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Word One Bible Study: Epiphany 6 Old Testament

A Life and Death Decision

Text: Deuteronomy 30:15-20 for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, lectionary series A

Download a PDF of the Word One Bible Study for Epiphany 6 Old Testament

Participants will:
1. Understand the difference between fate and free will.
2. Be able to weigh the benefits and consequences of their life choices.
3. Appreciate God's love even when it is embedded in His Law.

Group Guidelines
For this study, you will need as many dice as there will be small groups and as many small pieces of paper as there are total people in attendance. On half of the pieces should be written "Heaven" and on the other half "Hell." These will be folded so the words can't be seen.

Using a single die, each person in the total group will roll it one time. If the large group numbers no more than 15, divide into two groups by separating those who roll a 2, 4 or 6 from those who roll a 1, 3 or 5. (If the group is larger than 15, divide into three groups--1 and 4, 2 and 5, and 3 and 6--or even by single number if your group is 25 or more.)

Each person in each group will then roll the dice again; the leader of each group will be the first person to roll a 6. The leader will function like other members but will have the responsibility to make sure everyone has a chance (but not the obligation) to share opinions.

Building Community
In each group, discuss the experiences that individuals or their families have had with luck or chance or gambling. Have you or family members ever won prizes in a drawing or in a lottery? How do these experiences differ from awards that have been won in talent, athletic or academic competitions? How do they differ from being selected by a teacher or coach because of particular talents? Would you rather be picked or choose the group you wanted to be with?

How do you define "fate," "luck" or "chance"? Share your definitions with your group.

Getting Involved with the Theme
Imagine that your salvation depended on fate or chance. Draw one of the pieces of paper from the pile. Wait until all have one before you look at yours. According to this "fate approach," will you go to heaven or to hell? Discuss how this "fate" approach to salvation makes you feel.

Using whatever criteria he or she wishes (looks, wealth, talent, etc.) the small group leader should choose three persons from the group that will go to heaven. Discuss how this "personal preference" approach to salvation makes you feel.

Finally, the group leader should designate one area of the room as "Heaven" and another area as "Hell." The leader indicates to the members of their group that each person can choose for themselves. Each person should make his or her own choice and go to that area, either to heaven or to hell. Discuss how this "free will" approach to salvation differs from the others.

Getting Into the Scripture
Read Deuteronomy 30:15-20, with a different person reading each verse. Then discuss as a group the following questions about each verse or verses:

Verse 15: Does the picture here suggest that salvation is fate or free will? Explain your answer.
Verse 16: To what do you commit if you choose life, prosperity and heaven? What promises come with this choice? Would you change the choice you made before?
Verses 17-18: To what do you commit if you choose death, destruction and hell? What consequences come with this choice? Would you change the choice you made before?Verses 19-20: Why do you think God wants witnesses to what He offers us? Is God impartial about the choice we make, or does He want us to choose a certain way? What does God wish for us to say about God? Let a volunteer read 1 Timothy 2:3-4 and compare God's wish there with His wish here.

This passage certainly contains God's Law. He makes very clear what will happen if we choose the way of death and live our lives dedicated to destruction. He also makes clear that the choosing is our doing and not Fate. But is this section of Scripture only Law? Or is the Gospel, the Good News of Salvation, also present here? Look for those places where God invites and even urges us to make the choice of life, prosperity and heaven.

Reinforcing What Has Been Learned
The great questions of religion have included these that explore free will: "Why didn't God make it impossible for us to choose death, destruction and hell?" "Why would He give us a choice when He knew that some would choose the way of hell?"

What do you think? What are the advantages and disadvantages both of free will and of fate, the absence of free will? Can you think of any possible reasons why God would give us free will? Use your relationship with your parents to help you answer. What does it say to parents when you choose to obey their requests and follow their advice? Compare this with how God might feel if we didn't have the power to choose to live for Him in response to His love for us.

Read John 3:16. What did God do that showed how much He loved us? Read Acts 2:1-4, 22-24, 32-33 and 37-39. What other power ha God given us to help us make the choice of life and show how much we appreciate His gift to us?

Return to the large group and offer a group prayer where each person can thank God for something good in their lives. Then close by joyfully singing "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow."

Originally published in Discovery Bible Studies V, studies on the Old Testament readings for lectionary series A, in 1992.

Republished and revised in February 2014 for thESource.


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