SOUDER: The path that good intentions paves

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This principle – that direction, not intention, determines destination – is true in every avenue of our lives. I prove it every time I try to play golf.

By Chuck Souder

In the 2004 Olympics, Matt Emmons had victory in sight. In fact, he was only one shot away from claiming the gold medal in the 50-meter 3-position rifle event. He was so far ahead that he didn't even need a bull's-eye to win; his final shot merely needed to hit the target.

He took aim and fired. Normally, the shot he made would have received a score of 8.1, more than enough for the gold medal. But, in what was described as "an extremely rare mistake in elite competition," Emmons had fired at the wrong target.

Standing in lane two, he fired at the target in lane three. His score for a good shot at the wrong target? Zero. Instead of winning, Emmons ended up in eighth place.

In his thought-provoking book, The Principle of the Path, Andy Stanley condenses the book’s premise to this one thought: direction, not intention, determines destination.

Obviously, the Olympian had the best of intentions. I’m sure he fully intended to shoot at the proper target.

Unfortunately for him, the “principle of the path” is true. It was the direction of his shot, not his intention for it, which determined its destination.

This principle – that direction, not intention, determines destination – is true in every avenue of our lives. I prove it every time I try to play golf.

Many times the distance of my shot is just about right, but as one of my friends likes to say, my “towards” is off. In other words, even though I fully intend for my ball to end up on the green, if its direction is off, it will not reach the desired destination.

There is probably no greater example of the “principle of the path” at work than the arena of politics and government. While some on either side of the political aisle will accuse those on the opposite side of having dubious motives, unless they have given evidence otherwise, I try not to doubt the intentions of those with whom I disagree.

However, as we have established, it is direction, not intention, that makes the difference.

In his new book, NO THEY CAN’T: Why Government Fails – but Individuals Succeed, John Stossel lists several examples of the good intentions of government gone bad. From creating “green jobs”  (which economists in Spain have found cost $750,000 each), to providing health care at lower cost (the examples disproving this are too numerous to cite), to ethanol programs intended to be environmentally friendly (but which, in reality, consume more energy to create than does gasoline and contributes to starvation in third-world countries because of the increased cost of corn), to pouring billions and billions into ineffective programs to eliminate poverty or educate our children, the examples of “the principle of the path” are many.

Though the proponents of government solutions to these various problems may have had the best of intentions (who doesn’t want our kids to receive a quality education? who doesn’t want to reduce poverty?), because the direction of the programs was misguided, they never achieved their intended results.

Unfortunately, many people mistakenly judge political philosophies and the policies they spawn by their stated intention and not their actual outcomes.

This explains why we continue to pour more and more money into school systems that don’t educate, welfare programs that actually increase poverty and many other programs that lead to the exact opposite destination that they were intended to go.

One of the issues at the heart of the political divide between conservatives and liberals is the inherent trust (liberals) or distrust (conservatives) placed on government as a problem-solving mechanism. Conservative hero Ronald Reagan put it this way, “Public servants say, always with the best of intentions, ‘What greater service we could render if only we had a little more money and a little more power.’ But the truth is that outside of its legitimate function, government does nothing as well or as economically as the private sector.”

Understanding this limited “legitimate function” of government, Thomas Jefferson noted, “Most bad government has grown out of too much government,” and “Were we directed from Washington when to sow and when to reap, we should soon want bread.”

Because the Founding Fathers of our great nation were informed by a biblical worldview, they understood the God-given role of government. Since they knew that the hearts of men were inclined toward evil, they designed a very limited government based on a system of checks and balances, and warned repeatedly about ceding too much power to the entity they had just created.

As Jefferson famously said, “Government big enough to supply everything you need is big enough to take everything you have....The course of history shows that as a government grows, liberty decreases.”

Another thing at the core of the political divide (and really this is just a corollary of the first) is a person’s view of God. As Rabbi Daniel Lapin incisively observes, people will either worship “the big G” – God – or else they will worship “the little g” – government. The exaltation and embrace of government will undermine devotion to God, just as devotion and love for God will dilute the authority of government. That’s why totalitarian systems of every sort distrust and suppress authentic religious faith.”

Although that might seem like a harsh conclusion, I believe the facts bear it out.

Of course, this isn’t necessarily to say that one has to be of a certain political persuasion to be a Christian – surrendering to the Lordship of Christ is all that is required there. However, if you show me a person who believes in God and is committed to the Bible as the ultimate source of Truth, I will tell you what that person believes about most issues that we think of as political (but which are really moral).

As we enter into what I’m sure will be a long and extremely negative campaign cycle for the upcoming presidential and congressional elections, it is important to remember that the vast majority of the candidates have the best of intentions to help things get better.

But it is also important to remember the “principle of the path” and realize that direction, not intention, determines destination.

Because we all know where the path of good intentions leads.


Chuck Souder is on staff at Shelby Christian Church. His columns can be found at www.SenitnelNews.com/columns. He can be reached at csouder@shelbychristian.org