Summary: Indecision is a stressful state of mind. Decisive people solve problems and get things done. This message takes lessons from Nazis Germany and Israel’s history to examine the perils of indecision.
On April 9, 1945 seven conspirators against Hitler were marched to the gallows and hung. It was just one month before Germany surrendered. One of the men hung that day was a pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Some of you have probably read his book, The Cost of Discipleship1.
But come back with me a decade earlier. Hitler is on the rise. His stranglehold on the church in Germany was almost complete, and no one seemed willing to act.2 The Deutsche Christen (German Christian) movement had accepted Nazi ideology. The Global Ecumenical Movement was passive and indecisive toward Hitler’s agenda. Bonhoeffer and his friends would soon form the “Confessing Church” and publish the “Barmen Declaration” which rejected the compromise with Nazism much of the German church was making.3 But now Bonhoeffer is pleading for deceive action.
On April 7, 1934 he wrote a letter to Henry Louis Henriod, the Swiss theologian who headed the ecumenical World Alliance. “A decision must be made at some point, and it’s no good waiting indefinitely for a sign from heaven that will solve the difficulty without further trouble. Even the ecumenical movement has to make up its mind and is therefore subject to error, like everything human. But to procrastinate and prevaricate simply because you’re afraid of erring, when others — I mean our brethren in Germany — must make infinitely more difficult decisions every day, seems to me almost to run counter to love. To delay or fail to make decisions may be more sinful than to make wrong decisions out of faith and love.”4
Hitler was decisive. The ecumenical World Alliance was indecisive. They kept hoping things would work themselves out. They kept waiting for the perfect moment; the perfect choice. Neither came.
I have entitled this message “I Think I Will; But Maybe Not.”
We find that kind of thinking in the Bible during the days of Elijah. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel were aggressively leading the nation. Their intents and tactics were much like those of Hitler. To openly oppose them was very dangerous business. A small remnant of about 7,000 people5 resisted them. But most of the population just went along with their policies. God gave Elijah the courage to challenge them and their followers. On Mt. Carmel he took on the 450 prophets of Baal. As that contest was about to ensue, Elijah issued this challenge to the general population of Israel. 1 Kings 18:21 “And Elijah came to all the people, and said, ’How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.’ But the people answered him not a word.” Their response to his words was about the same as their response on everything else. “But the people answered him not a word”: a passive, complacent blank stare. The KJV says, “How long halt ye between two opinions? Some versions translate it “waver” or “hesitate” between two opinions. I think the American Standard Version is the most vivid. “How long go ye limping between the two sides?”
During World War II only 10% of the population was members of the Nazis party.6 Most people just went along. Most just followed the line of least resistance; more committed to their own comfort and ease than to real purpose. Martin Niemoeller was a Protestant Pastor in Germany who initially supported Hitler. But he later became an outspoken critic of the Nazis and was arrested in 1937. He spent most of the war in German concentration camps.
Here is his statement on how the Nazis took over Germany:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out -- because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me.”7
In his letter to the ecumenical World Alliance, Bonhoeffer was trying to shake them out of their passive indecision before it was too late. He was not successful in doing that. Now in 1 Kings 18 Elijah is trying to shake these Israelites out of their complacency. But they don’t even answer him. ’How long will you falter between two opinions? Not one person stepped forward and said, “Today the faltering stops; I’m with you Elijah.” You would have thought that at least a few in the crowd would have stood with him. They were in a mode of indecision and they continued in that. Of course, after Elijah had publically brought down fire from heaven, they got on board. They wanted to be on the side of the winner.