Grace Emerges

Monday, September 12, 2011

Our Decision Engine: Capacity, Need and Opportunity

by Brad D.
Full-length article on how decision-making, need and opportunity collide, resulting in both  freedom and faith.
Capacity, Need and Opportunity
Logically we can separate the two concepts of capacity and opportunity.  God gives us free will, the capacity to make complex decisions that have spiritual implications.  But he does this because we need it and must have it to survive. This is because of the world we live in, which is filled with both good and bad things.  Our opportunity to make choices comes from the fact that we live with both good and evil in front of us, and we have to be very careful in how we step or disaster will result.  For instance when we drive a car, some very bad things could happen if we accidentally cross the wrong line, disregard the rules and signs, or ignore the other vehicles on the road.  We have the opportunity to fail!  Simply close your eyes for 3 seconds while driving and disaster will most certainly strike!  Yet our government lets us earn a license to operate a vehicle.  But this is also naturally why alcohol kills in car accidents -- it negates our capability to make good choices fast enough to operate a vehicle on the road.

There is no doubt that evil is all around us.  Sickness and death, poverty, war, hatred, crime, abuse, divorce; human failures, shortcomings and limitations are evident.  We use all of our decision-making ability to try to create happy, healthy, successful circumstances whenever possible by combating these evils.  The most clear example of free will leading to an opportunity for good or evil is how we treat each other.  One person’s choice can lead to either evil or good coming to another person -- a man hits his wife, or restrains his anger, a simple decision that has consequences that live forever, and either brings evil into the world, or keeps it at bay and allows a healthy relationship to continue.  Regardless of what you think of the devil, God, or the spiritual realm, you are faced with decisions of good vs. evil every moment, and you must choose.  There is clearly enough evil in man's choices and mistakes to fill the world with evil, as you can observe by paying attention to the daily news.  Add in the evil that is due to things out of control of man, like diseases and disasters (though we try our best to control them), and we see that the world is filled a mix of good and bad things, and that we must navigate carefully through it for our own well-being.

Good vs. evil: The battle is within
We have good and evil desires.  We know our own hearts, and I don't even have to write this paragraph to say it.  We can sense a whole world of opportunities to please and satisfy our own cravings yet we can also see clearly how those cravings can be destructive and not help us to achieve what we really want in life.  We are faced with this internal battle constantly.  God gave us the ability to exist in this limbo, balancing our wants and needs, and still succeeding!  Most of us do not behave erratically, following every whim, speaking out really loud in a quiet crowd, or skipping work every day because we feel like doing something else.  We have inhibitions, passions, commitments, values -- all of these are the product between our capacity to choose, and our need to choose.  Our lives are the outcome!
Spiritual Evil
So what about Adam and Eve, the work of Satan, and the eternal battle of good vs. evil?  If you believe in God and the Bible, there is little room for doubt in the existence of evil and of an evil Satan that is a spiritual being.  In the Bible, Satan has a role in the story of man.  He shows up in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve must choose whether or not to eat the apple, he is described in Isaiah as Lucifer, the bright angel who chose to elevate himself above God and so was commanded to leave heaven along with one third of all the angels who made the same choice, he shows up the book of Job in an interesting story where he visits heaven and asks God if he can tempt Job.  He also shows up in the beginning of Jesus ministry to provide him with 3 temptations, and finally he has a role in the Revelation prophecy where (although the wording is very figurative and the exact role of Satan is not easy to pin down) he is eventually defeated and placed in some type of prison where he can't do any more harm.  Other spiritual beings are also described in the Bible, like angels and evil spirits.  Paul told the church that our battle as Christians is not with flesh and blood, but rather with spiritual forces of evil.  Paul also described Christ’s role in the resurrection as defeating Satan and death.  The role of Satan and evil spirits in creating and perpetuating evil is a part of our understanding of the spiritual reality, in that along with God who is the spiritual force of good, there are also spiritual forces that oppose him.
But the big however -- however, these bigger spiritual forces at play can hardly be explained by human reasoning.  Why would God create or put up with such things?  Why would he allow wholly-evil forces to exist to counter him?  Certainly if we were God and could defeat our evil enemy we would not delay or withhold action.  Surely he's not just giving them a chance to change their minds and maybe become forces of good later.  Did God create evil, or allow it to create itself? The answer is not very intellectually satisfying -- the answer is that we use our imagination and intellectual understanding of the world to consider concepts about good and evil that are way beyond our capacity to understand.  I made a strong statement before that we are well-equipped by God to make choices and to understand right and wrong, good and evil, in the world.  However, we are not equipped (while on this Earth) to see the spiritual realm, to understand it or to live in it.  We do not and cannot know about anything spiritual unless it is granted to us by a revelation of God.  Otherwise, we just don't know!
The Evil We Know So Well
We were placed in a world that we can observe, and there are enough evil and bad things in this world that we are responsible for dealing with.  The evil that we are faced with resisting in our moment-by-moment decisions is the evil that we recognize -- the evil inside ourselves, and the evil that men do to each other.  God can handle the spiritual realm without our help!  But he enlists our help to police and manage the world we live in -- we must reign in our own evil potential and unleash our own powerful potential for good, and we must use these forces to inspire and lead others, and design the systems of society, for the good of ourselves and all people.  Do I believe in spiritual good and evil?  Certainly.  I just think that we are out of our league when we assert to know anything about God's realm.  The Bible does not make much of a point to inform us of the evil in the spiritual realm except to let us know that it exists.  When the Bible describes evil forces, it is for two purposes: to help us understand God (like when Jesus cast out demons during his ministry) or to help us understand the power of choice – like in the story of Adam & Eve and Cain & Able and we chose to do good or evil, and that is an unavoidable part of our human nature and moment-by-moment existence.

God in Charge
So, what do I think of hell and the final judgment?  I think we have misunderstood the Bible.  We have added in a lot of our own imagination, mystical creations, and arrogant claims of knowledge of what God will and should do, to the faint glimpses and information that God has revealed in human history about the spiritual realm.  To sum up what I think: I think we are spiritual beings who will live after we die, in the spiritual realm where God lives and where he is revealed completely.  If you believe in God, you believe something similar.  I believe that God has all authority and rules over the spiritual realm, and that he can direct spiritual beings at his discretion.  God created us, and worked in the history of man to establish an offer of relationship with us.  I think we were created to have the freedom of choice, and even after life we can choose to live with God, or not!  Other than that, I don't claim anything, and in fact I assert that we should not claim anything further about heaven and hell.  When we do we are distracted away from our present reality and real-life's responsibility, and can use excuses about heaven and hell and God's judgment of every action, to do the wrong things on earth.  In an extreme example, we could enslave people to force them to accept God and avoid his wrath, thinking we were doing a greater good.  We can also rudely force our message of repentance on people, offending them and convincing them our God is mean and undesirable, because we want them to hear the message before they die.  We often work to undo God's work, in which he deliberately gives man complete liberty to choose whether they love him or not.
So, it’s possible that the final judgment has been misunderstood -- all that we can know is that God is in charge of heaven, not us.  But, God wants a relationship with us that is mutually agreed, and therefore delegates the decision to us about whether we want to be with him or not.  We have freedom of choice, and we chose every moment whether to do good or evil -- and we will live with those choices forever.  We can see the tangible effects of our choices here and now, and we don't need to worry about how they will look in heaven.  Do good things, for the good that will result.  Do not live in fear of judgment and spiritual forces, but rather live in sober awareness of your own responsibility to bring good into this world instead of evil.  Indeed there is a reward in heaven as Jesus taught, but we can see that what he means is that when we live to bring good into the world instead of evil, the good things that result will remain for all eternity!
The Greatest Gift
God will never act to counter our freedom, force our love for him, or make the choice to love him inevitable.  Instead he hides his face enough that we have to choose him through faith.  If he revealed his glory we would not really have a choice.  Eventually in heaven, "every knee" shall bow when Jesus is revealed for who is truly is, but this does not happen on Earth.
So, we are equipped to make choices, and we are placed into this world where moment-by-moment choices are required and can have eternal significance.  We come to the question of why.  Why did God make us in his own image, why did he give us this responsibility to make choices?  Why is love for him always a choice, that we are free to make without even the slightest coercion?   Of course we see the answer, that freedom is God's gift to us.  He is so deliberate in our fabrication and design to make us with the complete facilities to make decisions, and he has placed us in an environment where we have every opportunity to use these facilities.  We were created to be free.  We were not created as slaves, for slaves would be of no use or interest to an all-powerful God.  So, God desired our existence to be free of any slavery or coercion from him, even though it means a very painful reality -- it means that we must be placed into an environment where evil is allowed as much free reign as good -- and where sometimes evil is equally attractive as good -- so that our choice is a valid one.  We can choose between two things that each have their merits.  Of course I hate evil, but by its nature it is usually attractive to the one doing it, like the immediate riches gained by robbing a jewelry store.  If we lived in an environment where good always prevailed and evil was always without reward, we would have no choice to make, only a token choice, like an election with only one candidate !  God must value freedom above all other options of enlisting or forcing us to his side.  It is a gift to us!  We are given something that God himself has in the spiritual realm, which is knowledge of good and evil and the ability to fight, to win, to chose, and to create our own way.  We build cities, laws, governments, societies, economies, and live out our freedom!  God is not displeased with all of this effort.  He created us to be free and to live in this way, to be mature and responsible and to create the best world that we can.
Freedom to Believe
Freedom leads to faith.  God's solution to maintain our freedom is to hide himself.  The route to seeing God is only through faith.  And faith is just a choice, a choice that we are equipped to make using our spiritual nature, the third part of our human trinity.  Faith is not some mystical ability to conjure up God, direct God's actions in our favor, or see into heaven.  It is a choice to listen, to accept that spiritual things are real and to accept all the implications.  If God is real, then wow!  We must be something special that he made, and we must have a responsibility to stand up for good.  Furthermore, we want more, we want to know and understand God to whatever extent God will allow it and provide the insight and opportunity.  Faith is the key -- it unlocks all the natural consequences that must unfold from the truth of the existence of God.  Or we choose not to believe, and we can live with an alternate view of truth that allows God to be missing or unknowable -- and we can still live on this Earth with just as much opportunity and freedom as anyone else.  God in his wisdom cannot discriminate or differentiate even between believers and unbelievers, except in spiritual things and in things that could not be easily proven by outsiders (like when he helps me find my keys!), otherwise he jeopardizes the freedom that he treasures.  He must continue to hide his face.
Freedom and faith are contagious!   God's plan is for humans to carry his message and inspire and teach each other to have faith.  If we offer our hope of a relationship with God to others, they still have complete freedom, and some real example of what faith could look like.  We make it real, tangible, and we make the option possible.  In other words by sharing our example of faith, we give the world a choice -- we give others something to choose besides merely human existence.  We are the means of sharing the other option, and thereby sustaining the freedom of choice that God has created.   This sounds like evangelism, but it also sounds different.  I've never heard of evangelism as providing freedom and choice to people, I've always heard it as convincing them to believe in God, Jesus and the Bible.  Our objective should be the same as God's -- to liberate others by giving them choice and opportunity to love God.  If they see a real working example of a God-believer, and if they hear a clear explanation of the truth, they can have a more tangible choice to accept God themselves.

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