Free will, bananas, and the open road

I’m coming to a new understanding of “free will,” and it’s a bit bigger than I anticipated.

Most of us are introduced to the concept of “free will” as the ability to make a good decision. You’re a bit hungry and you’ve left your lunch in your office; down in the lobby, someone has put a banana on the counter. You could steal the banana and not be hungry, or you could use your moral reasoning and make the decision not to steal it.

Next we add in the idea of “God’s Plan For Your Life,” and we end up with a slightly more complicated version: God wants you not to steal the banana not only because stealing is a sin, but also because God intended you to buy an apple from the fruit vendor. And you can spin it out further, that the fruit vendor needs money to buy medication for his sick mother, and your purchase helps that cause. It’s a channel of events and we have to use our free will to unlock it.

Now add in a third element: the fact that I’m apt to wrap myself around the axle over doing things correctly, and voila! you have a total inability to make decisions. Well, I did. Because if God has a Plan For Your Life, it stands to reason that God doesn’t want us to deviate from that plan, and then even when we’re making a decision between two morally good things, God would presumably have one better thing in mind for us over the other. And woe if we choose the slightly-less-good one: what if I bought a big steamy-warm pretzel instead of an apple?

You laugh, but when I had to decide between offers from two literary agents last year, this came to a head, and I asked for prayers. And the smart ladies of my online group gave me a loving theological slap upside the head. They’re both good choices; God doesn’t have a script for your life.

A year later, it’s gelled. God is bigger than these detailed plans I’d imagined. When God said He “had a plan” for us, it was “plans for good and not evil.” Plans “for future and a hope.” Not “Plans for apples rather than bagels.” And even though it was bigger, not “Plans for Agent A rather than Agent B.”

My thought was that God would “block” or withhold blessings from me if I went the “wrong” way. And now I’m seeing that as long as I discerned what to do and it’s not sinful, God’s there with me on either road. We’re traveling together: that’s cool. God’s turned off the GPS and handed over the keys and said, “Drive. I created you and gave you the freedom to do whatever you wanted with the skill-set I gave you. I want you to use it. That’s why I made you.”

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray about decisions. But it does mean God’s not going to force us back into a channel after we’ve made the decision.

It’s freeing in one sense. It’s terribly scary in another.

I may write more on this tomorrow. Or I may not. 😉


  1. Sara Ann Denson

    Wow! I’m printing this one off and pasting it to the wall above my desk.

  2. Sara Ann Denson

    Um, I might even print several copies and use wall paper paste.

  3. Monica

    I’m late to this post, but wanted to say how helpful it was to me. I’ve struggled with this since my years in Protestantism!