I was at a bridal brunch recently where the hostess praised the bride for her patience in finding a husband and because she “allowed God to choose for her.”
It’s a recurring theme in Christian circles, a sweet sentiment, but is it true? If God chooses for us, then what role does obedience play in our faith? When we “let God choose,” are we canceling out our independent ability to choose grace?
But this goes far beyond a default Christian catchphrase. It taps into the ongoing philosophical debate of free will versus determinism. Basically, this poses the question: Do you have the ability to make independent decisions to determine your future, or are you merely a pawn in the game of destiny that has already been decided by your birth, genetics and socioeconomic status? Can you decide your future, or has your future already been decided for you by lots of independent variables all strung together?
For Christians, it’s of course also a spiritual issue. Can we decide our own future, or has a rigid path already been laid for us to which we must adhere? Is there room for free will, creativity and choice, or are we robots who pursue a pre-determined path? Do we get to decide, or have these decisions already been made for us?
It’s much easier to become deterministic—to believe that everything is out of our control and the end has already been decided. It’s easier to believe that God is choosing for us and that anything that happens to us, happens for a reason. This is how we comfort ourselves when things turn south.
The only problem with thinking this way is that it creates intense pressure. If you are, in fact, walking down the one path God has laid out and no other path exists, you can easily derail God’s entire plan by making one small mistake. God’s provision suddenly depends on your ability to be good.
Doesn’t that make God a dictator? Doesn’t that mean He has taken away free will? Walking with God suddenly becomes a multiple-choice test, and one wrong answer will wound irreparable damage. There is no room for grace in this story. Future blessings depend on your ability to be good and do good. When you start believing your walk with God is like this—choosing the right answer and not screwing up—you become incredibly self-righteous.
The classic counter-argument to this mindset goes like this: In order for love to exist, free will must exist as well. The two must live side by side. If you have love without free will, it isn’t really love at all but domination.
In Deuteronomy 30, the Israelite children were wandering in the desert, and during this chapter, Moses stops to provide a timely dichotomy. If I may paraphrase, Moses is saying to them: “You need to be obedient because God is going to bless that. And finding God’s path, dwelling in obedience is not that hard.” Moses continues in verses 12-14, “It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.”
I think this is one of the most empowering verses in the Bible. Verse 19 states: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” God gives us guidance on what to choose, but He will never force our hand—because without choice, love is impossible.
Think of it like this. In *The Break Up*, Jennifer Aniston’s character tells Vince Vaughn’s character in one telling scene that she wants him to *want* to do the dishes. It’s like God is saying, “I want you to *want* to follow My will and listen to My guidance and pursue holiness, but I will never force you. I will never choose for you.”
I’ve heard it preached before that once you become a Christian, you surrender all free will. Suddenly, you exist in a kingdom and you have no rights. But perhaps it is our very ability to choose that makes our faith all the more real.
If you choose something for your child, you can never take pride in his decision because he never owned it himself. This walk with God is not a multiple-choice test where the answers are already filled in. But perhaps it is an open-ended question, like Moses laying before the Israelites two different kinds of life. The end has not been penned.
So many times, trying to follow God seems like an insurmountable task and we find ourselves asking, “How can we be obedient? Where is this path? Is it up in heaven? Is it hidden out of reach? And who will go get it for us?” No, instead, it is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart. God has already given you everything you need to find His plan, decipher His will and follow Him. Now it is our job to choose life.