The Beauty of Free Will

Covert Arch, Arches National Park, Utah
Covert Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

One of the amazing things about walking with God is to find His pleasure in your free will.  God created mankind with a will of their own – even in the Garden of Eden, before the fall, we see Adam and Eve thinking and acting out of their own hearts and minds.  (For example, Genesis 2:19, 3:6.)  God also gave them commandments that they were to follow and to live by (for example, Genesis 2:16-17).  In some ways, even today, we live between the tension of free will vs. what God has commanded.

Black Creek in the late summer, Rochester, New York
Black Creek in the late summer, Rochester, New York

Many parts of the American church today have come to the conclusion that our free will is perfectly sinful and God’s commandments are perfectly holy (after all, Eve wouldn’t have eaten the forbidden fruit if she had followed God’s commands instead of her own free will).  That’s a nice, cut-and-dried way of looking at it, but it’s not quite that simple.  Yes, we can use our free will to sin.  Yes, by following God’s commandments we can fulfill His will.

Wildflowers along the Standford Trail, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Wildflowers along the Standford Trail, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

But we can use that same free will to love God and to love others.  You can also be following God’s commandments perfectly by your actions and still not be pleasing to Him in your heart.  The prophet Amos spoke of this when he said, “I hate, I despise your religious festivals [which God had ordered them to celebrate]… Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them [again, the sacrifices God required the people to bring]… You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god – which you made for yourselves” (Amos 5:21, 22, 26).  These people were fulfilling God’s commands, but then they were also going and sinning.  Just fulfilling the letter of the law of God’s commands isn’t enough.  There has to be a submission to God – a choice on our part to set our hearts on Him – to please Him.

The stream above Lewis Falls, Pennsylvania
The stream above Lewis Falls, Pennsylvania

I’ll also note here that when God put together the requirements for the tabernacle, sacrifices, etc., He left space for free will offerings.  There were sacrifices and procedures that were required, and then there was the opportunity for people to bring even more than what was required – a thanksgiving offering that they chose to give out of their free will.  It’s a beautiful picture of how God gives us commands (say, to love each other) and yet we can choose with our free will to go above and beyond the requirement.

Near the beginning of the Highline Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana
Near the beginning of the Highline Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana

It’s been said that God gave us a free will because if He wanted us to be robots, He’d have created us that way.  It’s a nice idea, and perhaps slightly humorous.  I see their point.  But my point is that God will tell us to do things, and then He will also watch us – like a parent watching a well-loved child – to see what choices we’ll make with the free will that He has given us.  To be honest, free will is one of the honors of having been made in the Image of God.

Hiking the Tonto Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Hiking the Tonto Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

There have been times when I’ve wished God would just thunder from heaven and give me an answer to my questions.  “Won’t You just tell me what to do?  What choice I should make?  How I should handle this situation/person/problem?”

A colorful fall swamp on Presque Isle, Pennsylvania
A colorful fall swamp on Presque Isle, Pennsylvania

Sometimes He does give the commandment or strategy.  At the very least, He gives me the tools to use.  But often He lets me make the choice.  I believe that part of this is because we need both the direction of God and our free will to accomplish what He is doing through us in the world around us.

The river below Kootenai Falls, Montana
The river below Kootenai Falls, Montana

For example, if God told you to go wash the dishes so your spouse doesn’t have to do it, you can obey that command.  You’ll be showing God’s love for him or her by washing the dishes.  But if you choose, yourself, to wash the stack of dishes, then you’re showing YOUR love for your spouse.  Showing GOD’s love to people is vital.  But so is using your own will to show YOUR love to the people around you.  They need both – God’s love and your love – to be loved well in this life.

Overlook on the Big Bend Road, Letchworth State Park, New York
Overlook on the Big Bend Road, Letchworth State Park, New York

Use your free will as a tool for loving God and loving people, and you’ll have fulfilled the law and the commandments of God (Matthew 22:36-40).  Your free will was given to you by God; find His pleasure in how you use it.

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