The Terrible Gift of Free Will

The problem of pain, of war and the horror of war, of poverty and disease is always confronting us.  But a God who allows no pain, no grief, also allows no choice.  There is little unfairness in a colony of ants, but there is also little freedom.  We human beings have been given the terrible gift of free will, and this ability to make choices, to help write our own story, is what makes us human, even when we make the wrong choices, abusing our freedom and the freedom of others.  The weary and war-torn world around us bears witness to the wrongness of many of our choices.  But George MacDonald gives me renewed strength during times of trouble – times when I have seen people tempted to deny God – when he says, “The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their suffering might be like his.”    –-Madeleine L’Engle, from her book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art,

It is rare that a week goes by without the opportunity to lift in prayer people who are struggling in the world around us.  We had a number of hospital visits last week.  The funerals of a few weeks ago remain in one’s heart, and those we lost still feel close in spirit.  We have a few members in nursing home settings who re in difficult emotional and intellectual shape.  Coupled with these places of loss were the recent close-to-home deaths in Warwick … the more distant deaths in the Squirrel Hill synagogue shooting … the losses of life in the California wildfires … and the Thousand Oaks deaths.  Each invites reflection on those who survive and who bear suffering spirits on behalf of their loved ones.  Coupled with these tragic losses, is the recognition of all those who willingly gave up their lives for the sake of honor and country in our national observance of Veterans Day.  It is also the time of the year, when our lessons from these last weeks of the Pentecost season turn to the topic of the end times.  Many are parables, and most of them are not easily resolved for people struggling to find grace in the midst of what looks like judgment.  Knowing that the severe message of John the Baptist and the Advent season are just around the corner, doesn’t really create any warm fuzzies in my heart, either.

So, I was glad that the Spirit led me to sister Madeleine’s devotional today.  L’Engle’s words were found in a devotional anthology I was wandering through as I searched for a devotion for my Wednesday Morning Bible Study later today.  I have not read L’Engle’s Glimpses of Grace book, but these words lifted from those pages by an editor, still spoke to me .  What caught my heart was the simple analogy of the ant colony.  It is so easy to fall into the trap of praising free will when things go our way, and then blaming fate when they don’t.  It is as if we decide to be selective about just how much free will we have.  But L’Engle reminds us that the alternative to free will is to be little more than an ant colony, where there is no good nor evil, just instinct.  And God has not created us to be ants.

So as you pray and meditate this week, think about the gift and responsibility of free will.  God gives us the choice to act as we feel called to do – it is an essential freedom of every child of God.  But with that freedom comes responsibility, and an acknowledgement that when things go badly, they are not the result of the hand of fate, but are simply the other side of free will, that has been corrupted by human sin.  Think and pray about how free will works out in your life.  You can, no doubt, easily recall places where your free will has led you to successes.  Think about those places where it is a corrupting influence.  Think of those places where the suffering you experience is not a direct result of something you have done, but more a product of the malaise of the world.  Then bring it all to Christ, and try to see it through the eyes of faith God has gifted you with.  It is a deliciously ironic phrase L’Engle offers … the terrible gift of free will.  It is clearly gift … it can also at times be terrible … but God is in the midst of it all!

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Rev. Craig Ross

Senior Pastor

The vibrancy of life here at St. Peter’s makes my service on our staff a joy and privilege. Visitation, teaching and preaching are the ministries that feed my pastoral identity, as together our staff and lay members share in our missional calling … Building a community of faith by God’s grace.


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