When I was growing up my hero was Wayne Gretzky: admittedly this isn’t a very original choice for a Canadian kid born in the 80s but no one can hold it against me for being mainstream on this one. Wayne after all is the “Great One”. The best player to ever lace up a pair of skates. I used to watch his games, pretend I was number 99 during road hockey games, and put every hockey card of his that I had in a special plastic case. However what was peculiar, even for the most die-hard, young Gretzky fan, was that I decided I was going to read his 250+ page autobiography—you know to really get to know who Wayne was—and that’s exactly what I did as a 6 year old. While my classmates were soaking up the plot twists of the Bearnstein bears, I was learning about the role that characters like Nelson Skalbania and Bruce McNall played in the career and life of Gretzky.
One of the things that I loved about Wayne then and still admire about him now whenever I watch old highlight clips of his on YouTube, is how easy he made the game seem. His ability to make split second decisions that were 9 times out of 10 the right ones is astounding. Watching him play was to watch someone who didn’t think on the ice but rather reacted. It’s this ability to intuitively know what to do that makes professional athletes so incredible. In a fast-paced game they need to be able to trust their guts.
A similar need is found in the world of ethics. Most of the time the moral decisions we make do not have a sense of urgency attached to them. We are often able to defer a decision, reflect on it, pray about it, and consult with others. There are however times in life where a moral decision must be made in a split second such as: when you observe an act of physical violence while you are going for your morning walk, when one of your co-workers slanders another fellow employee, or when you have to decide whether or not to lie to the people working customs about how much merchandise you purchased on your vacation. We need our guts and instincts in these moments; however we cannot reasonably expect to end up with a good result from these instincts if we have done nothing to develop positive ones. To do this we need to be like the elite athlete. The great athletes have all been blessed with tremendous natural ability; however the reason why they are able to react at the speeds they do is through years and years of practice and through being students of the game. To be able to trust our gut in the heat of the moment we need to similarly practice, practice, practice and to be students of good moral thinking. Doing this involves thinking carefully about who Jesus was, what he taught, and why he taught it.