We’ve all felt it before: the need to choose between the lesser of two evils. It happens in small ways, like choosing between two ways to spend an afternoon that we will find mildly uncomfortable, and in large ways, like being faced with an election in which you disagree with all the candidates that are running.
Often, we feel there is no way out of these situations. We live in a highly competitive culture. Two teams enter the game, but only one leaves victorious. Two parties vie for control of the legislature, but only one wins it. Two people interview for the same job, but only one gets it.
This sense of being trapped is at the heart of why many Americans carry the stress they do today.
Given a dilemma of two poor choices, we feel trapped. We have no way out. We either must “hold our nose” and make a selection we do not like, taking the results that come from it, or we must abdicate our ability to choose. Even this is a choice, though, and we must abide by whatever the result comes from others choosing in our stead.
This sense of being trapped is at the heart of why many Americans carry the stress they do today. As shown in my earlier post, the realities of economic disparity, violence, and the inability to recognize the character and direction of their own country has led to a substantial jump in distress among the American population. This has even manifested in the form of stress-related ailments and a shorter lifespan.
Is there a way out of the trap?
Yes. The way out is to refuse to accept the duality set before us.
When Jesus was asked whether the Jews should pay taxes to Caesar or not, he was in a trap. Asked, as he was, in the temple while he was surrounded by pilgrims there for the Passover, he had two options that each had unacceptable consequences. If he said yes, he would have lost his popularity among the working-class Jews that had followed him. If he said no, he would have been seen as promoting treasonous behavior and arrested. This is exactly what his opponents wanted. Either way, he would be removed from public ministry.
I can imagine the moment the question dropped. It probably seemed to people, especially like those closes too Jesus, that time froze. Everyone knew how politically sensitive the question was. Everyone knew what hung in the balance for how he answered it in front of a large crowd. Everyone knew that he had no way to wiggle out of facing a very negative result.
Yet, Jesus did escape. His famous answer, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s,” refused the dichotomy of the trap. Instead, it turned the tables on the questioners, reframing the issue as a matter of how we have stewarded the gifts of God. They were deeply concerned about whether to pay taxes, even though everyone agreed that the money they used came from Caesar to begin with, yet they cared little about whether they lived in a way that honored the God whose image was stamped on them from creation.
The pressures of the dichotomies we face are real. However, they are not ultimate.
This answer was so powerful that it brought an end to the questioning and testing of Jesus. They realized that they could not trap him because he refused to accept the competition that they presented. Instead, Jesus pointed them to a deeper truth that overrode that competition and the trap that it presented. What Jesus did was to bring renewal. He reminded them of what God created the world to be when all things were new, and he called them back to that. He also pointed them to look toward the day when all things would be renewed. In doing so, he gave them a way to be free from the traps the world assumes.
The pressures of the dichotomies we face are real. However, they are not ultimate. The people around us cry out for renewal that will allow them to overcome the fears and stresses that are beating them down. We likely even need this renewal ourselves.
The starting point to renewal, and to escaping the traps of competition and dichotomies, is to look to the good that God created when all things were new, which is the same good God will re-establish when all things are made new.
The starting point to renewal, and to escaping the traps of competition and dichotomies, is to look to the good that God created when all things were new, which is the same good God will re-establish when all things are made new. In this newness, we find power and wisdom that is greater than the problems we face. We find hope that sustains us even when we struggle with evil. We find patience to endure when times are difficult. We find love to forgive people who exude apathy and hatred. We find we are loved when the pundits and social groups would categorize us and exclude us.
And, once we find it, we can offer it to others. Yes, there are lots of traps out there. None of them have to catch us.