This reflection is also published in this year's St. John's Lenten Medetations booklet.
Several times in the past few years, I have watched as an individual, when faced with a choice that to me seemed obvious, made a decision that destroyed his or her life. The memories of those moments of irreparable self-destruction haunt me to this day. As I revisit those encounters, I ask myself, “Why? Why couldn’t he make the right choice?” But I’m not sure an answer will ever come.
Why do human beings make horrible, illogical, damning decisions even though a way out is clearly available? Why do addicts choose death and destruction over the needs of those they love? Why do husbands desert their wives for a fling they know will never bring anything but heartache? Why do people who seem to have everything they need live a double-life that is buried in darkness and deception?
In today’s reading from Deuteronomy (9:23-10:5), Moses reminds God’s people that, when God told them to “go up and take possession of the land” which he had given them, they disobeyed. Even though the Promised Land was being handed to them, the people of Israel wouldn’t take it. Likewise, in today’s reading from John (3:16-21), Jesus says, “[T]he light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light.” Even though the greatest gift of love was being offered to the world, the world wouldn’t receive it.
Part of what it means to be human is to make bad choices even though we know what is right. Why? Because we’re prideful, willful sinners. Receiving God’s gift of salvation involves acknowledging that we can’t make life-saving decisions on our own. We can’t choose to be rescued from the disaster that awaits. In our moment of blind need, only God can reach down and save us.