Marketers, casinos, and certain game shows are known for making people act in ways contrary to facts and statistics. One particular scenario is called the Monty Hall Problem, which goes something like this: A prize is hidden behind one of three closed doors, with the other two doors containing nothing of value. After the contestant has selected a door (but before that door is opened), the host – whether Monty Hall himself, or someone else – will open one of the other two doors, making sure that the newly-opened door is not one with the prize behind it. Then, the contestant gets a choice – he or she can stick with the originally-selected door and choose what is behind it, or change the original decision and choose the remaining unopened door instead.
It can be shown – both mathematically and empirically – that it is far better to change one’s choice and select the remaining unopened door. As long as the host is playing the game fairly, the chances of finding the prize behind this door are twice as good as the chance of finding the prize behind the door that the contestant originally selected.
What is unusual about this scenario is that the majority of people will tend to stay with the door that they initially selected, despite it being 50% less likely to contain a prize. There’s probably an element of misunderstanding (since a lot of people aren’t mathematicians or statisticians), but I suspect that there’s also an element of personal pride and even “ownership” in the door that we choose first. We may also mistrust the host, feeling certain that with a prize on the line, no one would intentionally help us improve our chances of winning.
I’m not sure if King Solomon engaged much in the mathematics of probability (or game shows), but he – in his God-given wisdom – certainly understood people:
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.
Proverbs 12:15 NASB
(see also Proverbs 14:12)
In life, we have each chosen our own “door”, so to speak. We select a path that we think will lead to success, and we inevitably deviate from God’s path at one time or another (or, in my case, many times over). Despite our wrong choices, though, before the “game” – meaning our life, which isn’t actually a game – is done, Jesus offers us the correct door. Even more than a game show host, Jesus doesn’t just tell us which path not to take; He tells us the exact answer that we need to select, in order to secure eternal life:
So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
John 10:7-10 NASB
Jesus Himself is the gate (i.e., the “door”) through which which we can find our purpose and fulfillment in this life, and abundant life with God. After we went down the wrong path, He – through His sacrifice to pay for our sins – provide a way for us to return to God, before the end of our respective lives arrives and our decision is sealed.
Still, when presented with the opportunity to accept a priceless gift, some still hold on to their original choice: a door that they still believe will prove to be the right one in the end. Some remain convinced that their own path – whether choosing selfishness, or their own, personally-invented definition of “good” – is better, even when the God of the universe has explained the faulty logic behind this choice. Others follow Jesus but continue to resist His direction and His commandments, believing that God’s instructions can’t really be the best guidance for their daily life decisions. Like the first couple in the Garden of Eden, our pride (and the tempter) convinces us of the fallacy that we know how to live our lives better than the God who created us.
When we look at this objectively (particularly in our own lives, since each of us can only truly know our own heart), this seems silly. It’s like being on a widely-broadcast game show and sticking with a choice that you (along with the host and the entire watching audience) know is a losing proposition. When we have our more lucid moments of reflection and clarity, may each of us consider the wisdom in taking the right path: accepting Jesus as not just our Savior, but also our Lord, and being able to leave life with more than just “parting gifts”!
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.