The Dilemma

A true story.

A certain pilot—we’ll call him Dave—had been flying commercial airliners for almost 20 years. In that time, he had seen just about everything. On this particular flight, the plane he was piloting was delayed, the weather was bad, and although the crew members were experienced, they’d never worked together before, which slowed things down a bit.

While at 35,000 or so feet, Dave was given word that a passenger on his plane was gravely ill. He’d had a severe heart attack, and although a doctor on board was helping, it was obvious the man needed urgent medical care. The pilot radioed the tower at a nearby airport seeking permission to land, but due to the bad weather, permission was denied.

So what should Dave do? If they stayed flying, the passenger would almost certainly die. While it was true the weather was a problem, Dave believed he could land the plane safely in spite of it. He’d been flying for years, not just for the airlines but in the military as well.

On the other hand, he didn’t feel like he should risk the lives of his crew and passengers by trying to land. While he deliberated, news came again—the passenger was failing. And although not everyone on board the plane knew what was happening, those who did were unanimous: Dave should land the plane and try to save the man’s life. Now, Dave had a dilemma—defy the control tower, risk everyone’s safety and likely save a man’s life, or follow instructions and let the man die.

A dilemma. What would you do? Every person in the world faces a very real dilemma—and it’s far more serious than that faced by our pilot.

But first, what is a dilemma? Having to choose between vanilla and strawberry isn’t a dilemma. That’s a choice. Running out of gas isn’t a dilemma; it’s a problem (although it could introduce a dilemma).

A dilemma is this: “A problem offering two solutions or possibilities, of which neither is acceptable.” The two options are often described as the horns of a dilemma, neither of which is comfortable.

In Romans 7, Paul describes the dilemma faced by every sinner. And it is a dilemma. He describes his experience in wanting to do what he knows he shouldn’t, and not wanting to do that which he should.

His options—the horns of the dilemma—are these: One, he yields to his fallen nature and simply allows it to govern his life, and he’ll be lost (which we would surely agree would not be good), or option two. Option two is to accept Jesus and let Him be the Lord of Paul’s life. And therein lies the dilemma.

To surrender fully to Jesus is to die. It is to die the death to self, and let Jesus govern our lives just as if we had died and were reborn. So why is that an uncomfortable choice?

Jesus compares this experience to crucifixion. And that’s not pretty. You can tell it isn’t pretty because so few people experience it and so many resist it. There’s nothing acceptable about death, but that’s what Jesus is calling us to. So often we find ourselves in that Romans 7 situation—we know what is right, we want to do right, but before we know it, we’re back into that sin.

And we don’t want to die the death to self because we’ve grown to love the sin more than we like the thought of Jesus removing it from our life. So there’s the dilemma.

Two choices—carry on in the old life and bear the inevitable consequences, or let Jesus make the old life new. The old life leads to death, because the wages of sin is death. To get to the new life means death also. And that option is so unattractive that most people choose against it.

Only one thing can free a person to live a true Christian experience: choosing Jesus as the Lord of one’s whole life. If self lives, we must die. If self dies, then we can live—forever.

The choice is obvious and clear. There’s only one way worth going. All it requires is a choice to subordinate one’s desires to the will of God. Continually.

Are you willing to make that decision?

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