by William H. Griffith
Choices matter and there are consequences. This was the point of the prophet Hosea's warning to the people of Israel: "For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind." It is a law of nature that cannot be refuted. When you plant corn, you reap corn. When you plant soybeans, you reap soybeans. You cannot expect to sow wild oats and not reap wild oats.
We read in Hosea 3:1-5 that God asked the Prophet to go and love a woman who already had a lover and was an adulteress. This account sounds like God is making a very indecent proposal. In fact, it is so bizarre that it gets our attention immediately. It is a proposal that is intended to confront God's people with their own sinfulness.
A widely discussed movie of the year 1993 was entitled "Indecent Proposal." It is now available in video stores. It too contained a bizarre offer, one made to a married couple, and it got our attention. The story line is about a young couple who were faced with a debt that they could not pay, and they decided to risk all to get the money they needed. They decided the solution to their problem lay in Las Vegas.
When the film was first shown, it was widely discussed on television and in the print media. Nowhere did I hear or read anyone who criticized their decision to turn to gambling to solve their problem. What that tells me is that gambling has become an accepted part of the world in which we live. Even regular churchgoers play and even occasionally win the lottery.
Gambling has become a socially acceptable dream for getting rich quickly. Folks dare to hope that their financial worries can be erased. I've told some of you why I never play the lottery. It is because if I should win, then the newspaper headlines would proclaim: "Ex-pastor wins lottery!"
In the movie the suggestion that they could solve their difficulties through gambling may be just as subtle and dangerous, and even more of an "indecent proposal" than that which was to follow. We watch the couple gamble away what they have, only to discover that it doesn't solve their problem. They lose everything. But then a multimillionaire, played by Robert Redford, makes the Indecent Proposal which gives the film its title. He offers to give them one million dollars in return for allowing him to spend one night with the wife. The rest of the movie captures the emotional roller coaster ride the two experience as they struggle with the offer, and then with the decision they eventually make.
This struggle is the reason for the film's popularity. Viewers are brought face to face with the question of "Would I do that?" It confronts them with the question of moral accountability and vividly portrays for us the confusion which the couple go through as they wrestle with making a decision.
The movie accurately reflects our cultural values. We live in a culture that thumbs its nose at moral absolutes and moral accountability. Five years after the film's release, we see these same cultural values acted out, not at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas but at the White House in Washington, D.C.
The movie raises the serious question as to whether we are to be held accountable for what we do. Some people live as though there is no price to pay for how they act. Then when the payment does come due, they discover that it is far more than they had bargained for.
There exists within our society a mythology about evil. . One of the myths is that a person is not fully responsible for his or her actions. T his is a "Devil made me do it" theology, and we can hear it not only from comedians but also from television evangelists. It is a belief that excuses a person from acknowledging full responsibility for some irresponsible action. It is the same myth that Ronald Reagan used when he called the former Soviet Union "The Evil Empire." It attempts to define evil as a force that is someone or something outside one's self. We recognize this reaction taking place within ourselves any time our own actions are criticized, and we search desperately to find somebody or something to which we can point the finger of blame.
Another part of this myth is our fascination with winning. The movie, "Indecent Proposal," is set within the environment of casino life, a place where people are very much concerned about winning and losing. Here we see the rich man doing everything he can to win against the poor man. The same fascination is found in university athletic programs where individuals break the rules to recruit top-notch ball players. The rules are violated because we believe that winning is more important than anything else. In other words, if there are no rules or unalterable standards by which human behavior and actions may be measured, then what we have left is winning and losing.
The movie confronts us with the possibility of becoming morally tolerant, but at the very high cost of losing our values and ideals, indeed of losing any sense of standards. Our morality has become: if it works, its is right. If something gets me what I want, then it is okay. If it helps me, then why not? If it pays off, then it is acceptable.
I believe this cultural myth is what causes pervasive confusion about the recent behavior of the President. Our economy is healthy. Our nation is prospering. Thus we become tolerant of behavior that we formerly regarded as immoral.
When someone is brave enough to express a contrary opinion and say that some actions, even though they pay off, are still wrong, that voice is not welcome. Someone who maintains that relationships require commitment and sacrifice will be dismissed as "old fashioned." Someone who suggests that there is more to life than winning will be accused of not playing by the rules.
When we look outwardly at our society and inwardly at our own lives, we discover many voices are trying to convince us that there are no indecent proposals; rather, there are only opportunities. Something deep within us, however, gives us a different message. You may call this the voice of conscience, the moving of God's spirit, the exercise of common sense or the teaching of experience. Whatever one may label this, it makes us very much aware that abiding standards for morality do exist within the fabric of our being.
The headlines of the past decade include names that remind us of the moral confusion that exists throughout society--Ivan Boesky in the world of finance, Jim and Tammy Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart in the world of religion, Oliver North, Newt Gingrich, and now President Bill Clinton in the world of politics. In each case the message is that the end justifies the means. These also remind us, however, that there is a price to pay and it is usually bigger than we bargained for.
The lesson we gain from the lives of these people, and from the movie as well, is that we too can be seduced. We, too, can be wrong. We too can suffer from the self-inflicted wounds caused by our own bad decisions. Most of us have no difficulty understanding how we may suffer from the actions of others, but we prefer not to recognize that our hardships and pains are all too often the result of our own choices and actions.
Accountability is a major lesson we can draw from the writings of the biblical prophets. All the prophets tried to persuade the people of Israel that they were responsible for their own circumstances and troubles. As Hosea's telling line put it, God's chosen people had "sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind." They had become people who lived for themselves. They measured right and wrong by how it suited them. They were lords of their own morality. They were the "yuppies" of their day. And, they would reap what they had sowed.
The account in chapter three does sound like God is asking Hosea to consider a very indecent proposal, but it emphasizes just how indecent Israel had been when they chose to be unfaithful to the Lord God. He had selected Hosea to demonstrate clearly and unequivocally to Israel how deeply he loved them and desired them to return, seeking forgiveness for their sins.
The movie deals with the ideal that indecent proposals cannot simply be forgotten and swept under the carpet. When we live beyond the moral boundaries God has set for us, it does no good to pretend that terrible things didn't really happen. The movie laid this truth out squarely with the line: "Couples stay together not because they forget, but because they forgive." The precept was true for the relationship between Israel and God; it is just as valid for us, as well as for our nation.
The prophets showed the people that a connection existed between how they chose to live and what would result from this. Paul reaffirmed this in Philippians 4:8, 9:
Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Here is a summons to live life as God meant life to be lived. This is not a call to life based on Paul's own view of reality, but on that which God shares with us through Christ.
The movie reflects well the teaching of the Scriptures: choices matter, and there are consequences. Because that is true, you ought now to be asking ourselves, what are our indecent proposals? What are the choices we make that distance us from God? Which of these have we rationalized and hoped that forgetting them would somehow let everything work out all right? Are we dealing with issues by shading the truth? Are we facing matters of our own sexuality? Have we convinced ourselves that the matter will simply go away? Are we deaf to the voices that say there will be a payday some day?
I could not begin to name all the areas of life whom we meet temptation--for that is what indecent proposals are all about. We do not easily recognize temptations in our own lives. My suspicion is that if I were to ask you to identify your three major temptations, you would find it impossible to do so.
The difficulty may lay in the fact that we rarely think about such matters. Or we cling to a definition of temptation that includes only the seven deadly sins or at least those of the seven which we are too old, too tired, too lazy, or too scared to commit; and naturally we would never have any part in such doings. However, let me emphasize this point. The strongest temptation is to believe that there are no temptations, and the most indecent of indecent proposals is to believe that there are no indecent proposals.
God does hold us to his standards and demands that we be faithful to him. He is indeed a jealous God who will have no other gods before him. We must not be lured away from the path he has laid out for us simply because there may be "opportunities" for us. Our actions do have consequences, and what we so we will surely reap. The same principle is valid for all people, for every human being, whether they occupy the White House, the halls of Congress, executive office suites, or pews or the pulpit in the church. Let us choose the way God has set before us.
This is a sermon preached by Dr. William H. Griffith, who is senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Terre Haute, Indiana on October 30, 1998
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