I Could . . .

Today in the U.S. we commemorate the signing of America’s Declaration of Independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776.

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

When we finally won the war in 1783, America (named the United States in 1777), became a “sovereign state.” Notice the word “reign” in “sovereign,” indicating that we reign over ourselves. Are you thankful as I am for this? It came as a free gift to us, but at the ultimate cost to a host of forgotten soldiers. No other nation reigns over us because numberless heroes died for our freedom.

God has made each of us sovereign in that same sense. No other person chooses for us. Ultimately, our choices determine our destiny. I’m not denying that God is the King of the Universe. I’m even willing to say that He knows and even predestines the future. But at the same time I affirm that within the panorama of His plan, we image-bearers plan and execute, and therefore self-determine, through a mysterious thing called free will.

Sometimes I do a little exercise that helps me appreciate this mystery. I come up with several scenarios and imagine myself pursuing them. Then I speak them out loud, beginning with “I could.” For instance:

-I could start a vegan restaurant in downtown Philadelphia.
-I could go back to performing music full time.
-I could start an inner city drug rehab facility.
-I could retire early and try to live off my garden.
-I could give up all my hobbies and work out till my muscles bulged.
-I could start breeding Angora rabbits and develop a sweater business.
-I could devote the remaining years of my life to breeding teacup Pomeranians.
-I could get a graduate degree in turfgrass management (yes, one exists).
-I could have a sex change and become a Zen Buddhist monk.
-I could leave Christianity, become a Satanist and pursue witchcraft.
-I could kidnap my daughters and sell them into human trafficking.

My “I coulds” began with the likely and progressed to the absurd. That second to last item sounds almost blasphemous, and the last is horrific, unthinkable; but I mention them all for a purpose. It’s good for us to realize that God gives us the freedom to do evil as well as good. Understanding our potential for wickedness puts us in touch with our power. It moves our locus of control from outside of ourselves to deep down in the tissues of our own wills. It tells us to stop playing the victim, to grow beyond children, “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14), and grow up into our God-given dignity and potential.

God’s kingdom operates from a foundation of freedom. Think of it: God values free will more than numbers of people. God would rather save one person who worshipped Him from choice than a whole cosmos of robots. He could “save” all 6,894,594,844 people in the world right now with a snap of his holy fingers if He so chose. He could even raise from the dead the estimated 107,602,707,791 who have ever lived and herd them into heaven as well. But most of that 114,497,302,635 people would abhor everything about heaven—the vegan food, the celestial music, the absence of sex and substances, and most of all the rapturous cries of “Worthy is the Lamb!”—because they’d never worshipped God from choice. God would rather have one, just one, freely loving Him than 114,497,302,635 showing up as if at gunpoint.

Do you appreciate your freedom? Let’s see it through the eyes of a lady named Edith Eva Eger. Edith lived through the Holocaust. She watched her mother die at Auschwitz; a German guard broke her back; and she endured the Brno “death march” of 35 miles from Germany to Austria. Finally wasting away to forty pounds, she found herself on a heap of bodies, left for dead. Just then the war ended. An American soldier saw her hand move and summoned help, so that she lives today to tell her story.

Edith remembers that some in the camps resorted to cannibalism to fend off the starving. “I chose to eat grass,” she says, “And as I sat on the ground, selecting one blade over the other, [I told] myself that even under those conditions I still had a choice—which blade of grass to eat.”

Nothing can take your freedom from you; God Himself has secured it. Your material security, your health, your job, your status, your loved ones and your friends—all these can be taken away in a moment. But nothing short of brain damage can take your ability to choose. We fail to appreciate this treasure. We fear the responsibility of it. We’d rather blame, complain, react, and generally wallow in the juices of our own imagined helplessness. Edith says, “The biggest concentration camp is in your own mind.” I would like to personally celebrate my freedom today, won on the battlefield of Calvary’s blood, by walking out of my personal, self-imposed Auschwitz. Will you come with me?



I Could . . . — 19 Comments

  1. I appreciate the way you explain the freedom. I always think that the freedom is what make difference between us and other creature. I am a human being because I am free.That freedom is expressed in my life by the harmony of my life with the moral and natural laws.

  2. What if men were not created with freedom of choice ? Freedom is the base of true Love ? It all depends on an individual as how to utilize his freedom considering choices he is left with.

  3. Thank you Jennifer for getting us to focus on something so important. Among all the things that demonstrate God’s love to me it is the matter of personal freedom. Even if someone holds a gun to my head and tells me to do or to die I still have the freedom to choose which one to go with.

    “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor 3:17 NKJV).

  4. To my knowledge the Bible does not support the idea that God predestines the future, that works against all you have said about free will in your article. Predestination rules out free will, making my supposed choice impotent! God KNOWS before I choose what I will choose, but He Himself has nno part in its planning beforehand.

  5. Norma, here are two of the verses I struggle with: Jesus "delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to the cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death." Acts 2:23. "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou idst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, to do whatever Thy hand and Thy Purpose predestined to occur." Acts 4:27-28.

    In these it sounds like God predestined the cross. I don't see how He could predestine the cross without predestining the choices that led to it. But obviously from other scripture we see that we make our own choices. I wonder if God see beforehand what we will choose and accepts it so that He can use it for redemptive purposes, and in that sense predestines--never in such a way as to exclude human free will, but in a such a way as to accept human free will.

    • Jennifer, we must keep in mind what exactly is "predestined" in these verses. God's plan to save sinners is what He predestined, and also foresaw the means by which this would literally happen. God did not make Judas choose to betray or the high priest to condemn an innocent man without cause. He did not force Pilate to give in to the public pressure which he saw for what it was. He simply predestined the atoning sacrifice that would bruise the head of the foe and set free those who would choose to accept this wonderful gift of grace. God will not rule over puppets, but did His part in bringing liberty to all who would be free of sin's control and final ruin.

      God seems able to walk forward and backward through time like we walk through a garden. The uncanny accuracy of prophecy proves God has seen the future, becoming a man to die so we could have a future which He has also foreseen as perfect and unceasing. No one is manipulated and every voice (saved and lost) will proclaim God perfectly just in all things. Not even Lucifer will protest, and if he did, all others would call him "liar!". There is no hiding from the truth at last, and God's gracious plans from before time will be fulfilled by beings who made free choices.

      God did His part by bringing forth the child Jesus, and men were left to reject or receive Him, who was "destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed." (Luke 2:34) The thoughts of men God has already seen, but He will let us reveal them ourselves.

      You and I have a choice don't we?

      • You said: "God will not rule over puppets."

        I love it!

        This is maybe the only thing we can say God is "arbitrary" about ; though even then we can say that this arises naturally from his nature.

        • I like to think this comes from God's character. This tells me it's HIS choice to be as He is. This means love is His motivation, and nothing else.

          Perhaps the word nature fits as well, but nature seems to describe that which has been appointed "by nature" and not chosen. Gravity is just the nature of our world, and thankfully so! If it varied even for a moment, what chaos would result!

  6. On reflection of this whole topic it seems to me that we have no problem saying that God gives freedom to us as sheep but then we turn around and say, however, the Sheppard is different. We seem to have the tendency to view the writers of the Bible as being under a kind of inspiration that is more dictatorial than free choice would have it. Such thinking is often called word inspiration where God’s penmen become His pen such that they really have no freedom of thought but are aggressively forced to say only what God wants. And yes there are times when that has happened but as I see it that is not the rule but rather the exception.

    As I look at the Bible I find a wide range of expression and ideas and at times disagreement. While some may be horrified by such notions to me it says a lot about how much God values freedom, especially when the stakes for wrong communication are very high. To me that is freedom in the highest sense of the word.

    Even though the potential for massive destruction from sin existed God still gave Adam and Eve the freedom to choose in the Garden of Eden. That, I believe, is the kind of freedom God would like to see us imitate in our relations to one another (Mat 20:25-28).

  7. Tyler I agree! The combination of human and divine repeats itself again and again in redemption--Jesus the Son of God and man, our own human wills combined with divine power to overcome, the Word of God. Mechanical inspiration makes it all divine and falls short of engaging the human. Holy men of God SPOKE, and speaking requires engagement, drawing from one's catalog of words, etc. The only thing I would edit in what you said is to add that there is no fundamental disagreement between Bible writers. Otherwise we have confusion.

  8. This is a very well worn discussion that has generated different understanding or misunderstanding as the case may be. We need to take in account of the war in Heaven and the reason for it. Lucifer accused God of not being truthful or fair. As I understand it, that was the reason for creation, to prove that His created beings would love and obey by their own freedom of choice. We have differing opinions about Gods' forknowledge and predestination. The bottom line I think is "FAITH the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen". Hebrews 1:1 that we all know.

    • Paul, all you need to consider on this question is this; have you ever been forced against your will to sin? This doesn't include allowing others to pressure you against your will, for that is still your choice.

      IF God forced His will, there would be no Satan or sinners, and Jesus would never have needed to be born or hung on a cross. I think that answers the question of predestination unequivocally.

      Don't you think Satan would be the first to cry "FOUL!" if God was manipulating His creatures? But instead we see Satan hiding behind many masks and not even willing to show himself openly for what or who he really is. He will not reveal himself until God reveals him after he ascends from the bottomless pit. What does all this say about predestination?

  9. Jennifer, I try to look at freedom through the eyes of my slave ancestors and what it must have meant to them; that hope that kept them putting one foot in front of the other each day, that hope that burned in their hearts each time a child was sold, at the lash of the whip, every rape they had to endure, and the helplessness of a father or husband to protect his family. I envision freedom through the pain of post civil war lynching, disenfranchisement and institutionalized racism and I oftentimes sit and wonder, what kept them? Who kept their minds? What's keeping us now? And, like you mentioned about the concentration camp, it's because our minds were always free; we chose to believe in a better day, our ancestors did, likewise we also do today. To the children of this western world with a heritage of slavery, Jim Crow and racism, freedom does not have enough adjectives to describe that word. We continue to dream for a better day, a day when Jesus shall sit on his throne and all the cares and troubles of this world will be no more; oh freedom, freedom!

    • Paulette, slavery as well as the lingering prejudice was/is such a witness of the wickedness of men and the power of faith and hope. The beautiful songs that have been born from this terrible adversity speak to this so eloquently, along with the personal accounts. Look what Joseph became as a slave, especially when the table was finally turned.

      Our minds are only free if they are filled with God's precious Word as our source of strength when all seems hopeless. It is this Word that "girds me with strength and makes my way perfect". Jesus taught that "the Truth will set you free."

      "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."

  10. Chris Blake says in his book "Searching for a God to Love" that "freedom is sacred to God".

    I think he's right.

    In some ways I like to say that Jesus died to preserve our freedom of choice; but I have to examine that statement more.

    • This idea of Jesus dying to preserve our freedom of choice is connected to the promise in the Garden..."I will put enmity between you[satan]and the woman, between your seed and her seed...".

      God neither imposes His will upon us nor allows Satan to do the same. Calvary keeps us from needing to be destroyed for our sin, and preserves the Choice all must make, and in fact, which we do make with every daily decision.

      This freedom of choice was purchased at great cost.

  11. Paulette, it's interesting how religion was thought to keep the slaves under control, when in fact, it set their spirits free. To read about how God led His people out of slavery in Egypt must have given them a great sense of hope. They could relate to a Savior born in familiar surroundings, who spent His life liberating people from physical, emotional and spiritual bondage. It was faith, hope and love that sustained them through the horrors of slavery. When you think about it, faith, hope and love has sustained all of humanity through many horrific experiences in this sinful world. No wonder that when all is said and done, faith, hope and love are the only things that will remain.

    We are spiritual beings with the freedom to connect with our Creator and nothing can separate us from His love except our choice to reject it.

    “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor 3:17 NKJV).

  12. Thank you for your ideas... I am learning everyday and improved my life because of your priceless thoughts. Once again, A million thanks to you!


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