Free will is a marvelous gift, the use of which has become corrupted and twisted as a result of our fallen world and our sinful natures. Many people jealously guard the control free will gives them over their lives, but then out of fear easily blame others for bad consequences of their decisions and actions.
We also expect others to take on the responsibility for our lives working out. How many times have you heard others exclaim in the face of a bad outcome even when their actions have direct bearing, “It’s not my fault! I am not responsible for this bad thing happening to me or to others.” This expectation is so endemic to our society that often we accept this responsibility without even realizing it. As a result, we have moved from a society of personal responsibility to a society of other responsibility.
This notion that we are responsible for everything working out for others is spiritually damaging. We think that if others would just listen to us, we can make it all work out. As a result, we risk substituting ourselves for God. And when others do not listen to us or things do not work out, we become disheartened. We see it as our failure, when it fact the results may have nothing to do with us, but are a consequence those we are trying to help exercising their free will, others whose actions or advice may have influenced the outcome, or unforeseen circumstances. It’s a vicious cycle that creates convoluted knots that cannot easily be untied. As a result, we lose faith in ourselves and others and sometimes in God.
What we have forgotten or perhaps have never learned is that God never intended for free will to be used as a method of control, to avoid responsibility, or take on responsibility that does not belong to us. God intended for free will to be used out of love, as a way to freely return to God what He has given us – ourselves. God operates out of love, which means He does not force us but rather invites us to be in relationship with the Holy Trinity and with each other. Love is not something to be commanded, but to be freely given.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16 NSRV). Jesus’ life, as is the life of Mary, his mother, is a perfect example of how to use free will out of love and to be sync with God’s will. Notice as you read the story of Christ’s birth that Mary freely gives herself over to God’s will: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Also notice as you read the gospels that the only time Jesus commands anything of anyone is when He expels evil spirits from those who have been taken by them. Otherwise, Jesus invites those around Him and us to follow Him and to be free of sin.
Even unto His death, God did not force Jesus, but out of love for His Son and for us, He invited Jesus to take on the sin of the world, suffer terribly, and then defeat death by His own death and resurrection. Jesus could have refused, but He did not. He freely accepted this invitation not for His own glory but to the glory of God, the Father, and to further God’s kingdom by making it possible for each of us to be glorified and cleansed of every sin. Jesus’ acceptance was a free will offering of love.
The gift of Jesus’ life and death is an invitation to each of us to live in the light of Christ and to use our free will to love as Jesus loves. Whether or not we accept is up to us, just as when we offer counsel to others out of love and in sync with God's will, it is up to them to accept or not. Their results are their results.
Even in accepting this invitation, following Jesus and giving our lives over to Him to be used to the glory of God can be difficult. To that end, God sent the Holy Spirit to comfort and guide us. His ever-present voice is gentle and often missed among the noise and clutter of our lives. To hear God requires intentional, prayerful, and active listening, and reorienting ourselves to God rather than to the world. "Come, be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
For an interesting companion piece on what can happen when we impose our will over God's and the value of using our free will for good rather than evil, please visit Abbott Tryphon's recent post on The Problem of Evil. He also is on Facebook.
Christian spiritual direction helps seekers listen for God with the ear of their hearts, become more aware of His presence and movement in their lives, and discern how best to respond to His invitation to live a more fulfilling Christian life. If spiritual direction is something you would like to explore or you have been in spiritual direction and are looking for a spiritual director, please call me at 404.771.9335.
May God bless and protect you.
Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®
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