarly, the Israelites thought that by saying nothing (1 Kings 18:21) they were not committing idolatry. But when they chose not to decide, they made a choice. By refusing to act, they were actually turning away from the living God who rescued them, and committing an obscene act of spiritual adultery by worshiping the god of open options….
The loving God who redeems choices. “The living God, the loving, triune God, did not create us to keep our options open. He didn’t create us to live in fear of making a choice….God created us to commit. To him, and to others. He created us to choose. It’s right to be careful in our decision making, of course: to pray, to seek counsel from Scripture and from wise Christians.
“But there comes a point when pausing becomes procrastination, when waiting is no longer wise. There comes a point when not to choose becomes idolatry. It becomes a lack of trust in the God who ordains the decisions we will make, gathers up the frayed ends, and works all things for our good and his glory.
“Be wise, but then rest in God’s total sovereignty and goodness, and choose. Commit. Make a decision. Be wholehearted and single-minded.
“James 1:6-8 puts it like this: “[B]elieve and [do] not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind… . Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”
“Trust that God is good and sovereign, and redeems every choice we make. If even the choices of those who murdered his own Son were ordained for our own infinite good (Acts 4:27-28), then how can we doubt that he intends good to come from our choices, however ill-advised they may be?
“So let me ask you, in what area of your life are you still flirting with the god of open options? Where are you refusing to choose? Maybe you’re refusing to commit to a particular relationship—perhaps even your marriage? Maybe you’re not truly committed at work—you have Facebook open in one of your browser tabs, half hoping to be interrupted. Maybe your restless eyes are on constant alert for something or someone better.
“Maybe you’re keeping your options open with God himself, not allowing yourself to become too committed. Elijah is speaking to you in 1 Kings, and he is saying, ‘Make a choice.’ You have all the information about God you need. Enough of this noncommittal, risk-averse, weak-willed, God-forgetting immaturity. Or, as it probably says in some of the more modern translations, ‘Grow up.’”
Cooper concludes his article admitting he has served this god of open options many times. I have sometimes served this god as well. But not choosing betrays a lack of trust in the God who ordains the decisions we will make and works all things for our good and his glory.
This god of open options will break your heart, Cooper notes. “He will not let anyone get too close. But at the same time, because he is so spiteful, he will not let anyone get too far away because that would mean they are no longer an option. On and on it continues, exhausting and frustrating and confusing and endless, pulling towards and then pushing away, like the tide on a beach, never finally committing one way or the other. We have been like the starving man sitting in front of an all-you-can-eat buffet, dying simply because he would not choose between the chicken and the shrimp.
“The god of open options is also a liar,” he says. “He promises you that by keeping your options open, you can have everything and everyone. But in the end, you get nothing and no one.”
Jesus said, “You cannot serve two masters.” At any given moment, you must choose whom you will follow. And if you choose the god of open options, you cannot at that moment choose the triune God, the one who deliberately closed off his options in order to save your life. Nothing narrows your options more than allowing your hands and feet to be nailed to a wooden cross.
“This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life” (Deut. 30:19-20).
“Choose the God of infinite possibility who chose to limit himself to a particular time, a particular place, and a particular people. Choose the God who closed off all other alternatives so that he could pursue for himself one bride. Choose the God who chose not to come down from the cross until she was won. Choose the narrow way. Stop worshiping the god of open options.”
A good word for me–and for all of us–today. –Steve Eng, Catalyst pastor
Barry Cooper is an author and speaker. He is director of product development at Christianity Explored Ministries, blogs at Future Perfect, Present Tense, and is planting Trinity West Church in Shepherd’s Bush, London.
January/February 2013, Vol. 57, No. 1, Pg 52, “Imprisoned by Choice”