"Thanks and thanks again to Him who offers to the man whom the sorrows of life have assaulted and left naked–offers to him the fig leaf of the Word with which he can cover his wretchedness." -Søren Kierkegaard

Perspectives on the Will

Posted in Philosophical, Theological by matt on Wednesday, June 18, 2008

In Orthodoxy G.K. Chesterton writes, Every act of will is an act of self-limitation. To desire action is to desire limitation. In that sense every act is an act of sacrifice. When you choose anything, you reject everything else.

If this is a correct understanding of the human will then a choice is actually more binding than freeing. The reason I’m taking up precious inter-web space (and your time, haha) to write this is that it goes directly against what I’ve always assumed to be true, i.e., that the humans ability to choose is the greatest expression of freedom.

But when a man chooses to marry one woman he automatically rejects all the others. Or for me, choosing to ride the van to work means not choosing to ride in a cab, to walk, or to meet a certain, flaming death on a motorcycle taxi. Choices are limiting.

So what?

This change in perspective matters. It proves that each individual decision is consequential. God has given people the freedom to make decisions about all kinds of things and those decisions – big or small – matter! What you decide to do will also dictate what you don’t do.

But is the inverse also true?

Consider 8 out of the 10 commandments that are phrased negatively (You shall not…). Here God allows only one choice. Obviously God doesn’t limit the option to a single choice and no other (we are able to choose to disobey), but He does allow for only one correct choice. So, rather than us limiting ourself, God is limiting us.

But what if God isn’t limiting us? What if this is another form of His grace and freedom?

Maybe God’s 8 “Though shalt not” statements are 8 of the most freeing statements in the whole Bible. God nixed the hazy process of decision-making and brought the right choice into focus, cut-and-dry.

God made the rules, and what if the one making the rules did it because He knew that limitation meant freedom and that reckless decision-making meant bondage?

For the Christ-follower I believe this is even more evidence of God’s grace, but I’d love to hear any of your thoughts.

12 Responses

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  1. Scott said, on Wednesday, June 18, 2008 at 8:43 am

    Very well put. Great quote by Chesterton. In business they call that “opportunity cost.” I was just having breakfast with Jesus asking Him how He wanted me to spend my day. Each choice eliminates other choices.

    Regarding the 10 Commandments, are they stated negatively so that we don’t miss the point. Consider this command as 5 year old Matt runs across the street in front of an on-coming car: “LIVE A LONG LIFE!” Would it not be better to shout, “Matt! Stop!”

    This is a great article and I am glad I read it. I Love you, Son.

  2. tdodgen said, on Wednesday, June 18, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Okay, so… a few thoughts.

    Choice is the ultimate indicator of finiteness; we cannot experience all things at once, so we must choose a specific path at each junction. We can only be one place, doing one thing at a time.

    Choice also gives way to circumstance, which is the only place to practice the fruits of the Spirits (or life, for that matter). If one chooses to wait to get married, he must plead with God for patience in the interim. If that same man chooses to marry, he will certainly need patience when living with a woman! This leads to the well preached cliché, “Who we are is more important than what we do.” Except James pimp slapped that one. Or qualified it. Whatever. The point is, every choice will always lead to a NEED for God’s activity within the circumstance, no matter what.

    I like your reference to the 10 Commandments and want to add more ideas… Each of the “Thou shalt not” statements only cuts off one path out of an infinite field of choices. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife” leaves about, oh, 1 billion other women to pursue. “Thou shalt not steal” leaves us open to using credit, debit or even cash when we buy… whatever we want.

    Only kidding. But seriously.

    Unless my consciousness is somehow completely unaware of God’s invisible strings, I’m a pretty free Pinocchio. I ate Pei Wei today. And I liked it. I certainly do not believe that free will is an illusion, but I still cannot fathom God’s intricate workings within it.

    How about this Chandler question: How can we believe in man’s free will, and then pray to God asking Him to infringe upon it by changing a heart, changing a circumstance, etc?

  3. matt said, on Thursday, June 19, 2008 at 9:02 am

    Re Da: I guess it all makes sense when you think about it from the parental perspective. It probably seems so new to me because I’ve never been a parent and, until recently, (and maybe still) I’ve been a rebellious hooligan of a youngster who thinks rules = restrictions. I guess it was a health perspective change!

    Re Dodgen: NEED! I love that word…

    As always, I think we have to live in the paradox – this is faith. But I really didn’t intend to discuss sovereignty vs. human will in this one. I guess I deserve it for bringing up the word ‘will’ and ‘God’ in the same post though, huh?

    My response to Chandler would be, “How can you NOT believe in man’s free will if you’re going to take the time to ask God anything?”

    To ask for anything is, on some level, an exertion of the will! His question is counter-intuitive and dumb. It’s not that God’s will is free and ours isn’t, it’s that God’s will is huge and powerful while ours is…not.

    So yea, I guess that’s what I think.

  4. Sarah Chisolm said, on Friday, June 20, 2008 at 7:53 am

    LOVE reading your blog. I’m glad you are having such great adventures friend. Blessings.

  5. Sarah Chisolm said, on Friday, June 20, 2008 at 8:29 am

    So, I’ve been asking people this lately and since you once told me irresistible revolution is your favorite book, I’ll ask you (and anyone else how has any thoughts).
    I connected in a new way with the life style he presented, I think because deep inside me, there is a Shane Claiborne; a piece of wild spirit that longs to be let free, fall in sync the wildness of our creator and overtake every piece of my being. But that’s obviously not a question. So, the question is sir, what do you do after reading that? How do you even being to take your Americanized life-style and vision and make a 180 degree change? I feel like the answers are so much simpler than the questions, if that makes since. But really, how have you, Matt, experienced change in your way of living?

  6. matt said, on Friday, June 20, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    Wow…*poof* Sarah Chisolm outta nowhere.

    It’s nothing definitive, but I have two thoughts.

    1) You’ve got to see the necessity of it. People only really follow God when they believe they need Him, and maturity in Christ is a bigger understanding of how much you need Him. And wealthy people like us have trouble conceiving of food as a need, much less seeing God as a need. So insert that into your desire to follow God wildly. Do you see it as necessary?

    2) It’s easy to read Claiborne’s big story and wish for that, but are we willing to work through the small stuff to get there? I find that I read those stories, wish I could have them, and then I drop it because it takes so many small, unimpressive efforts to get there.

    That may not be helpful, but to be fair this is the most random conversation I’ve had in quite awhile. =)

    For me personally things have just become very basic; cutting away the pointlessness. Last night Cayla and I had dinner with a guy who does farming ministry in Laos and he put it well, “Let Christ be the only diving line.” He urged us to adapt and to be flexible in every way in order to love people well. The only time we don’t become the slaves of others is if it means disobedience to God.

    I like that, but it’s a stinkin hard way to live.

    But how are you?! Good greif, are you married yet?

  7. sarah chisolm said, on Sunday, June 22, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    Good thoughts friend. Thanks for sharing them! I would respond a bit more, but my thoughts are kind of a mess.

    I’m much better health wise than you seem to be :/
    Sorry you haven’t been feeling well…drink water, it cures everything. I’m still here in good ‘ole waco, working it up and trying to pay for this wedding (which by the way is 75 days away:)). So I’m assuming y’all are working with an organization correct? Or are you with Baylor? I know they have a pretty established program over there. Hope you feel better soon.


  8. matt said, on Monday, June 23, 2008 at 4:08 am

    Yaaaa…unless that water happens to be from your cancerous Nalgene =)

  9. jkwakefield said, on Monday, June 23, 2008 at 10:58 pm

    I’ve been reflecting on the idea of a simple life for the last 30 minutes in order to respond. I’ve been thinking about similar things the past few weeks, and have in fact cut down on a lot of excess “things” of my own. I don’t quite remember Claiborne’s take on the issue (it’s been a while), but I got the impression the lifestyle was the focus, and not so much Christ. Don’t read that wrong, I’m not saying Claiborne’s focus isn’t Christ, but I remember his book made me wary of him even though I do sympathize with the poor and find simplicity attractive.

    In light of reading The Cost of Discipleship (Bonhoeffer) the last few weeks, I’d have to say that simplicity (if it is taken on) must be the by-product of following Christ and following his personal call on our lives. It shouldn’t be something calculated, our left hand shouldn’t know our right hand’s actions, because it comes from small steps of sheer obedience to Christ (a single and different call) and not some quest for a counter-cultural lifestyle that then “shows” your Christianity somehow.

    Heck, Jesus had to rely on people with homes and possessions. Our focus is the key.

  10. criner said, on Monday, June 30, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    I know I’m behind here in the whole illusion of a “discussion”, but I want to comment on the “Chandler quote” which is actually an idea from J.I. Packer in his book “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God”.

    The quote is this: “In prayer, you ask for things, and give thanks for things. Why? Because you and recognize that God is the author and source of all the good that you hope for in the future. The prayer of a Christian is not an attempt to force God’s hand, but a humble acknowledgment of helplessness and dependence. When we are on our knees, we know that it is not we who control the world; it is not in our power, therfore, to supply our needs by our own indiependent efforts; every good thing that we desire for ourselves and for others must be sought from God, and will come, if it comes at all, as a gift from His hands.”

    Essentially, in prayer I’m making the declaration that I’m not in control – I don’t have the “power to choose” thus I need the God who is sovereign to do the work he has set out to do… It just me recognizing I’m not the First Cause – He is.

    I think it’s less about my free will vs. God’s sovereignty because we know who’ll win that battle; rather us acknowledging the fact that our will is limited severely and the only one with a truly free will is God. (something you even acknowledge in your response matt). That doesn’t mean we don’t make choices – we do (and we’re responsible for them) – but I’m not “totally free” to do as I please. I would love to will into my life the ability to dunk a basketball on a 10 foot goal, but as much as I choose to do such a thing I won’t unless that goal is at around 5 feet.

    Good post.

  11. matt said, on Monday, June 30, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    “…illusion of a ‘discussion'”

    Lol, you’re as tactful as ever my friend. Why word it that way?

    Anyway, this morning I read 2 Cor. 3.5 where Paul says, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant…”

    God as sufficient. The provider. The ‘First Cause’, as you put it.

    And I like the Packer quote; well worded and insightful. But I don’t like the Chandler quote Dodgen gave me. I’m probably just missing his context, but using your free will to argue that it doesn’t exist is a waste of oxygen.

    In short, Packer seems to say “You’re not in control, God is.” Chandler seems to say, “You can’t make a difference in the outcome.”

    Thanks for discussing, even if it was a facade. Much love mi amigo.

  12. criner said, on Tuesday, July 1, 2008 at 8:33 am

    “…illusion of a ‘discussion”

    This is my whole problem with blogs. I miss facial expression, hand motions, smiles, smirks, etc. Basically, a whole realm of communication is ignored when it comes to blogs – so I want us to be sure we know that we’re not really “discussing” until we’re sitting over some tea or hot wings.

    moving on.

    In actual response concerning Chandler – maybe he’s trying to say the same thing. The benefit for Packer is that he wrote this (probably more thought out) whereas Chandler spoke it (which again w/o seeing him is hard to discern what he’s trying to say). What I mean by that is to only listen to Chandler on a podcast really isn’t fair to him. Preachers are more than just voices…

    But all in all – God’s the First Cause. That gives me hope and motivation to pray.

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