by Brad D.
Thoughts on how God has equipped us to make decisions and what that means about free will to choose a relationship with him.
If we are created in God's image in the trinity of MIND, SOUL and SPIRIT, then we are capable of making decisions like God does every moment. God equipped us with a balance of intellect, emotional connections with others, and perception of right and wrong, so that we can be given important responsibilities. In society, in government, in our workplace, and in our family, we must operate and cooperate through endless decisions. We initiate and react, we make commitments and break promises, we connect ourselves to others in relationships, and we chose how we will allocate our minutes on this earth, choosing a profession, a place to live, acquiring possessions, and having a family and a group of friends.
Every word we speak is a decision! And as we know our words have great power to hurt or heal, and to convey our thoughts and decisions to others. We deliberately regulate our thoughts, feelings and actions so that what we say and do helps us achieve our goals like getting along with one another, staying on schedule, and being productive and efficient. We have a system of values that we constantly use to evaluate possible decisions, looking at both obvious and deeper implications, connecting our actions to possible outcomes.
Mature Decision-Making, Not Based on Simple Rules
We are able to use this complex facility of decision making to make the "right" decision -- probably we can all think of a situation when we produced the "right" decision, with right words and actions, where the obvious logic and uninhibited emotional reaction would have led to mistakes. For example, your friend is angry with you about something you did on accident, and so she says something mean to you. Your first reaction and logical response would be to reply to the mean comment in defense or make some mean comment back -- but your values, your learning, your maturity and your concern for this friend balance out this reaction. Instead you ask your friend if something is bothering her, ask that she tell you why she's angry even if it might hurt your feelings, and offer to listen. This more mature reaction produces the result that you really want, which is to stop the mean words, stop the angry behavior, and bring the relationship back into good status. You have to overlook your own angry feelings to make this happen. You have multiple conflicting values at play, like the value that you should defend yourself against mean people, the value that you should be heard and understood, and the value of fairness that says you didn't do anything wrong so the other person should not be mad, the value that even if you are mad at someone you should not say mean things, and finally the values of honesty and friendship that can allow true friends to communicate their real feelings even if they are not pleasant. All relationships require this level of complex decision-making in order to survive. This type of diplomacy is used at every level of society, in and between every organization, and allows the world to operate smoothly. This decision-making cannot be based on rules. You cannot program a computer to relate. It takes a complex, complete, human being to balance out right and wrong and make the right decisions. This also ties into how the Bible guides our decisions, not through rules, but through revelation of difficult concepts that lead us to spiritual maturity.
|Mapping out a Decision Tree: We often are responsible for making complex decisions.|
Capacity to Choose
What does this have to do with God ? If you believe in God, you believe that he made us, and made us with this capacity to make choices. Intelligence and maturity are fundamental to being human, and means that we are capable of taking on responsibility. We would not give important decisions to young children that do not yet have any ability to understand the outcome of their decisions (do we let the 5-year-old buy the groceries? We would be eating Oreos for every meal !) Likewise God gives us the facility and capacity to grow to maturity and run the world. In that process, we are faced with spiritual decisions as well. God enables us to use our intellectual, emotional and spiritual maturity to chose between right and wrong, to chose to believe in him or not, to chose to engage in a relationship with him or not.
God values us and endows us with this mature decision-making capability. He gives us a choice of how we will live with respect to himself. This is often called "free will", and typically refers to our spiritual choices, like to embrace God or to reject him. It is a common question asked by believers: why does God give me the chance to mess it up so bad? The answer is of course that he gives us "free will". But my point is that way beyond free will, we are human and faced with difficult decisions every moment, that God equipped us to make. As part of those moment-by-moment choices, we can choose to embrace God or to reject him, just like we choose what clothes to wear. God enables us to figure it out and make the choices necessary.
So do we choose our relationship with God? Yes, we choose our part of it (and God chooses his part). We have all the information, inputs, experiences and opportunities before us and can choose to accept God and his salvation. It is not hidden from us, it's not a trick, it's not counter to all observation or difficult to perceive. Instead the road is laid out before us and we have to chose our steps! We can chose to love God, and he can (and does!) chose to love us.
God chooses to fully maintain our ability to chose. God, being all powerful and so much more intelligent than we are, could easily usurp our ability to choose. If he acted in the world to assert his lordship and power, we would easily find ourselves no longer free! If we saw God in his glory on earth, we would all bow down and forsake all of our own existence and just wait for his instructions. No more jobs, families, society, governments, except as God might decree them. Who could resist him or chose anything else if God didn't hold back revelation of himself? Instead, God does hold back, and lets us truly be in charge of our lives. He lets us mess it up or get it right. His revelation to man is tempered and fuzzy so that we can see it, but we can think about it and decide how to react to it, wondering if we really see correctly, and wondering whether we should follow God's voice or some other pursuit.
I believe that God positions himself in our world in some exact balance of his designing, so that we can chose a relationship with him, but are not forced to do so. He calls us, but quietly, so that we don't have to listen unless we want to tune in on his message. Meanwhile, whether we listen to God's quiet voice or not, we also have to make many other choices that have spiritual weight, like how to treat one another and whether to do evil or allow it to continue when we could do something to stop it. Our moment-by-moment free will is always at work.