Notes to Pilgrims #9
Now lest I be misconstrued as saying what I am not, I do not mean that there are invisible forces that directly manipulate and coerce us into doing things against our own wills. Far from it! If such were the case then nobody could ever be held accountable for anything that they say or do. But as it is, people are responsible for their own words and actions; and there are consequences to all of our choices. People in authority seem to be quick to remind us of this. Moreover, our own experiences seem to affirm that we each make choices in light of our own perceptions of what is right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable, beneficial or detrimental. So what do I mean when I say that human actions and choices are never free?
Our choices are always restricted or influenced by certain factors that function as limits or demarcation lines. Take for instance human physiology: the anatomical make-up of our bodies precludes us, no matter how hard we try, from breathing under water or flapping our arms to fly. Laws, too, prevent us from being as free as we would think ourselves to be. Consider the laws of logic. The most fundamental precept in logic is the principle of non-contradiction where, ‘A cannot be B, at the same time and in the same regard.’ A person cannot go watch a movie and go scuba diving at the same time. Scientific laws such as gravity and inertia rule our day-to-day lives and the laws of our land proscribe certain liberties insofar as they encroach upon the liberties of our fellow citizens. In fact, this social contract is not something humans are able to choose either. Babies are opted in to this agreement with the nation and with his or her fellow subjects at birth. Neither does a baby choose her parents, her siblings, who will change her diapers, will she be breastfed or formula fed—practically none of the choices made for her in her first few months in life even solicit a participation of any kind from her.
So you see our choices are really never free, they are more conditioned or biased than we would care to admit. Our upbringing, our education, and our past and present experiences all exert an influence on what we do or what we say—on who we are. But more fundamentally, our choices are never free because our wills are not. Jesus says that anyone who sins is a slave to sin (cf. John 8:34). The Bible teaches that fallen humans are spiritually dead and therefore unable to do anything acceptable to God because sin forms a demarcation line around them and ever lording over their hearts as a cruel slave master. And this is why Christ’s mission to save sinners is also sometimes described in terms of liberation or emancipation. Jesus defeats evil by absorbing the penalties of sin in His own body thereby freeing all who were formerly under its tyranny.
“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’” (John 8:31-36)
—Pastor James (firstname.lastname@example.org)