Yesterday I talked about a bigger understanding of free will, and I want to take it a bit further. I do think God has certain things He would like to happen, but my new understanding is that it’s not as scripted. (And keep in mind: I’m not talking about sin here; I’m talking about discerning between two moral goods.)
In my old view, God was like a parent sending his kid off to a university, and every semester God would pay the tuition and email the student a list of classes to take and work hard at, with the idea that at the end of four years the kid would graduate with a degree in history, concentrating in the late Victorian era, and a minor in French. If the kid was a saint, he’d graduate with honors.
In my new view, God hands you the course catalog and says, “Go for it!” and even though He knows you’ve got a really good skill set toward studying history (because He put it there) he lets you browse the whole catalog and sign up for courses in architecture instead. If you ask for help, He’ll sit down with you and go over all the options. And when you ask for a really cool graphing calculator for your birthday, maybe you’ll get that. In my old version, He’d have given you a history text book and waited for you to get the hint.
I’m not discounting that sometimes God calls us to do something specific. Maybe something big like entering the priesthood or moving to Nebraska; maybe something small like giving a higher tip to the waitress because God knows she’s struggling and you don’t. But that’s not the everyday.
I mentioned before how I used to think about God as God, INC because God had a plan and I was expendable. It’s about as intimate a relationship as you have with the federal government, and my guardian angel did away with that about four years ago. But God, INC made a repeat appearance a few weeks ago when I realized my blanket assumptions were that
a) God has a scripted plan for my life
b) God will not bless my well-intentioned efforts if I deviate from that plan, no matter how virtuous
c) God will not tell me what that plan is, so I need to guess really, really well
That’s where these two entries are coming from. That and how I’m rewriting the story of an angel whose name means “Free Will,” and he’s ended up painted into a corner.
Once I connected the three dots above, I was able to look at them squarely and see the theological mistakes, which is why pulling this garbage out into the light helps. A lot. And it’s been freeing to know that I can’t ruin God’s plan for the universe by an innocent mistake, by rewriting a novel about an angel named Free Will rather than writing a novel about radioactive mermaids who juggle cupcakes.
Because that plan is for good. God gave us free will so we could make choices and branch out into individuals, not lean on crutches and never go anywhere. Ultimately God would like us to choose to be with Him. And on the way there, He’s willing to let us explore.
Thank you so much for this post. I have been struggling so much with a major life decision, worried that if I made a choice without angels blaring trumpets in my face (so to speak), but rather with a gentler feeling of peace, that I was doing the wrong thing, and I would find my life completely off track. Your post has help my clarify and verbalize things that I was having trouble understanding.
Also, I would love to read a novel about radioactive mermaids who juggle cupcakes. 🙂
Something that helped me with this whole issue was realizing (I can’t remember what prompted this realization) that God can adapt. He doesn’t go, “Well, you deviated from the plan, I have no more interest in your life.”
For instance, say that a young Catholic girl is really well-suited to be a nun. For whatever reason, instead of becoming a nun she marries a Good Catholic Boy. Assuming the marriage is valid, being married to that Boy becomes God’s will for her life (i.e. It would never be God’s will for her to divorce her perfectly nice husband because she suddenly realized she was much better suited to life in the convent–especially since she wouldn’t be able to get an annulment and the convent wouldn’t accept her and she would have made a mess of her life and her husband’s and so on).
Sorry if you missed my point because I got distracted writing a short story or something up there, but it really was quite freeing for me to realize that there’s not some kind of Yellow Brick Road of God’s Will and if you get off that road the goal is to get back to it. The goal is to form one’s conscience and keep striving to make good and holy choices in one’s specific circumstances, whatever those may be. Know what I mean?
This issue is rather well covered in Decision Making & the Will of God by Garry Friesen. It’s subtitled “A Biblical Alternative to the Tradtional View”. I’m not sure about that bit. I guess it depends on which tradition you grew up in.
More good things to think about…