Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Now, In the Valley of Decision

We go to a car dealership for the final time; time’s come to sign up. We’ve test-driven the car, confirmed the deal and checked the fine print, exchanged details, had the credit checks and all’s confirmed to our satisfaction. Now for the transaction. We sign, and barring any cooling-off period, the decision is final—it’s made effective. When the pen’s in hand we’re in the valley of decision.

But, in context, it’s an ordinary transactional decision—make a mistake and it’s not the end of the world. On a more lifelike higher realm, the stakes are so much more significant:

“Multitudes, multitudes

in the valley of decision!

For the day of the LORD is near

in the valley of decision.”

—Joel 3:14 (TNIV).

We can but contemplate thousands upon thousands of confounded people trapped in a void—helpless to escape, but with a decision. Go one way—the way out—but a trap. Go the other way and the promise is equally alluring. In the context of Joel, it is the Lord’s decision; the Divine time—grace and judgment against the morally-disparate nations.[1] It is no longer the people who ponder, but it is the Lord.

God’s decision or ours: it’s all a matter of timing. So what about when the decision is made, and in time? What does that look like? Well, let’s skip forward in the Old Testament three books, over Amos and Obadiah, to Jonah—a gritty little theological success story (for the Ninevites) but a scolding mess for reticently pitiful Jonah.

There’s a lot we can learn from the Ninevites as Jesus alluded to in Matthew 12:39-41. They were shown their erroneous way and they understood straight away, and what’s more, they actually did something about it; they repented. It is a returning to God.

There is a coherent theological result in returning to God in repentance:

“When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.”

—Jonah 3:10 (NLT).

Feelings of regret and remorse convict us to action. That is repentance. That is the holy call of the people of God—that is all people.

So, what does all this mean for us as individuals?

There is no question that the theology applying at the national levels in the Prophets and Minor Prophets is also synonymous for application to us as individuals at the personal level—grace and judgment, mercy and finality are underpinning constants in life.

Although the Ninevites were ripe for the message of Jonah and keenly turned away from their wrong (Jonah 3:5-9) it’s not the default human response. When we’re brought to our knees we generally fight it or run from it. We don’t often enough dress in sackcloth and sit in the dust!

Maddeningly, we’ll often prefer to hang in the valley of decision and the “multitudes” are not a whole nation of people, but our very own plethora of alien, disparate feelings. We’re illogical and at odds with ourselves.

Yet, the Valley of Decision awaits; indeed it’s here though we may not truly see it. In truth, we’re warned in life all the time. It takes the falling of the Divine hammer to break through our lives flushing through irrefutable change.

The Valley of Decision and the valley of decision (both valleys) are constantly before us. One is our decision for God, as per the Ninevites. The other is our decisions (plural) that carry after.

What a life it is that we could live now as in the valley of decision—aligned (or not) with God’s will.

We actually find our purpose in it—in our struggles with God. It’s the making of us.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

[1] David Allan Hubbard, Joel and Amos – Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1989), p. 78.

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