Martin Copenhaver: Cake or Death?

"I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live." - Deuteronomy 30:19

Comedian Eddie Izzard has a classic routine in which he imagines how the Inquisition would have been conducted if the Church of England had been in charge.  He imagines the Anglican priests being far too genteel to torture their victims.  They are too fond of tea and cakes for anything as gruesome as that.  So, instead, they offer prisoners a choice:  "Cake or death?"  It all seems to go on swimmingly until every single person being interrogated chooses the cake.  "Well, we've run out of cake," says the exasperated priest.  The prisoner responds, "So what is my choice?  Or death?"   

When we read this passage from Deuteronomy in a superficial way, it can sound a lot like that routine. Given the choice between life and death, wouldn't we always choose life?  After all, with life comes cake, as well as many other delights.   

But sometimes the choice is not nearly as clear.  For instance, when I was a young boy, our neighbors dug a hole in their backyard for a swimming pool.  The whole neighborhood was crackling with anticipation.    

Then came the Cuban missile crisis.  The neighbors began to rethink their plans.  Should they build a bomb shelter instead of a swimming pool?  Should they trade in their dream of frolicking in the sun for the assurance of safety underground?  And which conclusion would be choosing life?   

Eventually they decided to use the hole in their backyard to build a bomb shelter.  They thought that, in making this decision, they were choosing life.  In retrospect it seems clear that they gave death the upper hand.  Fear can do that. 


God, guide me in my decisions today, that I might rightly discern which is the path to life.

From UCC's Still Speaking devotionals. Visit