Good morning. Black Friday, (in America the day after Thanksgiving), has become the feast of shopping. This year it it falls just a couple of weeks before this country goes to the polls.
Black Friday and Election Day have one thing in common. They’re both a celebration of our ability to choose. The items many of us put in our shopping trolley represent the choices we make that don’t matter: after all, one four-slice faded ivory toaster is much like another. By contrast the cross we put in a box on election day represents the choices we make that do matter: because the different political parties portray rival notions of human flourishing, and how to achieve it.
In many ways choice has come to symbolise everything we aspire to. It’s become the tangible experience of freedom. Poverty is bad because it offers you very little choice. By contrast wealth offers perpetual, limitless choice.
Choice doesn’t always feel like a blessing. When a lot hangs on the outcome, and you don’t feel ready to choose, it can be the opposite of freedom – a paralysis of indecision. Perhaps the abiding percentage of the population that doesn’t vote at elections is a statement either that the choice available has breadth but lacks depth, or that the agony of choice is itself too painful.
One ancient theologian said that after the fall of Adam and Eve human beings retain the ability to choose, but have lost the ability to make good choices. As one Romanian woman put it after the fall of President Ceaușescu, ‘We have freedom, but we don’t know what to do with it.’
The night before he died Jesus surprised his disciples by overturning their assumptions about choice. ‘You didn’t choose me,’ he said; ‘I chose you.’ In those eight words Jesus challenges everything we take for granted about freedom and opportunity. He reminds us of the book of Genesis, where God calls Abraham, and discloses that the identity of Abraham’s descendants will lie in their being not a people who choose, but a chosen people.
It turns out that faith isn’t about choosing to believe in God given the myriad philosophies and paths of life available. Faith isn’t saying ‘I choose’; instead, it’s saying ‘I realise I’ve been chosen.’ For me, the answer to the great question of who we are lies in the simple answer of whose we are – who we belong to.
When we face the biggest thresholds of our lives – like how we earn a living, whom we marry, where we live – true freedom lies not in choice, but in answering this question: ‘To whom do I truly belong?’