… how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? Hebrews 2, verse 3.
Let’s talk about choosing and free will. A few weeks ago, I shared some thoughts about a conversation I had with an atheist friend. One thing that conversation had in common with others like it is that we talked about free will.
Free will is a concept I’m not sure unbelievers really grasp.
It’s not that unbelievers don’t understand what free will is. Indeed, in my experience, atheists and unbelievers stridently guard the territory of free will and free choice. They jealously guard their right to refuse to believe in God, Jesus, or anything resembling the Christian faith. That’s their right as Americans. As a believer, I look at my unbelieving friends and sometimes think they’re only a small step away from actually embracing Christian faith. After all, it’s easier for someone who says “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand” to come to faith than it is someone who says “I reject that.” The mind (and heart) is more open to alternatives they might not have otherwise considered.
Yet even knowing that, I’m still left at the point of seeing how free will isn’t really, fully grasped by unbelievers. They don’t fully see that free will is itself a gift from God and even a fruit of God’s Spirit. What they purport to reject is the blessed source of their cherished right.
A follower of Jesus sees that it is a blessing that God allows us to choose whether or not to believe in Him, to love Him. Compulsion isn’t love. He wants us and He wants us to want Him. If God were Allah and looking for us to do things to please Him, we’d find we never really can please Him. Allah would be perfect and we imperfect: there’s no way for him, or us, to bridge the imperfection gap. But God did make a bridge: Himself, in Jesus Christ. All He asks is that we believe in Him. We don’t have to ‘do’ anything to please or placate or satisfy Him: all that needed to be done to satisfy God and His holy requirement for justice was done by Jesus on the Cross.
To believe in Him, God gives us free will. We can choose to believe in Him or we can choose to not believe in Him. It’s as simple as that. He doesn’t ask us to come to Him because we HAVE TO. He asks us to come to Him because we want to. And He helps us see that coming to Him is good in itself. By willingly going to God, we get to share in His love, justice, peace, contentment and sharing heart. He gives us hints at it in providing for us in every way possible. God air in your lungs? It’s because of God. Got 24 hours in a day? Because of God. Got food, friends and folks who love you, a beautiful sunset, anything else? God. We can freely choose to believe these are gifts of God or we can freely choose to believe they aren’t. God allows us either way. What’s more, He provides for us whether we believe in Him or not.
It’s just that the eventual penalty for rejecting His gift of saving love will be permanent. The hell God created as the final repository for rebellious angels can be ours for the choosing as well. Let’s not even discuss how rejecting God and ensuing bad choices can lead to disaster here on the Third Rock. No, let’s keep our eyes focused on the fact that, after our time here is over, if we’ve spent our choices rejecting God, He’ll let us reap the consequence of it. That means hell. Party over, oops, out of time, as Prince might have sung. I’d rather avoid that. It’s ok if all that is frightening because there’s a better way.
Mind you, this isn’t judgmental. I believe in Jesus but I’m no better than anyone else. My life is made better by believing in Him, following Him, but it doesn’t make me ‘better than’ anyone else. If I come off as “judgy,” feel free to upbraid me because I deserve it. These are simply facts and opinions about something that’s really incontrovertible. We can’t change that God gives us the free will to do as we please. We can’t change God and we can’t stop Him. God does as He pleases and, because He’s God and all good, what He pleases to do is right even if we don’t see it as right.
I’m not sure unbelievers understand the great gift that is free will. Indeed, I haven’t even done it justice in these few words. How must it feel for God to see people He loves rejecting Him? Or for Him to see us say we believe yet keep on sinning (which is still rejection of Him)? You could spend whole books talking about nothing more than the blessing of being able to choose God’s life and love instead of being compelled to endure it. What say you?
For more reading: Hebrews 10:29, Hebrews 12:25, Hebrews 1:2, Luke 1:2.
Lord God, thank You for the blessing of free will, for letting me love You instead of having to love you. Please continue to bless others and use me as an instrument to help others come to You.