Free Will and our Father

God Running is a place for anyone who wants to love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.

In our last post we discussed a question one of my favorite family members asked me recently: If an all good and all powerful God exists, then why is there evil and suffering? If you’re interested in the answer to that question, you can read about it here: Father Knows Best (and the rabid bat that bit the baby).

Blaise Pascal once offered a prayer that communicates this idea that God our Father in heaven knows best. A part of his prayer is quoted below.

Thou alone knowest what is most expedient for me : thou art the sovereign master do what thou wilt. Give to me, take from me; but conform my will to thine; and grant that in humble and perfect submission and in holy confidence, I may be disposed to receive the orders of thy eternal providence, and that I may adore alike all that comes to me from thee.

Blaise Pascal

“Thou alone knowest what is most expedient for me,” Pascal wrote. Blaise Pascal was suffering when he wrote that prayer. He was seriously ill. But even in his suffering Pascal recognized God’s omniscience and His desire to do what’s best for us. He is all knowing and always knows what’s best — even when it includes suffering. Even when it’s contrary to the current societal consciousness. Even when it’s contrary to human understanding.

Pascal went on to write:

“Conform my will to thine . . .” (I don’t want to misrepresent Pascal here. While he’s obviously asking, maybe even pleading with, God to conform his will to God’s will, Pascal was a Christian but also a believer in Jansenism which holds a Calvinist leaning view toward free will. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy))

Where God Committed to Our Free Will

Kathy and another favorite family member of mine, and I had an interesting discussion the other night, about God and free will.

During the discussion the question was asked: When God dispatched Adam and Eve from the garden, how much free will did they have then?

In our last post I wrote about how God’s desire to preserve everyone’s free will, is one of the reasons why there is evil and suffering in the world. If someone chooses to impart kindness and blessings unto me, life is wonderful. But if someone chooses to commit evil against me, then I endure suffering, then I’m a victim of that evil. But the free will of the person blessing me or the person harming me is what makes either situation possible.

And this astounds me. I’ve written before about how amazed I am that God affords us such an abundant measure of free will:

The people of the Gerasenes were afraid of Jesus and they “asked him to depart from them.” So Jesus got into a boat and left. (Luke 8:34–37)

When the people of Samaria asked Jesus to stay with them, he interrupted his itinerary and stayed with them for two days. (John 4:39–41)

Ever notice Jesus never went out looking for individual Pharisees to engage? Nicodemus had to come to Jesus. (John 3:1–21)

And then there’s the man driving demons out in Jesus’ name: “Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. (Luke 9:50)

And there’s the synagogue official who told the people not to come on the Sabbath to be healed.

But Jesus said, No! Let them come! (Luke 13:14–17)

Even his own disciples tried to constrain the will of certain people. They refused to let the little children come to Jesus. And when Jesus saw this, he was indignant. No! He said, Let them come! (Mark 10:14)

Finally, there’s Judas objecting to Mary pouring her perfume out onto Jesus’ feet. How did Jesus respond? He said, Leave her alone! (John 12:3–7)

Even when it broke cultural convention, Jesus gave people the freedom to do what they wanted to do.

When the prodigal son demanded his inheritance, his tone was more bitter and cold toward his father than most people realize. In that culture, at that time, when a son demanded his inheritance in that way, what he was saying to his father was, “I wish you were dead. Your being alive, your very existence, is getting in the way of my inheritance.” But what does the father, who represents God in the parable, what does he do? Amazingly, he lets the prodigal do what he wishes. (Luke 15:11–32)

I think the reason I’m so impressed with God’s interest in our free will is because my own personal tendency is to do the opposite. I’m the kind of person who likes to arrange things so they can’t miss. If I were in charge of Adam and Eve (Thank God I wasn’t!) I would have put a fence around the forbidden tree in the garden. I would have taken Samson on a retreat until he cooled off on Delilah. I would have made sure Bathsheba’s bathtub wasn’t in view of David’s palace.

From my perspective, God doesn’t do things that way. From my perspective He set things up exactly the opposite. God ensures choice. He arranged the universe so we have freedom. He’s completely committed to this idea of free will.

But What About When Adam and Eve were Expelled from the Garden?

You might be asking right now, “Yeah, but what about those times when God imposes His will on us? What about the question that was asked during your discussion, when God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden? And speaking of the garden, what about when God condemned Cain to a life of wandering?”

I appreciate you asking such a great question.

I think it’s important to distinguish between absolute free will, and how I find the way God provides for our free will to be astonishing. God absolutely does not provide for our absolute free will. Absolute free will would mean free will without consequences from God. So when Adam and Eve disobeyed and ate the forbidden fruit, God responded with a consequence and their free will was impacted in dramatic fashion. When Cain murdered Abel, God again answered with a consequence and Cain was forced to wander. He no longer had the choice to dwell in the garden.

I’m reminded of a quote from Drew Dyck’s book Your Future Self Will Thank You.

“Control of your life is like energy. It can’t be destroyed, it can only be transferred from one place to another. If you don’t learn self discipline and self control, you’ll forfeit control of yourself, and someone else will control your life for you.”

Free will works that way for all of us. That statement from Drew Dyck’s book is a law of the universe. Which brings us back to Pascal.

“Conform my will to thine . . .” Pascal prayed.

Free will is connected to the alignment of our wills with the wills of others.

In Genesis we see how Joseph’s will was beautifully aligned with the will of Potiphar and we see the result: “So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had.” This is especially compelling because Joseph was a slave at the time. But in spite of his status as a slave, Joseph’s free will within Potiphar’s domain grew. (See Genesis 39)

Later Joseph aligns his will with the will of Pharaoh, and again his free will is expanded dramatically. Pharaoh commands: “You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” Within Pharaoh’s domain, Joseph has abundant free will, perhaps more than any other citizen in Egypt. (See Genesis 41)

If a husband aligns his will with his wife, he enjoys all kinds of freedom within his wife’s domain. He is free to share her time, her energy. He’s even free to share intimate personal parts of her life. He’s even free to share her body.

But if a husband’s will drifts far enough out of alignment with the will of his wife, his free will, within his wife’s domain, shrinks. If his will drifts far enough, he’ll wind up divorced. His ability to dwell with his wife and his kids is reduced. He has a set visitation schedule for his kids and he’s unlikely to see much of his wife at all — even if he desires to.

And it’s the same for a wife who aligns (or chooses not to align) her will with her husband. Her free will within her husband’s domain grows or shrinks accordingly.

A bride whose will is aligned with her husband enjoys abundant free will in her husband’s domain.

And we are the bride of Christ. And Christ’s domain is the universe.

So in the case of Adam and Eve, they had the greatest measure of free will in the history of humankind. They had the skinniest Bible in history. Do whatever you want, God said. Just don’t eat from that one tree.

But they dismissed God’s will, and they chose to decide for themselves what was right and what was wrong. And a large measure of that abundant free will they enjoyed was taken away. Their free will was diminished. Their free will shrunk accordingly.

Who To Align To

I so appreciate that prayer of Pascal’s.

I’m with him.

“Conform my will to thine.”

If I may paraphrase:

“Conform our will to Yours Father; Grant in humble and perfect submission and in holy confidence, that we be disposed to receive whatever comes from Your eternal providence, and that we adore alike everything that comes to us from You.

“In Jesus name we ask this of You Father.



Photo by Erik Mclean:

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