"The poor you will always have with you." Mt. 26:11
The film Charlie Wilson's War, which revolves around American covert operations into Afghanistan in the 1980s, presents us with a moral dilemma:
Either the United States could intervene in the bloody Afghan-Soviet war, which has caused countless deaths and injuries, by supplying the Afghans with weapons, or the United States could have avoided the weapons trade and remained on the sidelines. Either way, people will die. Is there a peaceful option? Is there a nonviolent option? To be honest, it seems hard to find a pacifist stance that would actually save lives.
So looking back at our recent history, did congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) do the right thing in orchestrating this secret war?
Because of it, the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan and stopped senseless killings there. But also because of it, the Afghans used the very weapons the United States gave them to train Al Quaeda and plan the attacks of September 11th (and the terrorism that has followed).
As I looked at this movie, I also wondered about the motives of Charlie Wilson in all this. Was he truly concerned about the plight of the Afghan locals, or was he trying to create a better legacy or divert attention from his shaddy life of drugs, prostitution, drinking, sexism, and abuse of power? And following up from that, in the end, did it really matter what his motives were?
Through all these murky waters of history and politics, a movie like Charlie Wilson's War reminds us that life's important decisions are never cut-and-dry, black-and-white scenarios. There are hardly ever two simple options, one labeled "right" and the other labeled "wrong."
In the Scriptures, Jesus and the disciples have their own debate with no clear or right answer. In responding to the woman with the alabaster jar who anoints Jesus' head at a home in Bethany, the disciples complain about the cost of the perfume and the plight of the poor. "The poor you will always have with you," Jesus responds to the moral dilemma (Mt. 26:11).
In other words, the woman with the alabaster jar could have sold it can given the money to the poor, but would that one act really eradicate poverty?
Taking that message to the film and to the moral dilemmas in our own lives, it seems that life is about navigating through the waters to exhaust all options and never to settle on the easiest, the quickest, or whatever plucks our heartstrings.
Perhaps Charlie Wilson didn't seek out all options, but rather did whatever would get him out of trouble quickest; perhaps when he visited Afghanistan and saw the suffering, he acted too rashly and without thought to all the consequences; perhaps he should have taken the case for ongoing recovery for the Afghans to the American people in the late 1980s and 1990s instead of keeping this covert operation secretive for so long.
In our lives, we are constantly faced with decisions. Realizing that all choices have good and bad points to them, we can't just throw up our hands and give up. But we do need to take a step back every now and then and think through what we are doing. Acting rashly, acting too quickly could end up destroying us in the end.
Above all of God's creation, the human race has the unique capacity to think. God has given us a brain to work through the tough choices in our lives. We could operate on instinct or the path of least resistance, but how does that make us any different than the animals?
At the end of the film, the CIA agent Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) tells Wilson about an old Buddhist proverb where no decision is ever truly final, and that what works well one day could destroy you the next. Perhaps Charlie Wilson made a good choice. Perhaps not. Good and bad choices are not defined by the first outcome, for victory is fleeting.
Good choices are not defined by whether the outcome made everyone happy or whether we achieved some sort of victory.
What defines a "good choice" is whether we thought it through or not.
No matter what the immediate outcome - good or bad, if it was done without thought, without compassion, without a weighing of gospel values, then it was a bad choice.
God made us better than that, so let us pray that our choices in life will be made with thought, with compassion, and with an eye towards the Reign of God.