Pachinko God – Life Beyond Decisions

Pachinko God – Life Beyond Decisions
Brian Mork © August 2009

Very many Christians have a life to live. If they accepted Christ as their savior in childhood years, they have already navigated all the decisions of teen-age-hood. They’ve considered relationships with the opposite sex, and considered the big questions of, “Will I or won’t I?” I know of one young woman who used language similar to a policemen, referring to “turning oneself in” for an illicit kiss when Mom and Dad were out of the room. There were many decisions about friends, sports, college years.

Later the decisions have to do with vocation, girlfriends or boyfriends, spouses, family, children (if and when), jobs, income, living location, job changes, vacations, home purchase, moves, taxes, investments, family members, retirement decisions. The list is endless and growing in American society where we’ve accumulated so many freedoms – freedoms to choose without externally inflicted ramifications.

Have you ever seen a pachinko board? For the mathematically inclined, a Pachinko board is a gambling implementation of Pascal’s triangle. A typical Pachinko board is a slanted board with an array of nails protruding. If you drop a ball in the center at the top, it bounces down, hitting nails, and bouncing to the left or to the right. After many rows of nails, the ball will come to rest on the bottom of the board. Most of the balls land near the middle. Some few number go way out left. Some few number go way out to the right. If you plot how many balls land at what horizontal position, you’ll get a Gaussian distribution.

Most Christians view their life this way, where the horizontal axes is godliness – very bad on the left, very good on the right. No, I don’t want to divert into a conversation of work’s righteousness. We’re not talking about self-aware decisions, looking for salvation because of all the good decisions we’ve made in life. Instead, I’m talking about honest to goodness godliness.

Many Christians believe that godliness is a aggregate of good decisions. Life gains a character of many decisions, and at each decision, a person can make a decision for God (bounce to the right of the nail), or a decision that sort of ignores God’s ways this time (bounce tot the left of the nail).

As observed in real life, most people come out somewhere in the middle of the Pechinko board of life. Some decisions are heartily made for God. Others do not include God very much at all. If a person makes lots of decisions against God’s ways, you end up on the left side of the pachinko board. Many decisions for God and you end up on the right side of the pachinko board. Bad, medium, and good spread out across the spectrum.

As an example, consider some big things of life. Do you know someone who chose a path of divorce rather than reconciling a marriage? Maybe you count this as a bad decision (bounce left). However, maybe this bad bounce is mitigated by giving significantly of yourself toward public service (lots of bounces to the right). Many people mentally sort of average this all out like the Gaussian distribution of a pachinko board, and if they don’t end too far to the bad side, they figure they’re doing fine. Life becomes the geometric summation of hundreds of little decisions.

This is particularly amenable to an America perspective of Christianity. Hearty, adventurous effort leads to a good place. As a Christian, perhaps you want to stay far from works righteousness, so you accept a more Catholic view. In this view, if you or your parents got it right once, then pretty much God’s grace will cover you for the rest. It’s still your goal or task to make the right decisions, but if you don’t, God is always there to supernaturally bias your bounces toward the correct side, and when the game ends with your passing into eternity, you believe it’s mostly God’s doing that ended you up on one side of the board or the other.

Or, perhaps you accept a more fundamentalist view. In this view, one nail is MUCH bigger than the others. Get this decision right, then all the other decisions don’t matter. God’s grace protects you, and because of the one BIG decision, then you’ll tip more the right way on all the little decisions.

If you’re associated with certain church denominations in America, you’ll tend to see life as a single big decision – more important than the others. That was the time in your life when you decided to (or not to) accept Christ as your savior. In fact, most people have a lot of chances to do so throughout life, each time bouncing to the left. Eventually, if you count yourself among the saved, you bounced to the right and decided that Christ’s way was your way.

Even if you count one nail bigger and more important than the others, many times before and many times after, you will still be confronted with temptations that you’ll continue to make decisions about.

I believe many people live as if the Pachinko view of God is true. I agree with Francis Schaeffer that a person’s beliefs drive how they live. So, even if I don’t know many others’ beliefs, I can observe their lives. And their lives point toward a belief that God is there to help you make right decisions through out life.

Big change in direction. I believe the real truth is that all the nailed decision points and ball bouncings are a horribly incorrect analogy about the truth of life. True relationships and godliness looks different than this.

I suspect there is only one decision to be made. To the fundamentalists among the crowd, I want to be clear that I’m not talking about a “salvation decision”. Statistically averaged across America, such a decision does NOT bias a life one way or the other. All the maladies of real life that a person controls with choice affect saved Christians as much as others.

Rather, I’m speaking about a commitment that your life belongs to God, and his ways will frame your options and availability of choices and decisions. I don’t, and you shouldn’t, care “where you end up”. Christianity or godliness is not a vending machine that you put in your life (Catholic) or your decision (Baptist), and get out eternal salvation, or even happiness. This is not the type of decision I’m talking about.

I’m talking about something much more spread out in time, applicable in life where rubber meets the road, but intellectually integral and with fidelity to apply to all things. It has the dynamic range to apply to the big things (death) and little things (tying a shoe lace).

This decision becomes an inversion of the world, seeing things with His eyes first, and then beginning to love others by working to understand the world as they see it. Constantly inviting others to join Christ in the way you have chosen. Concepts of bravery or social intrepidness are measured on a scale you no longer recognize as significant. Nothing is holy and nothing is unholy, Greek or Gentile, Jew, Slave or Freeman. It’s all irrelevant in the scope of a larger commitment. Paul wrote about this in his New Testament writings. Peter Mayer sings about this in his song “Everything is Holy Now”.

Rather than make decisions at each nail on the pachinko board, this paradigm is more like tilting the entire board. Our heart and decisions are turned toward God and the individual decisions don’t need to be individually made.

Consider the example of a wedding vow. It is intended to be forever – something powerful and lasting till death separates. Whereas in reality, it is powerless in and of itself. Only the little daily choices to stay in a marriage are what become reality. Someone who celebrates making a wedding vow 50 years ago really celebrates 50 years of choosing to not break it.

The big decision or life view I’m talking about has the dynamic range to include both: one big commitment, and zillions of little commitments that dovetail with the big one. Do you let the vow determine your choices? Or do you let your day to day choices exhibit your cumulative faithfulness to the vow? Or do you do both?

Let’s apply this to a few life scenarios.

There is no job choice. There is work that God provides to you so that you can provide for those you love.

There is no spouse choice. There is a continual offering of your heart and life to others, and God may put someone in your life that you are particularly well partnered with so that they need exactly what you can give. At the same time, their way constantly pulls you toward seeing things with God’s eyes. That person will be your spouse. You don’t know what they look like. They may be physically beautiful. Maybe not. They may be tall, or short, or fat, or thin. Probably their personality and family background is a bit different than what you expect, too.

There is no choice of where to live.

There is no choice of how to care for parents.

There is no choice of how to raise children.

Life is not a pachinko board where you have to choose God’s ways each time. Choose God. Choose to believe God. I didn’t say believe IN God. Simply (and more powerfully), believe God. Let his hand measure out what decisions you have to make. You may never have to choose a job if you’re a missionary out of college. If you’re in the military, you may never choose where to live. Once you’ve decided on contraceptive methods (if any), you will never have to choose if you should or should not have another child. Your life investments will never have to be in the “right” place because a simple responsibility and disciplined approach will yield the returns that God chooses for you. Risky is not right. Conservative is not right.

If you can get your head and heart around the non-pachinko view of life, all the little bouncing nail decision points fade out of your life. This is the peace that passes all understanding.

About Brian

Engineer. Aviator. Educator. Scientist.
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5 Responses to Pachinko God – Life Beyond Decisions

  1. admin says:

    I Mostly Agree

    I read your Pachinko God thing and it really intrigues me. I’ve heard bits and pieces of this before, but never in such a coherent and condensed version. I think I agree with you…. to a point. The conclusions that the “pachinko” view would lead you to are particularly unsatisfying and force you to either choose one “big” choice as the point of salvation (like the fundamentalists) or select some imaginary line, and those people who land to the right of it can be considered saved (like the catholics). Neither of these seem like a good way to go through life and it makes me want to throw out the entire pachinko view, just as you did.

    However, I struggle with the “instead…..”. The pachinko view is wrong and so instead…… ? You talk about tilting the entire board, inverting the entire view. But to what? I can understand what life shouldn’t be, but I don’t get what you’re trying to say life should be.

    For example, you talk a lot about a marriage vow so I’ll stick with that metaphor. Despite the fact that you are attempting to throw out a view that places utmost importance on decision making (the pachinko God), you repeatedly talk about decisions. “Only the little daily choices to stay in a marriage are what become reality,” “zillions of little commitments that dovetail with the big one,” and “let your day to day choices exhibit your cumulative faithfulness.”

    I think that it is a cumulation of our small daily choices that make up who we are. It’s not really the big decisions that define us, those these do too. I don’t think you would disagree with this based on what you wrote, but I’m confused as to how this is different that viewing life as a pachinko board with TONS of little pegs. Where we end up may not matter so much, but the path we took to get there does. The choices and decisions along the way paint a picture of what kind of person we are (picture a little string, or colored paint following the ball’s path). Our little choices help paint a picture of who we are just as much as the “big” ones do. But it’s still our choices and decisions.

    I really, really like your quote “There is no job choice. There is work that God provides you so that you can provide for those you love.” I agree! But doesn’t this speak more for contentedness in whatever situation you are in than it speaks against the importance of making a job choice? I don’t think there is necessarily a right or wrong answer, especially in terms of choosing work, but that doesn’t mean the decision is not an important one, or that the decision won’t help define who you are. There IS a choice. But no matter what that choice is, it will be the right one as long as you live and work within a context of seeking to serve the Lord. Some decisions might help you serve Him better and some might make it more difficult. Not to say it’s not possible in either one.

    In my particular circumstances, I think that no matter what kind of career path I choose, I can make my life about the important things. If life does lead me down a path to become a successful career women, I think I can bring glory to God by constantly giving Him credit and learning not to lean on my own intelligence. If life keeps me a nomad, jumping from place to place and job to job, I might be able to give Him glory by trusting Him to keep providing those jobs (and a retirement) as they disappear. If life leads me to becoming a teacher, I can worship God by teaching others about my passions. If life provides me with a husband and family, my love for them can be a testament to God’s grace. Do you see what I’m trying to say? As much as I believe the end goal doesn’t really matter and no matter what decision I make will turn out good, I am still stuck here and now making a decision. I don’t think one will be right or another wrong, but I still think the decisions are important.

    I would like to comment briefly on the one issue specifically, because you said something that echoes something others have mentioned. There is a very fine line between working to keeping a door open and taking the issue on myself. I don’t want this to be my own crusade. I want it to work out if it’s God’s will for me. But what does it really look like to give a cause to God? And so that’s what I’ll work on now. In the practical sense, what does it look like if I am really willing to go one way, and more importantly, willing not to go in that direction?

    I really struggle with your closing words. I like to have plans and I think this might be a weakness. I need something long-term to anticipate, something to look forward to. It doesn’t really bother me that much when those plans don’t work out, but it really bothers me not to have them to begin with. Does this make sense? Unfortunately, my planning for the future often out-competes my living in the present.

  2. Brian says:

    Making Plans

    Yes, your thoughts about making plans are significant. Understanding the subtle difference between good planning and bad planning is maybe about granularity or specific-ness of plans. In other words, maybe “live Godly” is a good and suitable plan that does not bind you up or discourage or distract you. Yet, a detailed, down-to-the-minute dictation of what should happen tomorrow is rightfully distasteful to you.

    Actually, this guttural response to yourself is a witness that God’s spirit is active your life. God’s word speaks of working like ants to lay up for later seasons of life. At the same time, God’s word speaks of using language that does not assume the future. If you spend too much time on the specifics and not enough on the bigger, global, “pachinko board tilts”, then you feel something is amiss. Something doesn’t click right. The way you’ve seen things done and planned to the nth degree concerns you.

    My suggestion? Immerse yourself in a culture and be around people that have the big picture right (witness it with their life). This is not robotic mimicking of others. You’ll find HUGE diversity in how it’s played out with decisions of life, while staying consistent to a larger “board tilt” theology.

    The opposite is also true: remove yourself from culture and people when your heart feels tension and wrongness. You don’t critique the other people, and there is no personal press to correct or fix them. You would be available. You would help them if they ask and desire to be better, but mostly you need to be protective of life and heart and Godly spirit. Be away from weights that would re-tilt your table the wrong way and then distract away their life and the life of others discussing how to bend the nails. This was the critique to Pharisees who concerned themselves with the little bits of law, but missed the big picture.

    Hmm.. I just had a thought. Maybe spiritual decisions appear as choices in the material world. Spiritual choices appear as decisions in the material world. It’s like the mathematical transfer of functions from the time and frequency domain into the complex s-plane when studying aerodynamic stability. The same thing shows up differently in the two domains. Wow. Even mechanical aerodynamics reflect God’s truths.

  3. Brian says:

    Decisions and Choices

    Thank you for your observation that I advocated avoiding decisions, and then your specific notice that I bounced back to them. I’m always trying to communicate better. By putting the quotes into one paragraph, you made me think about what I was trying to say. I noticed the word change from decision to choice. I think a decision is something you think about, collect information for, and decide. It’s something you didn’t have, and then some later point in time you do have. A choice is more about the way you are. Choice is about free-will and how you exercise it. You can do it at a wider range of times. Do you decide to pursue God or choose God? The big table tilt is about choosing a new way and biasing all of your life.

    You commented that all the little small daily choices make you who you are. Oh, I think it is reverse in a wonderful way! Visit our blog and read the article titled “Atomic Love”. Briefly, in the article, I claim that love is not built from all sorts of things you can do. Rather, all those little things you do spill out from your love. More explanation in the article. This is about a character of God. I don’t think we can build it up. Rather, it’s a gift from God that we get to spill out onto others. In a similar way, our choices and life fall out from belief and who we are.

    Your image about a little string left behind everywhere the bouncing ball traveled is vivid. You end up with the conclusion that, “it’s still our choices and decisions.” Hmm… your conversation is good because it’s making me think. Maybe there is a different way to see this if I pull you away from the vocabulary “our choices and decisions”. Maybe at some point, it’s not the individuals’ decisions as much as you think. Think of Biblical passages where Paul writes about being “dead to sin”, “reborn”, etc. When the entire Pachinko board tilts, maybe it’s not so much our decisions any more. Maybe we are living into rhythms of God’s Kingdom. Think of Jesus preaching. In a number of examples, he tried to say, “The word operates this one way, but in the Kingdom of God, operates in this other way…”

  4. Brian says:

    Contentedness, Consumers, and Contributors

    Contentedness can drift into “I don’t care” laziness. Think of people that would sit absorb the work of other’s hands (aka consumers). This contrasts with contributors who see something to be better or more, and take action to work toward that. A Christian cares about things and strives to better themselves – wanting to change, yet content with what is. Applied to jobs, this drives me toward the phrase “doing work God provides” rather than “my job choice”. For example, my life in recent years has had nothing close to “job choice” – instead driven by huge and powerful forces beyond my influence. Yet, I find myself drifting more and more toward contentedness, and action toward the future.

    How does a person know when they’re taking from other as a consumer, vice contributing toward others? It’s not just about dollars and material value. It’s not just because someone sanctions or supports the action. Remember about seeing the world differently. There is bravery of the individual soul to stand up and speak/live truth. Seeing the world differently introduces different currency, and different metrics. I believe the key to adjudicate my participation in life is God’s word with a tight reading, desiring that it would hold and constrain me to God’s will – not as a rule book defining edges to explore.

  5. Brian says:

    Replacement v. Inversion

    You asked about what life view might take the place of a Pachinko theology… looking for what might be the “instead way”. Maybe there is not a specific alternative, instead a tremendously open field. Kind of like the Garden of Eden was. Avoid the one tree, and there’s an unlimited good around you. Maybe obedience and resultant wisdom take us places of God’s purpose. So maybe in this discussion, per se, there is no alternative …just something to avoid.

    Remember, when you invert something, you don’t change it into something else, requiring a replacement of the original item. You don’t need to change it to something else. Your life is still your life and you don’t have to change out what God has given you. Instead, it is …well …inverted. I think Mormons have it right when they claim our detour into a physical world is to be a growing experience. We are not to dodge or remove ourselves from the world’s ways, rather it is good to ~see~ differently. The retinal image of the world inside your eyes is upside down. Your brain adjusts and you live through the world normally – you no longer know the image is upside down. Similarly, when you see the world “through God’s eyes” you haven’t changed the world. Instead, you accept an inversion as normal, and – just like your eyesight – move through a world with spiritual agility.

    Similarly, the action of bouncing the ball on the Pachinko board stays the same. One view centers on all the little bounces. All the little nails could be bent, or adjusted, in some way. This compares with how many people try to get their life right – one event at a time. Another possible view requires creativity and seeing the entire issue differently, and understanding innately about gravity vectors, sines and cosines, etc. Only with this different view can a person see that tilting the board causes better the effect a poor craftsman was trying to fix one nail at a time. An inverted world view can see the effect of board tilt. A normal world view goes busily about bending nails.

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