Most people’s day-to-day lives do not involve “un-doable” decisions. Doctors, police, firefighters, combat military people are some of the obvious exceptions — note how in general these folks are held up by society as our “best” people. Until they make a mistake.

Even people with the best intentions make mistakes. On top of this, it is a truism of decision theory that good decisions do not always result in good outcomes. The character of Spock learns this in Star Trek.

Strange. Step by step, I’ve made the correct and logical decisions – and yet two men have died.

Spock, Start Trek: The Galileo Seven

And, I think it’s safe to say, most people are not as smart as Spock.

So, the history of civilization is that we create laws to tell people what to do (and not to do). At their best, the purpose of these laws is to give people a quick reference regarding how to react in a situation. At their worst, laws are used to subjugate people by making them too frightened to act. Thus, for example, the rules in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, which started out as helpful for the Jewish people, were turned into a blunt instrument with which to control them. This leads Jesus famously to say that the Sabbath was made for people, not the other way around (Matthew 12:1-8).

And so we find ourselves on the horns of a dilemma: We have laws to tell us how to act, but sometimes they are misused. How are we to decide what to do?

Of course, you will often hear people say to “go to the scriptures” to find the answer, but the misuse of these scriptures themselves have been the source of many of the problems. And so we come to being guided by the Spirit.

Being guided by the Spirit is a phrase mostly attributed to Paul and thus one must be careful of accepting it uncritically. The more or less standard meaning of the term is well described here, which is worth a read but again one must be careful. Patience and self control are good goals, but we can see clearly that Jesus himself often lost patience with his disciples and could be seen as losing self control at the cleansing of the temple. (Please see my posts here and here.)

We’re on a mission from God.

Dan Aykroyd, The Blues Brothers

Too many atrocities have occurred because someone said that God told them to do it. So, how do you know if you’re on a mission from God or schizophrenic? There are no easy answers to this, but there seems to me to be one thing to always keep in mind: Am I about to do something that can’t be undone? Thus, if you think the Holy Spirit is directing you to kill someone, stop right now and get medical help. Peacefully speaking out against what you think is wrong? Have at it.

Resistance against evil is as old as humanity itself. If you’re looking for proven effective, peaceful approaches to combating injustice, look to the writings of Thoreau, Gandhi and King (references below).

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