The purpose of this writing space is to spill onto paper what’s in my mind, and gain perspective on what troubles me. Today I will offer far more questions than thoughts.
I was reading part of “Desiring God” by John Piper, and Piper drew attention to something that always struck me as odd. He begins a chapter with a question: “Who planned the murder of Christ?” The answer, of course, is God. Christ was sent to earth to spread the Word and love of God, but he was also sent here for the explicit purpose to suffer for our sins. His preordained purpose, before He even descended down to earth, was to be betrayed and murdered.
That’s not the odd part. That was the whole point.
What’s always struck me as odd was that Judas and Pontius Pilate and Peter, who respectively betrayed Christ, sentenced Him to death, and denied Him three times, are treated as though they behaved of their own volition. They sinned against God, of course, but did they really have any choice? Was this their free will acting? Or was it God’s will, executed through their actions? In the book of Acts, Peter himself says: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).
I’ve said before that one of my great struggles with understanding God is that I am poorly equipped to grasp these two opposing threads of thought. This is the greatest paradox of faith. These people (along with others) sinned against God, and by that sin fulfilled their purpose within His will and plan.
I’ve come to understand what free will means within my own life and choices. I choose, every day, to get up and try to become closer to the best version of myself. Sometimes I falter along that path, but I try to use my own will to stay focused on achieving that best-possible outcome. The tricky part comes when self-evaluating retrospectively: were those choices really mine? Or was I simply acting according to a plan? Could I have acted any other way? Was the confluence of events that led me to those decisions simply part of God’s machinations?
Part of my daily prayers is to take to heart the line “Thy will be done.” I ask God to make me an instrument of His will, and to show me my path to becoming what he has in mind for me. Sometimes, that feels like the only choice I have in the matter: I can choose to submit to that willingly, or I can choose to deny that. Either way, though, it is difficult to tell the difference between being a part of His will, and being apart from it.
The real rub is that this is one of the oldest philosophical questions, and belongs alongside “What is the meaning of life?” and “What is Love?”. I’m not sure that there’s such a thing as an answer, except what we can take on authority. And that’s always been the hardest part of the Word to swallow, if I’m being honest. Even C.S. Lewis, a man whose own personal journey and thoughts I respect greatly, struggles to give this sufficient reason in his masterwork “Mere Christianity.” In the chapter entitled “The Practical Conclusion,” he writes on the subject of authority: “In other words, I believe it on His authority. Do not be scared by the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy.” Fair enough, but the logic is still circular. Trust that this is the real word of God, and believe it because God said it is so.
I’m not going to solve this one today, I don’t think. It’s just something to think about. It’s not going to change which side I choose (if I even have such a choice).