Wednesday, May 4

Free Will and Submission: Puzzling and Paradoxical

Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. --Romans 10:3-4

*disclaimer* As with most of the things I write, this subject is approached from a Reformed (Calvinist) point of view. Although I would gladly compose a lengthy paper discussing free will, I have decided to condense my thoughts into just a few paragraphs so as not to lose your interest completely. *

Perhaps it began just over two centuries ago when the colonists decided to declare their independence from what they believed to be the tyrannical rule of King George. In the years since, we Americans have come to develop a very distinct notion that we are free to do as we please--to make our own rules regarding public and private matters. We tend to resent any intervention on the part the government or any other ruling authority. We demand freedom of expression and belief. In our pursuit of happiness, we seek to exercise free will. This prevalent attitude represents what I believe to be the paradoxical nature of one of our finest attributes as a nation and as Christians. This mind-set is our greatest strength, yet at the same time it is also our greatest weakness.

It is our strength because by demanding freedom, we refuse to submit to acts of injustice. Our hunger for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is what has driven our success in socio-political endeavors both on our own soil (e.g. the Civil War and Civil Rights Movements) and abroad (e.g. Operation Iraqi Freedom). In a spiritual sense, it is our strength because it compells us to seek after something better than what the world offers. It drives us to find solace in Someone greater than ourselves when the injustices of the world threaten to overtake us, trampling our spirit.

It is our greatest detriment on a personal and spiritual level as well. Like the Roman population described in today's verse, when we refuse to yield to the higher power that is God, we suffer. Eternal consequences await those who fail to submit their own will to the will of God.We put ourselves in a position of misplaced and undeserved authority, and we make decisions without considering what God has to say in the matter. In our attempt to establish ourselves in righteousness according to our own set of rules, we spit on the holiness and sovereignty of God.

Even Christians, in our selfishness, forget that we are called to submit to God. We are His servants and must behave as such. The best application of free will is to exercise it by humbling ourselves. It seems inconceivable to our modern way of thinking that anyone, of their own volition, would choose to become a servant. But this is precisely what Christ did for us. He humbled himself, came down from His heavenly throne, and walked among us. The perplexing reality is that God did not do any of that simply to get our attention. We all too often fail to realize that. He does not force us to love Him.

Furthermore, God does not need anything from us in order to be satisfied in His existence. I doubt that the Almighty has a problem with self-esteem. God does not become moody when we choose to live without him, and he never forces us to love Him in order that He can make himself feel more powerful. This brings me to the befuddling nature of servanthood and submission in the spiritual context. Unlike masters and rulers in the created world, God gains nothing through our acts of servanthood. In truth, it is we who gain tremendous things. Further complicating things is the means of acquiring these blessings from God.

By serving Christ, we willingly kill off our self-serving lifestyle. We die to the world in which we are comfortable--the world in which we enjoy our personal freedom free from submission to anyone or anything. When we come under the authority of Christ and begin to live in a life of righteousness that comes from God, we find a new life.

Serving God is counter-intuitive, especially to Western thinkers. However, if we are to be truly free, we must offer ourselves as servants to the One who offers lasting freedom. In the context of American politics, I admire the way our country refuses to back down from injustice and tyranny. In the context of a relationship with God, I think more people, Christians and others, need to re-examine their attitudes about submission. Free will is a puzzling and paradoxical thing. Also, it is a powerful gift from God.



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