17 June 2011

Sunk Costs

2 Chronicles 25:9 And Amaziah said to the man of God, But what shall we do for the hundred talents which I have given to the army of Israel?...

Here’s the situation in 2 Chronicles 25.  Amaziah is the new king of Judah – the southern kingdom from David’s royal line that was a bit better and lasted a bit longer than Israel, the northern kingdom that really fell away after false gods right from the get go.

The first thing Amaziah did as king was kill the servants that had killed his father.  Good move.  (The chapter even notes that contrary to the practice of the day but in keeping with the law of Moses, he spared their children.) 

The next thing he did was hire 100,000 mercenaries from Israel to go help him fight against Edom.  Bad move.  God was not at all with Israel (that bunch of idolaters).  So the Lord sends an un-named man of God to tell King Amaziah that to go to battle with these guys would be to seal his own fate. 

Amaziah’s response is, “But I’ve already paid them 100 talents!”  Verse 9 continues,

…And the man of God answered, The LORD is able to give thee much more than this. 

This passage reminded me of a principle I learned in economics called a sunk cost.  A sunk cost is a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be reversed and is irrelevant to present and future financial decisions.  The principle is important to understand because making decisions on the basis of sunk costs (trying to recover what cannot be recovered) will always end up costing more and hurting worse in the long run.  To treat a cost as sunk and move on is an important step toward minimizing loss.   

In Amaziah’s case, going to battle with the 100,000 mercenaries he had hired would have ended up costing him more than the 100 talents he had already paid them. 

I believe this has some parallels to the Christian life.  It’s not uncommon for people to get saved or get right with God or sell out to the Lord having invested years of their lives or thousands of dollars on something they come to realize as either wrong, or just worthless.  And the temptation is to ask what Amaziah asked.  “What shall I do for the 100 talents…”  But the answer is, “The LORD is able to give thee much more than this.”  It’s a sunk cost.  It’s in the past.  It’s gone.  Don’t let it factor in to the decision you have to make at this present moment.  Just let the Lord take care of it.   

Forget what’s behind.  Reach forth for what’s before.  And press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.