Dr. James C. Denison
President, Center for Informed Faith, Dallas, TX
June 30, 2011

Turtles and the national debt
An American Airlines pilot had to choose yesterday between taking off and saving 150 turtles. According to today’s Wall Street Journal, the turtles were sauntering across a runway at JFK airport, oblivious to thousands of tons of technology which could squash them or spare them. The pilot chose nature over an on-time departure.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world armed riot officers fired tear gas into crowds in Athens. Today’s New York Times reports that protesters rallied outside Parliament while their lawmakers approved an austerity package intended to help Greece avoid an economic default. The lawmakers’ decision, while widely unpopular with their constituents, boosted our stock market more than 72 points.

Closer to home, President Obama and congressional leaders are locked in a confrontation over raising the United States’ borrowing limit. Republicans want debt reduction measures, while Democrats want additional revenue. If the ceiling is not raised, Social Security payments to millions of retirees and people with disabilities could be threatened.

What do turtles on a runway, austerity in Greece, and debt ceilings in America have in common? They each illustrate the “law of unintended consequences.” Scholars from Adam Smith in the 18th century to Robert Merton in the 20th have warned us that we cannot control outcomes. If turtles can delay thousands of air travelers while Greek lawmakers improve our stock market and congressional debates threaten senior adults, no action’s consequences can be fully predicted.

If I cannot know the results of this devotional, how can I know that I should write it? How can you know that anything you do on this Thursday is best? The “paralysis of analysis” can grip any of us. Let’s think biblically about this dilemma for a moment.

Scripture teaches that your Father is all-loving (1 John 4:8), all-knowing (Matthew 10:29) and all-powerful (Philippians 4:13). When you submit your problems and decisions to him, can he make a mistake in answering your prayers? Is he obligated to give you what you ask for, or is he free to give you whatever is best? While his will may not seem “good, pleasing and perfect” at the time (Romans 12:2), can your “holy, holy, holy” Lord ever make a mistake (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8)?

David encouraged us to “offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord” (Psalm 4:5). Each requires the other. It’s been said that God can give his best only to those who leave the choice with him. Can he give his best to you today?

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