Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Mystery and the Agony of Human Freedom

1 Peter 2:16 (New International Version)

“Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.”

I’m occasionally asked by skeptics why God doesn’t seem to often intervene in the affairs of men. It’s a loaded question, one that’s rarely asked honestly. It’s usually framed in this manner – “If God is all powerful, then why does He allow evil things to happen?” I used to ask believers this question years ago when I was a devout atheist. I remember hearing them tell me they believed because of all the beauty they saw in the world. I always responded, “How could you possibly believe? “Look at all the mangled babies.” “Look at the greed.” “Look at the murder all around you.”

While it’s rarely asked honestly, it still is a good question. “Why?” I often ask the question myself when I read the newspaper accounts of the latest evils. This world sometimes seems like it’s ruled by violence. Children are being abused. Thousands, if not millions are being murdered as each violence ridden year passes. Millions eat sumptuously while millions of their fellows starve. Why indeed?

I have an answer. It’s freedom. The Almighty, for purposes that are so often mysterious and agonizing to me, has given mankind freedom. We are free moral agents, free to decide between two choices, to either do good or to do evil.

I doubt that the answer will satisfy the skeptics. They would insist that God has a moral obligation to intervene. The problem with their point of view is that what they mean by it is that God should deny everyone but them the freedom of choice they would cling to with their dying breath. That is, someone should intervene, but that someone isn’t the skeptic. It’s a kind of moral isolationism that puts him at the center of good and everyone else on the periphery of evil in the world.

I have to confess that I don’t really understand freedom. I embrace it and I love it, but I also find that it’s very mysterious. It’s a door that leads to choices that are ours alone to make. All too often, when the time of choosing comes, we misappropriate the freedom we’ve been given. We choose, often knowingly, to do what is evil rather than what is good.

I gave thought to these things this morning as I read the apostle’s words. “Live as free men. Don’t use freedom as a cover-up for evil!”

In spite of all the evil I see in the world I still believe.

Frederick Buechner gave thought to this age old question one morning after he’d left church, glowing with a sense of everlasting life. Then the question occurred to him as he listened to the morning news. How can one believe when evil seems so pervasive in this world? His answer follows this morning for your edification:

“Driving home from church one morning full of Christ, I thought, giddy in the head almost and if not speaking in tongues some kind of witless, wordless psalm. I turned on the radio for the twelve o’clock news and heard how a four year old had died that morning somewhere. The child had kept its parents awake all night with his crying and carrying on, and the parents to punish him filled the tub with scalding water and put him in. These parents filled the scalding water with their child to punish him and, scalding and scalded, he died crying out in tongues as I heard it reported on the radio on my way back from of all places church and prayed to Almighty God to kick to pieces such a world or to kick to pieces Himself and His Son and His Holy Ghost world without end standing by the side of the screaming tub and doing nothing while his scrawny little buttocks bare, the hopeless little four-year old whistle, the child was lowered in his mother’s arms. I am acquainted with the reasons that theologians give and that I have given myself for why God does not, in the name of human freedom must not, by the very nature of things as he has himself established that nature cannot and will not, interfere in these sordid matters, but I prayed nonetheless for his interference.”

“You were going to explain why you believe,” the interlocutor says, not unkindly.”

“I believe without the miracles I have prayed for then; that is what I am explaining. I believe because certain uncertain things have happened, dim half-miracles, sermons and silences and what not. Perhaps it is my believing that is the miracle I believe by. Perhaps it is the miracle of my own life: that I, who might so easily not have been, am; who might so easily at any moment, even now, give the whole thing up, nonetheless by God’s grace do not give it up and am not given up by it. There is maybe no such thing, old friend and adversary, as genuine, self-authenticating experience of anything, let alone God. Maybe at the latter day my redeemer shall stand upon the earth and mine eyes shall behold him and not as a stranger, but in the meantime I behold him on the earth as a name which when I write it wakes me up weeping, as a joke too rich to tell on certain silent faces, occasionally even on my own face; as a hand which I am able sometimes to believe that only the thin glove of night I wear keeps me from touching.”

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Good versus evil


James Fletcher Baxter said...

...and we might add;don't use evil as a cover-up for Freedom's responsibilities!

Humanists do not understand God's definition of Freedom and how extensive it is. They want limited Freedom and God to do what they would do if they had His power or were God themselves.

Heaven will be filled with those Choicemakers who abide by His will and criteria and His unlimited Freedom. That is God's definition of Heaven's government and environment. Too many man-made systems would use power to coerce and force humans to be Good. Won't work. It must be chosen. That is how valuable God considers Freedom to be - and free human beings.

Add: our choice(s) will determine our own eternal future. God has done all necessary without intruding on our freedom to choose. The balance is up to us. "They are without excuse..."

"We have the gift of an inner liberty so far-reaching
that we can choose either to accept or reject the God
who gave it to us, and it would seem to follow that the
Author of a liberty so radical wills that we should be
equally free in our relationships with other men.
Spiritual liberty logically demands conditions of outer
and social freedom for its completion." Rev. Edmund A. Opitz


Always Faithful

Lyn said...

You're in this week's Kansas Blogger's Roundup. But I'm looking for blogs to host upcoming carnivals. Please let me know if you're interested. Thanks. Lyn from Bloggin' Outloud (now on hiatus from blogging)