The Limits of Human Freedom

August 4, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment


Statue of LibertyWe, in America, like freedom.  We talk about it.  We write about it.  We even sing about it.  Anyone who has ever attended a sporting event where our national anthem was sung has heard in soaring melody how we live in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

We, in America, like freedom.  And we will fight, protest, and lobby to protect the freedoms most near and dear to our hearts.  Some fight, protest, and lobby to protect the freedom of religion – to practice their beliefs as they choose.  Others fight, protest, and lobby for the freedom to keep and bear arms.  Still others fight, protest, and lobby for the freedom to marry whoever they want – even if whoever they want is of the same gender.

Perhaps it is our love of freedom that makes the doctrine of predestination so offensive to so many.  Jesus summarizes predestination thusly:  “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last” (John 15:16).  The doctrine of predestination, then, is simply this:  it is God, not us, who is in charge of our salvation.  When it comes to our salvation, we are not free!

This is where the hackles of our freedom-loving hearts can get raised.  Indeed, the most common objection that I hear whenever I teach on predestination is, “But what about our free wills?  Doesn’t predestination mean that God turns us into automatons – unable to accept or reject Him?”

I have addressed this question many times and in many ways.  But to address it this time, I would turn your attention the midcentury American sociologist Philip Rieff who, I believe, writes about the limits of our free wills – and the goodness of these limits – in a poignant and powerful way.  Rieff writes:

There is no feeling more desperate than that of being free to choose, and yet without the specific compulsion of being chosen.  After all, one does not really choose; one is chosen.  This is one way of stating the difference between gods and men.  Gods choose; men are chosen.  What men lose when they become as free as gods is precisely that sense of being chosen, which encourages them, in their gratitude, to take their subsequent choices seriously.[1]

To choose without first being chosen, Rieff explains, is a miserable manner of existence.  After all, if there is no God who loves you enough to choose you, what does your choice of Him – or of anything else, for that matter – matter?  Who would want to choose a God in their limited power who doesn’t care enough to first choose them out of His infinite power?  This is why the apostle Paul speaks of predestination in such glowing terms:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will – to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. (Ephesians 1:3-7)

Paul is thrilled by the doctrine of predestination!  For Paul knows that the only way he is free to make decisions worth making is when believes and sees that he himself is a decision that God thought was worth making in predestination.  Paul’s limited free will is of no consequence if it cannot come under the tender loving care of God’s perfect free will.

So, do you long to be free?  Do you fight, protest, and lobby to protect the freedoms that are near and dear to your heart?  If you do, remember that your freedom of choice is only as good and meaningful as your bondage to Christ.  Without being under Christ’s rule and reign, your freedom is futile.  Under Christ’s rule and reign, however, your freedom is purposeful.  And I don’t know about you, but I want my freedom to mean something.

_______________________

[1] Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1966), 93.

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When Cultures Clash Serving Others In Jesus’ Name

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. wildswanderer  |  August 4, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    God chose Israel first. Did all Israel follow him? No, they rebelled over and over again. In a similar way, God has chosen to save the whole world, but not every individual will choose to respond to his call.
    But, free-will is not my main reason for objecting to what Chesterton called “The bottomless pit of predestination.”
    The God who unconditionally chooses some based on nothing but random chance, like putting names in a hat and pulling a few out, is not the God of infinite grace who died once for all.
    It would be all well and good for me to feel joyful about being chosen, but, it’s impossible to feel that way if God’s choosing of me means some other soul is going to hell through no fault of his own.

    Reply

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