Since I am a pastor I am put in the strange position of hearing about individual’s spiritual lives (or the lack thereof). I guess it goes with the territory, but I never quite get used to having people be an authority on something that they generally know very little about and think even less about on a daily basis.
“I’m spiritual but not religious,” they say as my soul’s eyes roll.
“I think that there are many paths,” people argue who have never studied them.
I quite often have people tell me that they cannot believe what it is that I believe. “I don’t really believe all that stuff,” they say hoping that I will defend my faith. I do care, but in ways that they aren’t generally expecting. I am not here to win someone over to God by a clever argument.
So, when I oddly burst out in these conversations with the line “I do not think it matters what you believe, because I do not believe in free will” people always look at me quite strangely. It is more than just my own social awkwardness that takes people aback. Who still questions free will? I might as well question the theory of gravity. Wasn’t the last time this was debated between Martin Luther who wrote a letter to Erasmus and then Erasmus wrote back. Those are classics of the renaissance, but I hardly see the relevance in our postmodern world.
That is not what we expect from a pastor. I thought he would want to talk about how great it is to believe in God and that if I just chose Jesus I would start changing my life and now he is telling me that I have no control. Doesn’t this mean then that there is anarchy? So, now I can do whatever I want if it doesn’t matter what I do?
Why do we believe in Free will in the first place? It is the idea that we can make an intelligent decision for or against God. I blame American rugged individualism, the perception of consumer choice, the idea that we can discover a technology that will outpace every problem we encounter, the myth of meritocracy, modern conveniences, military power, economic prowess and Oprah Winfrey. There is a pernicious assumption that we are the master of our domain, that we need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and that we are a self-made people.
Absurd. How can we even believe this with experts telling us for months that this economic mess had bottomed out, trillions of dollars spent and now we only know that we don’t know exactly when or how things will get better? For every seismic study we will not be able to stop the next Tsunami from crashing some shoreline. As much as we say we don’t want to be our father or mother we see striking similarities in our behavior. We can believe that we can will the depression away all that we want and it is still right there with us.
Yet, here I am with Ephesians in my hands and I still do not believe in free will. It is once again declared that it is by grace that I am saved. Later in the text we are reminded that is by faith that we are saved, through faith, not by anything that we do, so that we won’t boast. So, every time that I want to take back my own salvation, take control of my life, I am reminded that I must surrender to the fact God has already chosen me first. I did not have anything to do with it.
In what must be the most beautiful reminders of our faith the author of Ephesians proclaims, “for we are what God made us, for good works.” We have forgotten that it is enough to be chosen by our creator for good works. We create all these other things in life that we pursue and herald their importance. We build monuments to personalities and they end up being castles of sand. So, then we think that we must do something to save ourselves. Yet, reputation, valor, courage, loyalty, street smarts, tenaciousness, hard work, patience, kindness and duty are all honorable human traits but in the end they are not what will save us. It is an acceptance that it is the sloth like, angry, petty, gossipy, depressed, lying, defensive, low self esteem, egotistical, impatient, frightened, anxious, damaged part of us has already been given the grace that is sufficient for my needs.
It is nothing that I earn, it is only something that can be given by a loving creator. It is only when we quit trying to be perfect, being right, fighting the almighty that we can experience the freedom that we need that was meant for us as humans. That freedom exists for the sole purpose of doing good for others
Photo by NYGUS’ photostream
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