“There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs.”
Prophetic words uttered by economist, Thomas Sowell, for not only an economist’s understanding of the world, but for our generation.
When Sowell speaks of trade-offs, he embraces an economic term which teaches that life is not about simply making ‘good’ decisions (solutions), but about making choices between various options, holding varying but incompatible levels of appeal present to us (a balancing act, so to speak).
Your choice to watch Netflix may be gratifying, but you trade-off the time spent reading or studying. Likewise, you may desire to sleep-in an extra 30 minutes, but you choose to read your Bible instead (or maybe your trade-off is the other way round while you snooze your alarm).
Yet trade-offs are not just about external actions, but also about internal thoughts. We think in trade-offs by the way we respond to either others’ suffering or their betterment. We are radically influenced by sin and our culture to compare ourselves.
It is easy to see how one might do this with Instagram, Facebook, (insert social media addiction platform here). This article is not about that.
Rather, it is less obvious when we are confronted with someone else’s suffering.
In a world of endless charities, fundraisers, and news outlets reminding us of the plethora of social ills, we are bombarded with endless ways to give our time, our effort, our money.
Confronted with so many causes, we find ourselves forever uncertain of the ‘right’ charity. If we give to Cause A, is that better than Causes B to Z? Realising our incapacity to give what we think we ought to give, we can be left immobile, refusing to give at all.
Apathy. Confronted with an opportunity to provide support to another in need, we choose instead to withdraw ourselves emotionally. Feeling incapable of helping everyone, we lose motivation to help anyone.
We lose perspective.
Once apathy sets in, it is only moments before that lack of motivation turns into lack of concern and lack of action. The problem with apathy and indifference is not that we lose concern for the fundraiser or the charity, but we lose concern, full stop.
Jesus taught His disciples in Matthew chapter 15, verse 11, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”
If what emanates from you is apathy and indifference for those in need far away, sooner or later, that same attitude that comes from within will reflect in how we respond to those closer to us. To think that we can compartmentalise our apathy and indifference to only certain situations is to deceive ourselves.
If we fail to heed caution, fail to recognise this encroachment of sin, we will soon find ourselves left with only our pride. Paul said in Acts chapter 20, verse 25, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
But what if we choose not to give? Does nothing happen? No, rather the void left but refusing to give of ourselves is replaced with apathy, indifference, and eventually arrogance. Convincing ourselves, rationalising, why we refuse to give.
Yet if we consider this predicament, we find ourselves returning back to the reality of perspectives and trade-offs. The logic of the world may teach us that keeping what you have is more prosperous than to give, but this assumes we live only for this world.
Rather, Paul teaches in Colossians chapter 3, verses 1-2, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are earth”.
When we compare the moment to the eternal, the trade-off between two options becomes clearer. One earthly, one eternal. To give in the moment is to give up something earthly, for something eternal.
Giving is not simply about what we already have, choosing whether to demonstrate generosity or not, but about receiving something far greater.
Hailing from North Auckland, Blake Gardiner sounds American, looks Swedish, but grew up in Laos. As an introvert, Blake lives life on the edge by socialising. When he isn’t putting his life at such risk, he enjoys reading theology and debating whether Interstellar is truly the greatest movie of all time.