Made in the image and likeness of God, humanity’s free will is a profound and wonderful gift. With the liberation of autonomy comes the burden of decision making – the consequences of which we are all subject to. However, this burden is not one that we carry alone. Through God’s great mercy and lovingkindness, the Holy Bible provides many principles of good decision making which can be applied to all situations; “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye” (Psalm 32:8). Whether it’s a mundane question of what to eat for dinner or something more significant like which career to choose, our lives are full of decisions so knowing how to make good ones is of great importance.
Of course, it goes without saying that when posed with a decision, we should seek guidance from God through prayer; “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). I can hear the sighs now, ‘we’re already doing this, tell us something new’, but the importance of prayer when deliberating over a decision cannot be overstated; “…the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling” (Ephesians 1:17-18).
In addition to our free will, God also gifts us with intellect with which we can understand, analyse and evaluate information to come to a sound conclusion. Let us now consider twelve relevant Bible passages which can aid us in using our God-given intellect to make wise and rational decisions. To illustrate the principles from these passages, I will use the example of deciding whether to get a dog as a pet (p.s. Mum, if you’re reading this, this is a shameless hint…)
1. Verse: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8)
Principle: Does this decision disobey the Lord’s commandments?
Application: Although there isn’t a clear ‘ye shall’ or ‘ye shall not’ commandment about pets in the Bible, caring for animals is mentioned. For instance, “…one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and with his children. It ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him” (II Samuel 12:3) and “a righteous man cares for the needs of his animal…” (Proverbs 12:10). From this, we can deduce that as long as I take care of my pet, having a dog would not disobey God’s commandments.
2. Verse: “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety” (Proverb 11:14)
Principle: Have I sought advice from the relevant people, including those with experience, my spiritual guide and those who would be affected by the decision?
Application: Polling the opinion of my family who would be directly impacted by the decision of getting a dog, two of my five family members say ‘yes’ and three say ‘no’.
3. Verse: “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1) (also see Romans 13: 1-7 & Hebrews 13:17)
Principle: Does this decision violate the civil or religious authority which I am under?
Application: Owning a dog is legal in my country, but it is not permitted under the regulations of the building in which I live.
4. Verse: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify” (I Corinthians 10:23)
Principle: Is this decision edifying and helpful to me? Will it harm my spirituality or distance me from God?
Application: A dog needs love, attention and plenty of walkies! Would my obligation to care for a dog impact my personal time with God, my ability to attend liturgy weekly or fulfil my serving responsibilities in church?
5. Verse: “But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak” (I Corinthians 8:9)
Principle: How will my decision affect the salvation of others?
Application: As mentioned in point two, the majority of people in my household do not want a dog as pet. If I bring a dog into the family, it may provoke anger and resentment from those opposed. Thus, my decision to get a dog may incite sinful thoughts from others which may be harmful to their salvation.
6. Verse: “That you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you” (I Thessalonians 4:11)
Principle: Will this decision lead me closer to a peaceful life?
Application: Research has suggested that having a dog can improve the owner’s wellbeing and feeling of happiness. However, considering that the majority of my family oppose getting a dog, owning a dog regardless would no doubt lead to conflict which would be to the detriment of our peace.
7. Verse: “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (I Peter 4:10) (also see Romans 12: 7-8)
Principle: Will I be making good use of my talents and Spirit-given gifts if I make this decision? Will I be glorifying God by this decision or exalting myself?
Application: God has given me a caring nature and the ability to nurture others, therefore owning a dog would be making use of my skills and talents.
8. Verse: “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself; The simple pass on and are punished” (Proverbs 27:12)
Principle: Have I weighed up the risks associated with this decision?
Application: The risks of owning a dog are numerous – from the spread of disease to physical injury. However, some of these risks can be mitigated (e.g. ensuring that the dog has all necessary vaccinations) so I must consider all risks carefully to come to an informed conclusion and decision.
9. Verse: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7)
Principle: Does this decision sit right in my heart and conscience?
Application: To meet this principle, one must honestly and seriously reflect on the impact of this decision on the sense of peace hidden in his/her heart. This is a deeply personal matter which requires careful examination… but in this case, with all the ferocity of a dog’s wagging tail, my heart says ‘absolutely, yes!’
10. Verse: All of Acts 16 (In this chapter, St Paul and St Silas are imprisoned which hinders their journey until the path towards Asia becomes open to them.)
Principle: Are the doors clearly opened or closed regarding this decision?
Application: Practically, becoming a dog owner is relatively straightforward and there are no obvious obstacles.
11. Verse: “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:16-17)
Principle: Is now the right time?
Application: Considering my full schedule and the amount of love and care a dog deserves, owning a dog is not the right decision at this time in my life.
12. Verse: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6)
Principle: Do I trust that God is sovereign? And am I willing to accept His will, even if it opposes my own?
Application: Similarly to point nine, the application of this verse requires sincere contemplation and self-reflection.
The choice of whether or not to get a dog is a light-hearted example, but some decisions can have far-reaching consequences for all involved. Be comforted in the word of the Lord who is a very present help to us, “have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
H.G. Bishop Moussa , 2001. How can I make decisions?. Cairo : Dar El Geal Press .
Wells, D., 2011. The Value of Pets for Human Health. The Psychologist , 24(3), pp. 172-176.
Youssef, H. B., 2018. Decision Making. [Sound Recording] (Diocese of the Southern United States.).