Warning: This post may step on some theological toes. Advance with caution. If you have more faith in your theology than God’s love and mercy and are sure you’re right about everything, do not proceed. This is not an invitation to debate. This is a call to think and rethink. None of what is about to be said do I claim to be worthy of inscribing on the Eternal Tablets of Truth. I am just re-examining some traditional teachings and rethinking things.
I have some problems with the doctrine of free will
For decades I have heard all the passages in the Bible that support the idea that we must choose to follow God. God is not going to bully us into loving and obeying Him. It must be a choice. And I agree with the fact that we must make a conscious choice to walk in the light of Truth.
Soooo… I believe we have choices to make. But the doctrine of free will is abused and exploited sometimes to the degree that it seems like a legitimate justification to sin. One of the phrases I hear most often in some of the non-denominational Bible studies I conduct is, “Since God gave us free will…” They talk about free will, their ability to choose to sin, almost like a badge of honor, a permission slip to keep sinning, or an excuse for why they are still sinning even though they have tried to stop. It’s as if God gave this ability to sin and, by golly, they are going to use that ability to sin.
There are lots of places in the Bible where we are told to choose to follow God. Moses and Joshua both command the Children of Israel to make the choice to follow God. There are lots more. And there are too many times to count when individuals and nations chose not to obey God and suffered the consequences.
But there are many times when God did not give people a choice. He decided what would happen. He repeatedly tells Moses to take the Children of Israel to the place He would choose. He told them where to go and when to go, based on when the pillar of fire or cloud remained in a certain location or moved to a new place.
But maybe part of the problem is that we think we always do have a choice when actually we don’t. In the Garden of Eden, it was the serpent, not God, who told Eve that she could disobey God. She could be her own little god and decide for herself what was good and evil, what was right and wrong. God never actually told her or Adam they could choose to eat the forbidden fruit if they wanted to. He said don’t do it and explained what the consequences would be.
I know, you’re thinking that obviously means He gave them a choice. I might agree that it might imply a choice, but Adam and Eve had not considered it an option until the serpent suggested otherwise. It’s the serpent who told them they had a choice. But the serpent is a liar. Everything he says is a lie.
I know this probably goes against everything we’ve been taught, but maybe it’s a lie that God gave us a choice. A choice is something like, “You can go the the store or stay home and do your homework.” There is an option of more than one thing presented. God didn’t say, “You can eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or you can choose not to.” He said “Don’t eat it.” that is not a choice. It’s a command.
I believe every sin that we commit can be traced back to this beguiling and hypnotic temptation by the serpent, aka the devil, to believe we can be as gods and choose to do whatever we want, decide for ourselves what is right and wrong, choose what is evil and what is good.
You can get all defensive of your ability and right to sin and claim it is ordained by God. And I see why you might think this way. It’ one of the most popular doctrines in modern Christianity. But why would God give us the ability to do something and then punish us for doing what He empowered us to do? If I put a brush with red paint on it in the hands of my toddlers and then leave the room and tell them just to paint the paper, whose fault is it when I come back half an hour later and find red paint all over the walls? That may not be the most foolproof analogy, but it illustrates my point, at least to some degree.
So we make choices. Sometimes they are good and sometimes they are not. Sometime we obey God and sometimes we don’t.
How do we quit making bad choices?
We will never find an answer to this question by a theological debate about free will. Jesus gives us the solution, and we even sometimes admit it is the answer, but all too often we don’t follow his example.
Jesus’ solution is simple but hard to carry out, “Thy will be done.”
When Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, he petitions God three times to free him from the ordeal of the crucifixion, but each time he ends his prayer with those famous and often-quoted words, “Not my will, but thine be done.” He was not using his own will to decide to obey God. He was relinquishing his will; he was giving up his “right” to choose. His choice would have been to get out of the agonizing death and humiliation he was about to experience. He surrendered his ability to choose. In effect, you could say he denounced the doctrine of free will. It wasn’t his choice. It was God’s choice.
How does this apply to us? Do we make the choice to obey God and strive to live that out in our daily lives? That’s better than choosing to disobey God. Sometimes we have to take a stand for what we know is right and follow our convictions even in the face of opposition. But there are other times when we need to transcend this belief that we are little gods and everything in life is determined by our choices. There is a higher power than you, that is, God, who is orchestrating your life in a way that you can’t even see.
Life is sometimes like a log floating down the river with 1,000 ants on it. Each ant thinks he is steering the log. How often do we think we are in charge of our lives when actually there is something infinitely more powerful at work guiding us where we need to be?
When our default response to sin is “Well, God gave us free will,” we’re actually blaming God for our sins. Who are we to resist what God set in motion? Every time we sin, we virtually affirm that we have been beguiled by the serpent’s lie that we have a will of our own that can choose to do whatever we want. It’s only in surrendering our will to God’s will that we find real solutions to overcome the inclination to sin.
We should defend as part of our heritage as God’s children our innate ability to surrender our will to God instead of constantly arguing for our right to sin under the guise of the doctrine of free will. Maybe we need a doctrine of giving up free will and obeying God’s will.
To surrender your will to God’s will is one of the hardest things to do, but in those moments when we turn ourselves over completely to God, we find a peace and purpose to life that is impossible under other circumstances.
There you have a few of my current views on the doctrine of free will. This is still “a work in progress.” Who knows what I’ll think year from now. I’d love to hear your thoughts, pro or con. There are lots of points I haven’t discussed that people debate about on this topic. But I must say again, this is not a theological debate, so please don’t go there. More important: How do we overcome the inclination to sin? Are there times when you have resigned your will to God’s will? I’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.
Blessings as always,