As we drove through the Colombia Gorge on our trip last week to see our family in Oregon, we were reminded afresh of the devastation caused by a foolish decision on behalf of a teenager on Sept. 2, 2017 who hurled lighted fireworks (during a burning ban) into a parched canyon near one of Oregon’s most scenic hiking trails near Multnomah Falls, about 30 miles east of Portland. A cloud of smoke rose up toward the teen and his friends, some giggling as they videoed the event, oblivious to the danger. The resulting Eagle Creek wildfire raged through the Columbia River Gorge for three months before being contained, burning about 50,000 acres and was still smoldering in some areas as late as May 29, 2018. The fire endangered numerous popular landmarks such as the Multnomah Falls Lodge and destroyed the Oneonta Tunnel on the Historic Columbia River Highway. It forced hundreds of people to evacuate, closed Interstate 84 for ten days and threatened 5,000 houses and buildings, destroying at least four homes.
Hiking trails were closed for months and businesses along the Gorge lost thousands of dollars. The cost for firefighters was about $18 million and then there has been the salvaging of burned trees and rebuilding of the scenic highway. Many of the dead trees still stand, silhouetted against the skyline above the Gorge as you drive through—so sad, and all because of a very poor decision on behalf of one individual, who eight months later was fined $36 million, and sentenced to five years of probation and 1920 hours of community service with the U.S. Forest Service. He also had to write letters of apology to the 52 hikers who were trapped on the Eagle Creek trail, and letters to numerous other organizations that were affected by the wildfire.
We are free to make our choices, but we are not free to choose the consequences, and the tragic part is that if we make poor choices, the consequences don’t just come back on us, but can affect others as well—possibly many others, as in the case of the devastating Eagle Creek fire, or as in the case of a man by the name of Achan in the Old Testament. When the Israelites went up against Jericho, God ordered them not to take any personal spoil from the battle (Josh. 6:18,19). Achan disregarded God’s command and warning and took a beautiful mantle, and some silver and gold and hid them in his tent. His act of disobedience cost Israel a defeat in their initial battle when they went against Ai and 36 Israeli soldiers were killed (Josh. 7:5). Through the casting of lots to determine who had stolen things under the ban, Achan was found to be the guilty party and he and his family and all their possessions were taken to the Valley of Achor (meaning trouble or disaster), stoned and burned with fire (Josh. 7:25).
Then think back to another choice: one made by the first couple on earth to eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17; 3:6,7). Think of the “trickle-down effect” of that act of disobedience. Everyone who has been born (except Jesus Christ, who was born of a virgin) has been affected by it. The apostle Paul wrote: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…For through the one man’s disobedience, the many were made sinners…” (Ro. 5:12,19a). One bad choice can result in a lifetime of heartache and regret—and not only for the one who makes the bad choice, but often for many others as well. In the case of Adam and Eve, it has affected all of humanity.
But, praise God, there is a second part to Ro. 5:19: “…even so, through the obedience of One (Jesus Christ), the many will be made righteous.” “When we find ourselves on a wrong road because of a poor decision, God is able to bring us to an intersection where we can choose a new path that will lead us to something better. God is bigger than the mistakes you have made” (Erwin Lutzer). Even though we are born into this world with a “faulty steering wheel,” namely, the old, sinful, Adamic nature, God offers us a new divine nature in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, if we acknowledge our sinfulness and inability to go straight on our own, and trust in what Christ did on our behalf by dying in our place and bearing God’s wrath on our sin. “He (God the Father) made Him (Jesus Christ, God the Son) to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:21). “And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross that we might die to sin and live to righteousness…” (I Pet. 2:24).
With Christ living in us through the Holy Spirit we have available to us the resource to make wise and good choices. James wrote, “If any man lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all men generously…” (Jas. 1:5). Be sure to include God and His Word in all your consequential decisions. Life is not made up of the dreams that you dream but of the choices that you make. “The Christian wins or loses in those seemingly innocent little moments of decision” (Ray Ortlund). And keep in mind, our choices affect others as well as ourselves.