People like choices. We like to have options, and we like to be able to pick the one best for us. Unless of course you are my younger sister… In that case, too many choices make want to curl into the fetal position and cry (and this has actually happened). But, for most of us, the variety of choices is something we like, something we may even believe we deserve. We don’t like to feel boxed in, forced down a specific path. We want the freedom to do as we want. We want that independence.
One of the big topics in Christian churches (or perhaps just Christian seminaries) is that of free will and predestination. I will be completely honest and say I had no idea what these words meant until my sophomore year of high school. But the first time I heard my friends talking about it, I couldn’t forget it. The thoughts were there, spinning around in my mind, and nothing would put them to rest. It was exhausting.
I understand there is Biblical support for predestination. I understand that entire Christian sects are based on this idea. And I understand that many strong, wonderful Christians believe in this idea wholeheartedly, and I respect them for it. But something inside of me, perhaps the willful controlling part of me, winces a bit at the idea. Something about the idea that God has chosen some people for salvation and other for damnation seems incompatible with the loving God we are told to believe in, with the commission to spread the Word of God to all the world, with the choice to follow God we all must take.
We were all created in God’s image. This means so many things (other than physical, of course). But the one thing I have always believed is that we were created with the ability to make choices. We were given free will by the God who made the choice to create us. We were not created to be mindless robots, blindly obeying the will and whims of an all powerful God. Humanity would be useless if we were forced to believe in God. He loses His meaning when it isn’t a choice.
At the beginning God created the world. Then He created man and woman, and He placed them in Garden of Eden. In the garden, He placed a tree of the knowledge of good an evil and told them not to eat from it. And then, He gave Adam and Eve a choice. To eat or not to eat. God could just as easily have not planted the tree (think of the problems that would have solved). He could have only given them the tree of life. But no, He gave them two trees, two futures, two choices, and He gave them the free will to make their own decision.
People often say that people having free will doesn’t work with God’s omniscience. If He knows everything that has and will ever happen, wouldn’t he already know our choices and wouldn’t that mean that we are fated for a specific path chosen by God.
As you may be able to guess, I disagree with this reasoning. I believe there is a difference between God’s ability to know what our choice will be and choosing our path for us. God knows the choices, the possible paths we could embark on. He is the one who puts those opportunities in front of us, and He knows where we will ultimately end up. He has a plan for us, but He doesn’t force us into it. He wants us to want it for ourselves. He wants us to love him, and choosing to follow Him, to believe in Him, to have faith in Him is the ultimate expression of our love. He gave us free will and hopes we will choose Him. But He does not choose for us. It doesn’t work that way.
The idea of Christian free will reminds me of writing a story with many different characters. As the writer, I have a specific idea of where I want the story to go. I know where I want everyone to end up. I am in control of the story and can make the characters do whatever I want. But, as any writer will tell you, characters have a mind of their own. You want them to do one thing, but they end up doing another. The more you force it, the worse it becomes and the story begins to unravel. But when the characters have some freedom, when you allow them choices, the ending is that much sweeter, because it comes together effortlessly.
But I also believe that we can become paralyzed by our choices. The options and opportunities become too much. We are like kids at a ice cream shop with fifty million flavors. How in the world are we supposed to pick just one? We stand there, eyes wide, mouth open, looking from flavor to flavor, afraid of picking the wrong one and missing out on all the others.
God may have given us free will, but it comes at a price. We can pick the wrong thing. (Eve in the garden with that piece of fruit comes to mind.) We may make the the wrong choice, a mistake that takes us somewhere we don’t want to be. But we can always go back to God. We can ask Him for something else, a different path, a new choice. He may give us these things, or He may support us through the choice we made. He is the strength to get us through, the hope in the darkness. He is the writer of our story, and even if our choice seems unmanageable, He can bring us back from wherever we’ve ended up. If only we make the choice to ask.