The Commodore Decker Conundrum


When I was the age my son is now, the original Star Trek was still on first-run TV. I actually remember my father watching the show. However, when I asked to join him, he told me that Star Trek was “too scary for seven-year-old boys.” That, of course, only pushed me more to want to watch it. In a way, that show became the ultimate forbidden fruit of my childhood.

Not only is Star Trek a scary show at times (a fact I learned in later years when it hit syndication), but it mirrors well the overall frightening aspects of day to day living on this simple planet. No episode of the classic series reflects this better than “The Doomsday Machine.”

Written by the well-known science fiction author Norman Spinrad, “The Doomsday Machine” pits the crew of Enterprise against a mindless device of staggering power, The picture of doing it right but getting it wrongan alien weapon hellbent on destroying everything it encounters as it drifts through space, even entire planets. (Star Trek apologists claim the invincible weapon was designed specifically to combat the Borg.)

Enterprise discovers its sister ship Constellation battered and adrift in space. The lone occupant of the crippled craft is Commodore Matt Decker  (played with scene-chewing, Shatner-like intensity by William Windom). When an away team beams aboard Constellation, Captain Kirk and Commodore Decker, whose sanity is fraying at the seams, carry on this exchange concerning Constellation‘s encounter with the space-borne WMD:

Decker: “We tried to contact Starfleet… no one heard—no one! W-we couldn’t run!”

Kirk: “Matt, what happened to your crew?”

“Oh, well, I had to beam them down. I mean, we were dead—no power, our phasers useless. I stayed behind. The Captain… last man aboard the ship; that’s what you’re supposed to do isn’t it? And then it hit again, and the transporter went out. They were down there; I’m up here…”

“What hit? What attacked you?”

“They say there’s no devil, Jim… but there is—right out of hell, I saw it!”

“Matt, where’s your crew?”

“On the third planet.”

“There is no third planet.”

Decker, now sobbing: “Don’t you think I know that? There was, but not anymore! They called me, they begged me for help—four hundred of them! I couldn’t… I-I couldn’t….”

When Decker mouths those final lines, I find them some of the most chilling in all of television.

Decker’s “Don’t you think I know that?” stands as the frantic wail of a man who did everything by the book, drew on every command principle he’d been taught, stuck to the rules passed down from leader to leader, and yet none of that wisdom was good enough in the end. Events conspired against him and wound up destroying his crew—and ultimately the Commodore himself.

One clear decision goes awry, morphing into a nightmare that can never be undone.

Recently, I read the bestsellers The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. In them, Taleb forges a convincing argument that none of today’s leaders got to their positions of leadership through any other factor than chance. The difference between the corporate mailroom clerk and the CEO may have come down to nothing more than getting stuck in a traffic jam in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet the CEO goes on to write a bestselling book telling how his “wisdom” won him the corner office, while the mailroom clerk labors forgotten, his aspirations forever on hold.

I know too many mailroom clerks, though. Too many good people who fell prey to the Commodore Decker Conundrum. They did everything they were supposed to do, but it wasn’t good enough. They were undone by the greatest doomsday machine of all: rotten luck.

And that’s a troubling reality to me that I’ve never quite been able to reconcile either in my own life or in the lives of others. The Bible speaks to this conundrum in what I find to be one of the most inscrutable verses in the Bible:

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.
—Ecclesiastes 9:11

In other words, you may do it all right and  yet still fail for reasons outside of your control. Just like Commodore Decker. You may try to recover, but chance so dashed your jigsaw puzzle and trashed its pieces that the final image is irretrievably lost.

Chance is quite a difficult concept to grasp in the Kingdom of God. Some Christians would say that chance doesn’t exist as God is control of our every action. Others argue for chance’s reality; how else to explain why some godly endeavors fail?

A friend of mine once told the story of a teen who lived in his hometown who felt the call of God to work as a missionary in Africa. That young woman spent several summers raising money to preach the Gospel to lost Africans. Hers was a burning desire, and everyone who knew her understood her cause was smiled upon by the Lord. One day, she boarded that plane and found herself in Africa, the fulfillment of all that hard work and desire.

That young, bright star of a missionary died later that week from some virulent disease she picked up while traveling.

I’m not sure I understand what happened to that young woman. Was she a victim of chance? Did she simply sit next to the wrong fellow passenger, one who harbored the disease that would ultimately take her life before she had the opportunity to share Christ with even one African?

Certainly God knew that she would die, her mission unfulfilled. Still, the why of it haunts the survivors.

I don’t know the answer to the Commodore Decker Conundrum. I’m not sure I know what to say to those Christians who do it all right by the Book, but then everything seems to go wrong. While none of us can see what is happening behind the curtain, I know that I don’t like to think that chance enters into the equation at all. Yet Ecclesiastes 9:11 says otherwise.

I look around and I see too many Deckers out there, solid people who did all the right things and yet were crushed by happenstance. More than anything, I want to know what to say to them. I never find the right words, though. Romans 8:28 stands as the counter to Ecclesiastes 9:11, but smarter Christians must know how to reconcile the two. When I hear the stories of men and women who made decisions they still pay for every day of their lives, decisions that seemed in keeping with the prevailing Christian wisdom yet have put them in desperate positions, I’m at a total loss—as if staring into the unrelenting maw of a doomsday machine.

41 thoughts on “The Commodore Decker Conundrum

  1. Jake

    One thing I have become increasingly convinced of is this: God is not as concerned about our circumstances as He is about how we respond to them. I know it sounds a bit hard and crass and I’m still trying to get my hands around it all.

    Doesn’t it ultimately come down to this: We want to have the final say in what happens to us? It does not seem fair to us that the young missionary you described would be taken in the bloom of her life. We ache with those who “did all the right things and yet were crushed by happenstance”. We think they deserved better outcomes. We think we deserve better outcomes.

    My confidence is in this one belief: Once we get on the other side of the “river” all of this will make sense to us. We will fall down and worship God for many things, and one of them will be how everything just simply worked out. I suppose I will be sorely disappointed if I find out it is otherwise.

    There is an account is Scripture at the end of the gospel of John. Jesus is describing to Peter what his fate will be. Peter asks our Lord, “What about him?”, referring to John. Jesus replies, “What is that to you?” God has different plans for Peter and John, and He has different plans for each of us.

    I think we get outselves in an emotional pickle when we try to outhink God.

  2. Thanks, Dan, for a very moving post (well written too). Despite what I said yesterday about sci-fi, this illustration was excellent!

    Your words made me think about the Black Death killing so many in Europe ~1350. I wonder how many of them were godly folks, trying to raise godly kids, be godly examples, and love their neighbors. Out of the blue, heartache overwhelming, everywhere. I wonder how my faith would hold up under such a test, and then hope I never have the opportunity to find out. The Christmas Tsunami of 2004 took out Christians as well as unbelievers and invokes that same belittling wonder that finds no answers, only awe.

    Does everything boil down to those age old platitudes: “All we can do is trust God,” and “This world is not my home.” Along with the verses you cited, Job 1:21 and John 6:67-68 speak to the issue and may be helpful.

  3. All readers,

    I seem to be having some kind of problem with the site. They migrated the server yesterday and now I’m experiencing problems on my end. I can’t even see comments on the posts and the sidebars are missing on individual posts. Yet somehow, others are commenting without problems. If you are having problems seeing comments or sidebars, let me know—and if you’re not, too!

  4. Normandie

    This is the first post I’ve read in several weeks–since we sailed out of SF Bay heading south. Our crew wanted us to head west, away from Point Conception’s bad seas. We agreed that 50 miles +/- would work. When we pointed back east toward Mexico, we were 279 nautical miles away from land. In the middle of huge waves and what sounded from my bunk like a screaming wind, I cried out to God to calm the seas. He didn’t. I tried praising Him as I was dashed from my bunk or when I slammed my head against a bulkhead. As the bow plunged under a wave during my night watch and water broke into the cockpit, I held on and prayed.

    Okay. So perhaps we shouldn’t have let this crew’s supposed wisdom prevail. We should have fought harder–after all, it’s our boat. But now, from the perspective of a lovely slip in Ensenada, I think God really did answer my prayers by taking our destination out of our hands. If we hadn’t been so exhausted from those days of pounding, we would have sailed all the way into the Sea of Cortez and missed this experience. We wouldn’t have known what our boat could do-or what we could tolerate. We wouldn’t have known all the things that yet needed to be fixed before we actually cross oceans.

    I know I can’t compare frightening waves and wind to sudden (or prolonged) death, but so often in my life the Lord has let me wallow in muck before He pulled me out, made me wonder and question (and beg and plea) until I finally came to the end of me (until the next time!) and gave it all to Him and His wisdom. I don’t think I could cope if I thought God didn’t have a part in my storm-tossed seas of life, if I imagined myself merely storm tossed with chance at the helm. “Yet though He slay me, still will I trust Him,” has been the ruling mantra of my life since I met the Lord and spent the next several decades holding on to the hem of His cloak with tattered fingers.

      • Normandie

        Dan, it seems that my pit actually is bottomless–I wish I could just get on with it, get over it, get past the need to keep learning the same lessons…

        Oh, well. Onward and upward, I suppose.

  5. George

    Jake seems wise to me. He seems to have learned from 1st Peter.

    I’d say we draw the finish line too close to where we’re standing. Paul said all things work together to work out for the best, and we assume that means in the short run. But Paul didn’t put a time frame on it. Would anyone say he was wrong about things working out because he died via execution?

    Peter writes that we have the time between initial acceptance and physical death to demonstrate faith — to obtain salvation as the outcome of faith. His initial readers had been dispersed from their home town to be distressed by various trials “if necessary.”

    Perhaps, as Jake says, God is more concerned with how we respond — do we do so acting as if we know Him to be Who matters — than how comfortable and satisfied we are.

    On the matter of mail clerks and CEOs: I’ve known both mail clerks and CEOs. CEO’s get where they are by building relationships with those who have developed some power AND by demonstrating an ability to get others to respond productively to their leadership. The mail clerks may do their jobs well and they may have big dreams, but they don’t make others believers in their — the mail clerks’ — abilities to get success from others.

    How much is by chance? Some, but not by getting stuck in traffic one day. Believing that may make the mail clerks feel better, and make us more sympathetic to mail clerks, but it really doesn’t help them realize what they need to do to become CEOs.

    Likewise, it is counter-productive to attribute the success of the Doomsday Weapon to chance. Decker may well have gone by the book, but the Weapon was engineered to beat the book. It didn’t just happen. Kirk (of course) would have anticipated the Weapon’s engineering and would have put the crew somewhere else — perhaps onto the Weapon itself.

    There may be a lesson in this. Decker went by the book, at least as he understood the book. Perhaps he seized on one section and imbued it with the meaning he hoped for. Then he relied on that. Had he been able to rely on the author instead of his own understanding of the book ….

    • George,

      All very good points.

      You should read the Taleb books, though. He has many valid points. Personally, the more books I read by “leaders,” the more I realize a lot of them got there by some other means than their own supposed skills. And a lot of skilled people failed for reasons out of their control.

      • George

        From my experience/observation, I agree that there are skilled people who fail for reasons out of their control. Sometimes those reasons are: good guy, but all the upward slots are filled with other good guys; good guy, but other good guys are better; good guy, but not enough complimentary good guys to produce market value.

        Other times — more often, I’d say — the reason out of their control is their own inability to effectively communicate their own good-guyness. It is not unusual for a good guy to assume or expect others to just see his good-guyness without any extraordinary effort on his part. The longer I live the more I realize how important effective networking is.

        As for leaders getting there by some means other than their own skills — I’d need to be convinced. Every leader is probably deficient in some skills that would be useful in his position. He may even be second-rate in his best skills. But the skill he’s excelled at is in making those in authority convinced that he’s the horse they want to ride.

        There’s the old saw: If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich? And one explanation is: I was unable to make others comfortable with following my smartness. The corollary is the rich guy is the one who makes people comfortable following the smartness he has.

        I once worked two-down from a CEO who went on to be best known for screwing up the Olympics (and setting the stage for Romney to look good). I also worked directly for the CEO who accomplished what was at that time the largest financial services BK in history. Both had obvious skill deficiencies. However, there was no doubt that both had skills useful for building and leading operations. And they were effective in selling those skills.

        If you can point to any contemporary leaders who possessed only average skills AND who were selected without their skilled, active campaigning for selection, please share.

        It may be that you don’t value the skills that are useful to contemporary success and do value “technical” skills exclusively, but that doesn’t mean those other skills are not valuable to those in authority.

        • George,

          And sometimes the good guy runs into the truly evil guy. I didn’t use to think that happened much, but anymore I think it may be more common than I previously believed. There are people out there who seek to destroy others, usually out of jealousy.

          Then again, that’s as old as Cain and Abel.

          You mention networking. The entire topic fascinates me because it seems that Christians are among the most poorly networked people on the face of the planet. None of us seems to know anyone else. That’s the complete opposite of how it should be. Yet that’s been my experience, especially when I need to network with someone in a position of power.

          Obviously, this is not true of every Christian. But I have a theory that while non-Christians must network to accomplish anything in life, Christians shun the networking and throw it all on God. I’m not sure that’s biblical. The patriarchs certainly made alliances that strengthened their positions. A man like Abraham was well known, and he didn’t get that way by holing up in a tent out in the desert.

  6. Lincoln


    I find it ironic that you would use sci-fi to illustrate a biblical concept when I was belittled by one of your commentators for doing precisely that very thing only a day before.

    Hypocrisy can be such an ugly disease sometimes.

    • Lincoln,

      The blog was down for a few hours in the afternoon, so I was not able to reply to comments. So I left everything until the evening. Only then did I see your comments. I’d posted the Commodore Decker post earlier in the day and it was scheduled to go out just after midnight. So actually, my post preceded your comment and I did not see your comment till later. Coincidence.

      Yes, sf has its place.

      I did unapprove a few of the back and forth comments that happened in the Tozer post, though. Let’s all be careful about what we say here.

  7. Lincoln

    Ok, I’m done whining for now.

    When I read the verse, what occurred to me was that these were the kinds of things that happened “under the sun.” What about above the sun? I do know that Christians have a tendency to pretty much do whatever seems right in their own eyes, without seeking counsel from the Lord. Their goals and objectives may seem noble, godly and above reproach, but that doesn’t necessarily mean God’s will was in it. Often His will is that we wait, rather than act prematurely. The examples we find in Scripture show us that when people acted prematurely before understanding fully what God wanted for them, the results were disastrous.

    I believe Ecclesiastes describes the way of the secular world, but for a Christian who thinks on heavenly things “above the sun,” nothing I believe happens by chance. The steps of a righteous man are ordered by the Lord, and with that are giving ample promises that no life altering event which happens to them that love God happens is by chance.

    But then again what do I know, I’m just a caustic heathen who watches too many sci-fi shows.

    • Lincoln,

      I had the opportunity to work my dream job. But it would entail a cross-country move and a serious commitment. When I was offered the job, I asked a dozen of the Christians I most respected to pray about what I should do. All but one said that they felt that the Lord was opening that door for me and I should take it. The one objector told me I should not go solely because of his own “selfish reasons.”

      So I took that job. Less than six months later my entire department was eliminated and me along with it.

      Were the eleven wrong?

      I’ve struggled with that decision for years and still do. It changed my life in many ways, not all for the better. I know that I am a far less trusting person than I used to be because of what happened. That decision derailed many things. It’s been very hard since then. I second-guess every piece of spiritual advice I’ve received since and that doesn’t feel good on the inside.

      • Not to horn in, Dan, but how did you feel about that decision personally apart from what the 12 said? Was there a specific reason you sought their counsel?

        • slw,

          Jesus commented that no king goes into battle without first consulting to see if he has what it takes to win. The Bible has much advice on consulting with the wise.

          So whenever I was faced with a major decision, I used to routinely gather my counsel and ask that they help seek direction along with me on my behalf. I have not really done that since the incident mentioned. As it pertains to my own life’s direction, knowing what to do when and in what way has become for a me a thing of great consternation. Others? I have no problem advising others. God speaks to me well on the direction of others, but for myself I am always less certain. I always hear good reports on the spiritual advice I’ve given others, but as for my own direction it seems less sure. And that bothers me a great deal. I am in one of those difficult times again and “the heavens are like unto brass,” as it’s said, and I need great direction. Unfortunately, the picture is unclear at a time when great clarity is needed.

      • Lincoln

        For some reason this reminds me of the 800 prophets that were on call to approve every campaign King Ahab ever undertook, with the one dissenter of course being tossed into prison. 😀

        I’m not saying that’s what happened here, but I guess there’s always that possibility. I also know sometimes what we perceive as failure is still viewed as a success in God’s eyes. I read a sermon once of a pastor who on the Lord’s direction attempted to open a center to minister to those struggling with homosexuality. It was a complete disaster and it was shut down shortly afterwards. 30 years later, the pastor received a letter from one of the former members who thanked him for that center because it had literally saved his life. Up until then the pastor had believed it to be a failure, but the truth was God had directed him to open it so just that one person’s life could be saved.

        It was a reminder that we rarely can see things the way God does, but sometimes He’ll give us a glimpse (even if that glimpse doesn’t come until 30 years later).

        • Lincoln,

          As for the one, that’s not really what happened here. The lone dissenter was my pastor at the time, and he claimed he wanted us to stay because he didn’t want to lose our skills in the church. He admitted it was for his own selfish reasons and not anything God revealed to him.

          Someone became a Christian in the place we moved to, and I believe it was directly because of us being there. When all was said and done, I always wondered if that one person was the entire reason we were led to go. I’ve not ruled that out. But the price paid makes me wonder if there could not have been another way. There may not have been, but I just wonder.

        • Lincoln

          You think in the society we live in now, we might have become too influenced by numbers? It seems like we’re always judging the success of a ministry by how large it is.

          I do know not in a million years would I want the job of a prophet, especially Jeremiah. How many actual converts did he get for his trouble, 3? 4 maybe? No thanks, quite happy being a mere mail clerk now.

  8. Jake

    >> I’ve struggled with that decision for years and still do. It changed my life in many ways, not all for the better.

    I think back to the passage in Mark 4 where Jesus and his disciples were in the boat crossing the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was asleep while a storm was raging. The disciples were terrified, conviced they were going to perish. They woke Jesus, and He stilled the sea and the wind.

    I have heard many sermons on this story, but one small detail is usually left out: Who told them to get in the boat in the first place? If we are trusting Jesus to lead us then we can bet He is going to take us places where we are not comfortable. We somehow need to evalutate the correctness of our decisions not on the outcomes but rather on how God uses them in our lives.

    A woman I know well somewhere along the line picked up some bad theology. She seems to have here eyes too focussed on her circumstances. If things are going well she is convinced that God is blessing her. If things are going badly she is convinced that God is judging her. You can imagine the stress she puts herself under by trying so hard to make things go well so God stops “judging” her.

    Why is it that we don’t view bad circumstances as a blessing from God – i.e., the testing of our faith produces patience? Last I looked patience was a fruit of the Spirit.

    • Jake,

      This is a hard confession to make and I hesitate to make it, but I don’t feel that I am a better person for having been through what I’ve been through. Wiser? Yes. But also less trusting. Less…well, a lot of things less.

      It’s been a great struggle for me to understand something: Why prayers for the things people need the most from God get answers that are the opposite of what they need. In the case of that decision I wrote about, the fallout continues years afterward.

      I know many people who make tough decisions that lead to consequences they can never undo or outrun. They don’t get a do-over. And the decision they made changes their entire life, often to the much worse.

      I see these people and I don’t know why this happens. They wind up in a sort of death spiral that they can’t escape, no matter what they do. You know them. They’re the people who have the same prayer request year in and year out.

      The “happy” ending of the Commodore Decker story is that his madness drove him to a self-sacrificing act that ultimately saved Kirk and the Enterprise crew. But you and I know that life doesn’t always end up like it does in movies and TV.

      The testing of our faith produces steadfastness, endurance, patience. But when people are crushed, they lose their hope that tomorrow will be better, and without hope that things might improve steadfastness, endurance, and patience lose the foundation that makes them what they are.

      In the case of my post, what can be done for a man who made a decision, the best decision he could’ve made, that sent 400 people to their deaths? How does he move beyond that? How does he find a place where that decision does not haunt him? That’s a tough question, and I can’t answer it. Many great novels have been written on this issue and the results are all over the place.

      It seems to me that the author of Ecclesiastes embodies that “Oh, what I have learned the hard way!” mentality, and he is sadder but wiser for it. Does it always come down to “sadder but wiser” or is there another way?

      • Normandie

        Dan, the only ones I’ve ever met who found the “other way” you mention were the truly innocent ones, such as the dear old lady who was in my (mostly old ladies’) prayer group. I don’t think she’d recognize anything but good even if it slapped her in the face. For the rest of us, it may be that on some level we must become the child that she is, though I’m not always sure how to get there. Which is why, I suppose, I’ve had to practice trusting in the middle of far too many messes — some through choices I regretted, some through the machinations of others — usually others who were supposed to be godly but who were instead human and self-absorbed (some thinking they were doing God’s will in the attack). Why do these things happen while we’re trying our best? I haven’t the foggiest, except that in some way we’re in a forge, being beaten into shape because God cares more about our attitude than our comfort, more about our outcome than what it takes to get us there.

        • Normandie,

          The man who was my spiritual mentor growing up was one of those people who never seemed to fret and always found the bright side of any situation. And yes, he had that child-like quality, too. To say I’m jealous would be an understatement.

  9. Jake


    I hope I am not coming across like I know it all. In fact, the older I get the more I feel like I understand things less. (Did that sentence make sense?)

    >> The testing of our faith produces steadfastness, endurance, patience. But when people are crushed, they lose their hope that tomorrow will be better, and without hope that things might improve steadfastness, endurance, and patience lose the foundation that makes them what they are.

    Michael Card wrote a song back in the ’80 called “God’s Own Fool”. One of the phrases of that song goes like this:

    So surrender the hunger to say you must know
    Have the courage to say “I believe”
    For the power of paradox opens your eyes
    And blinds those who say they can see

    Often times we look at a Christian who appears beaten down, who looks like he doesn’t have the “joy of the Lord” and we think, “That poor, defeated Christian. If only they would trust God more.” Well, my experience is those weathered, beaten-down Christians often have a tried and true faith – forged in the furnace of life – that dwarfs the faith of those passing such judgments.

    It is a long walk and the final chapter to your story or mine hasn’t been read yet. God is the Author and Finisher.

  10. bob p

    Good post.

    First, let me get this off my chest. I didn’t care off of William Windom’s acting or the silly dialogue by Kirk at the end finding one Doomsday sufficient. And that idea about the Borg; puh-lease! That one shows the silliness of youth: DoomsDay was a Cold War term denoting total human destruction.

    A funny sign posted in a local convenience store: ” This is not the life I ordered! ” Well, at first I thought it was funny.

    What is the meat of the problem – a bad life or a bad interpretation of it? Deep thinking is hard work and I don’t like it when it involves myself. This is because I get totally conflicting information and then try to make sense of it.

    Example: the aforementioned soul with the same prayer request year after year and Jesus telling us three times before the cross to ask for anything in the Father’s name and He will grant it.

    A year ago if someone said “well, God has got a plan ” , I’d say ” oh, shut up!” Now, I just smile a little.

    May I give a few random quotes from Solzhenitsyn. Accept what you like:

    Do not pursue what is illusory – property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated in one fell night.

    Don’t be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is, after all, the same: the bitter doesn’t last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing.

    [ A man’s task on earth] has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one’s life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it.

    In prison, both in solitary confinement and outside solitary too, a human being confronts his grief face to face.
    This grief is a mountain, but he has to find space inside himself for it, to familiarize himself with it, to digest it, and it him.
    This is the highest form of moral effort, which has always ennobled every human being.
    A duel with years and with walls constitutes moral work and a path upward (if you can climb it).

    And I say without hesitation: “Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!…

    • Bob P,

      At the risk of contradicting a Nobel Prize winner and a man with a much better relationship to God, I have to disagree with Solzhenitsyn. Sweet DOES fill the cup to overflowing. At least it has in my experience.

      Here is the question for Solzhenitsyn:

      Which better depicts life?
      1. Life is sadness punctuated by brief episodes of happiness.
      2. Life is happiness punctuated by brief episodes of sadness.

      I think he would pick #1, but I’m not sure if that is a Biblical viewpoint.

      • George

        Well, Dan, it would probably depend on which life was being considered.

        Adam’s life? Probably #1, wouldn’t you think?

        Samson’s life? Probably #2.

        Peter? #2, I’d expect. But who knows? The bible doesn’t really get into how happy Peter was. Sadness is indicated on occasion, but are we told whether he was happy or sad throughout his ministry?

        But Peter, I would imagine we’d agree, was exceptional, and not necessarily a good indicator of whether the typical biblical-era Christian was a #1 or a #2. Aquilla might be a more apt comparator for you. However, I recall no biblical discussion of how often he was happy or sad.

        I suppose one could argue: Never mind what the bible says about people, just focus on the doctrine we can fashion from the didactics.

        I’m not suggesting we should not be hopeful and look forward to the promised salvation. But I would not be surprised if God saw sadness as a reasonable response in a life filled with suffering.

  11. George

    Dan — I know what you mean about choices that seemingly come back to bite us. But here we are. Are we beaten down? Well, this isn’t the life we ordered, anyway. (Bob, I love that line — thanks!)

    Of course, it wasn’t the life Peter or Paul ordered, either. It is, however, the life we’re called to (or signed on for, which we could have anticipated, had we read/understood the book).

    Jake said it best. God is more concerned with our faithfulness than he is with our comfort. It’s we who define our comfort, instead of our faithfulness, as a higher measure of our wellbeing.

    When Jesus said ask in His name and receive whatever we ask for, I think He was using the term “in His name” as meaning within His character or identity, not as an incantation that would serve as magic. In other words, if we ask consistently with the nature of Christ, we’ll receive.

    It is a good idea to seek counsel. And it’s a good idea to consider the sole opponent, even one who admits his position is driven by his own needs. So what? If he needs you, he needs you.

    No situation here will be perfect. And who knows if alternatives would have been any better career-wise or materially. What’s key is how faithful/focused/obedient we behave in living it out.

    Still hurts, tho, doesn’t it, Dan?

    • George,

      I’m a bit different than most people I think. The Bible is always showing how when things are good people forget God, instead running to Him when things are bad. I’m the opposite of that. I never cease to forget God when times are good, though I do when times are bad.

      As for me, I chose ministry early on in my work life. That ended up crashing and burning for no good reason by the time I was in my early thirties. At that point, how does one recover and shift into anything else? The business world’s not too friendly to people who spend more than a decade developing ministry skills they can’t see translating to business applications. At that point, you’re too old to start from scratch, so you’re stuck.

      This is why I don’t advise young people to go into the ministry. Better to establish a career and then consider transitioning into ministry. You wind up bring more life experience to the table anyway, and if ministry doesn’t pan out, then you’ve got a fallback.

      So many stories of people going for ministry first wind up with unhappy endings today. Don’t know why that is, but I offer it nonetheless.

      • George

        I hear that, Dan. I used to be amazed at how unfamiliar pastors were with their congregations’ daily struggles, and what a huge disconnect there was between them.

        Ex-pastors sometimes sell real estate after “leaving the ministry.” I wonder if they struggle more because they see themselves as having left “the ministry” rather than having entered a different ministry — one where they are doers rather than teachers. One ex-pastor I know left real estate and became a hospice chaplain and seems to be content and satisfied in that capacity.

        Is there ever a safe fallback? Once you leave a career and are out of it a few years, it’s tough to convince people you are as skill-competitive as others who’ve remained active in it.

        • George,

          After my parents died, I had a struggle with their estate. Plus, I’d left my job because the company I worked for was going under because of the Internet bubble. It was a tough time and I was out of work for a few months. I had an interview with a company and the interviewer told me that even though they’d not found a candidate who had the experience they were looking for, despite the fact that I did, the guy didn’t consider me a viable candidate because my skills weren’t up to date because I’d been away from that work for five months.

          That’s just nuts. It was even nuttier when I informed him that I was far ahead of where the company was in their understanding of the marketplace and showed him through a series of questions he asked that his knowledge was out of date while mine was cutting edge. (Obviously done tactfully.) He didn’t care. Five months out of work meant I was no good for anything.

          And yeah, that company is out of business now. As if that’s any consolation! 😉

  12. connie

    “This is a hard confession to make and I hesitate to make it, but I don’t feel that I am a better person for having been through what I’ve been through. Wiser? Yes. But also less trusting. Less…well, a lot of things less.”

    Sometimes, God puts us in situations because He wants to show us what is in us. Sometimes He allows circumstances to pound us flat.

    Speaking as one who has been pounded a few times myself, I always go back to what God says to Job. Yes, sometimes it seems like a nonanswer. But God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts not our thoughts.

    I know you understand that just because we serve God does not mean our lives will be perfect and problem free. Many times the Potter pounds us and shapes us on that potters wheel till we are sick and dizzy…but as one who used to work with clay I know that clay HAS to be pounded in order to work it.

    We glorify God by patient endurance. That attribute is precious to Him. If we truly seek to do His will, He will most assuredly shape our lives so we do just that. We are silly when we think we are in charge of our own lives. We aren’t. If a sparrow does not fall to the ground apart from our Father, then how could we imagine anything could happen to us apart from Him either?

    • Connie,

      The same circumstances have pounded me flat for years and I seem to be learning nothing from the pounding. Hmm.

      I’m not sure I understand patient endurance when you feel like you’ve fallen into a wood chipper. Patient endurance is waiting to meet the right marriage partner. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as patient endurance when the metal blades of the chipper are chopping parts of your body! Some situations call for immediate response, not patient endurance. If my son fell into a den of lions, I think that would call for an immediate response.

      I guess the question I have is that many Christian sects talk about the fact that we are powerless to respond and that God is the singular source of response. If that’s the case, though, what can I do to change my situation? Nothing then. It’s all on God to move.

      But does life work that way? I’m not ecen sure those Christian sects that believe the above even practice that belief outright. They forge ahead with their own plans, too. But that seems crazy to me. Either God moves without us or there’s more on our shoulders than we care to admit. Finding how we should react in either of those cases is immensely difficult.

  13. What gives me comfort when confronted by the Decker Conundrum (is that the same as the Kobayashi Maru – the no-win scenario?) is the exchange:

    “What you have done …”

    “… What I have done, I had to do.”

    “But at what cost? Your ship. Your son.”

    “If I hadn’t tried … the cost would have been my soul.”

  14. DC

    They called me, they begged me for help—four hundred of them! I couldn’t… I-I couldn’t….

    This made me think of the people at Auschwitz. Did they ever lose hope that God would intervene when day after day some of them would be taken away never to return or worse? At some point did the one’s who believed that surely God could not let this go on just throw in the towel and shake their clinched fist at Him? “How can You see this and just sit there and do nothing?” I cannot begin to imagine the mental and spiritual contortions these people must have gone through surrounded by such relentless brutality and hatred. That fact that any of them emerged with their faith intact is nothing short of amazing.

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