Path Dependency (PD) is where the decision you are facing at any given moment is limited or influenced by your decisions in the past, even though the past circumstances that led to that decision may no longer be relevant. In essence, PD says that history matters or said another way, decisions have consequences and they are ongoing.
My decision to begin blogging again, along with starting another (past decisions) Lenten series, is affected by PD. The fact this blog exists creates the vehicle for this path and because I have done Lenten postings in the past, that history influences this decision, how I approach the effort, and a myriad of other things. It reflects one of my favorite illustrations about how we are always affected by “the water in which we swim.”
That water inhabits several different and sometimes unique contexts. There is the cultural water we all share. There is the subcultural water we have chosen to be part of (e.g., our Christian group). There is the general personal water (my own little bay, if you will) that is influenced by what I allow to flow into it (what I read, see, watch, discuss, the people I choose to interact with, and the intersections I have with the general world that are unique to me, e.g., this blog). The last water is my private internal pool (what I think, want, will, and choose from moment to moment).
All of these “waters” have PD. We are always helped, hindered, guided, influenced, and so on by each of these “waters” PD. For a Christian there are two additional waters we know exist and whose pervasive PDs are significant, maybe the most important of all. They are our fallen nature (the old man), which is path dependent forever to sin and must die and our new (born again) nature that is path dependent to our salvation in Jesus Christ, the guiding correction of Our Heavenly Father, and the sustaining/renewing work of the Holy Spirit.
Our fallen PD is the background for Paul’s lament in Romans 7 (the PD of the old man/sinful nature) and our born again PD finds its direction in Paul’s joyful celebration in Romans 8 (the PD of the new man in Jesus Christ who cannot be separated from God).
So why does this matter? I believe it means that unless God radically intervenes (Paul on the road to Damascus, which is rare), we cannot turn on a dime, but instead must labor over time to change our path dependency. It is hard and we will fall down, get up, fall down, get up…you get the picture. Changing the direction of our lives takes work, real time-consuming work. It is the labor Paul talks about, that perseverance and struggle, keeping our hand to the plow to reverse the consequences and change the history to move us in a new direction.
We should be encouraged because throughout that labor we have the path dependency of Romans 8 working for us, urging us on, sustaining our efforts, because nothing can separate us from the love of God, the absolutely faithful pathfinder who leads us in the way we should go.
Grace and peace to your day and may your Lent become a time of repentance and renewal and new paths.