Is our will really free?

By Kersley Fitzgerald

Way back in the long-ago, when I was in college, I joined some of my dad's family in a card game — Hearts. Do you know it? Players lay down one card per hand. The person with the highest card in the original suit takes the trick. At the end, the hearts and queen of spades are counted. The point is to get the fewest points.

I had never played before, so my uncle, an old cowboy named Slim, coached me. He kept telling me to lay down specific cards. Some of them I agreed with; others...I didn't know what he was thinking. He was patient with me though, and let me go my own way. I ended up taking very few hearts.

At the end of the round, that's when he told me about "shooting the moon". I didn't know that if you can take all the hearts and the queen of spades, you get negative 40 points. Not only did he know, he'd played the game often enough that he could see I had the right hand to do it. The way I played was good; I didn't get many points. But the way he wanted me to play would have been much better. Of course, he couldn't tell me at the time, because someone else could have thwarted us, and I'd have ended up with a whole lot of hearts and lost.

I was thinking about this game when I wrote an article on God's relationship with time. Slim was very like God. For one, they were about the same age. For another, Uncle Slim had an overall vision of the way the game should be played for my best benefit. And finally, he had the patience to let me go off and do what I thought was best — even if it wasn't.

There was a little difference, though. Uncle Slim knew what would happen and what could happen because of his experience with the game and familiarity with the players. God knows all possibilities because, for Him, it's already happened. This really hit me as I was writing the article and thinking about that game — to God, Who lives outside of time, everything in our puny little timeline has already happened. He is not surprised by anything because He's already seen it. He knows what's best for us because He has already seen our entire lives and what effect we have had on the world.

At, we often get the question, "If God knows everything, then how can we have free will?" I have no idea what this question means. The fact that God knows what is going to happen or what has happened has nothing to do with our right to choose. Uncle Slim could have insisted that I put down certain cards, but he didn't. Likewise, God allows us to make decisions within the context of the world He created. I used the following illustration once with an engineer who had no idea what I meant by this; hopefully you can understand it better.
God created the world to work a certain way. But He did not create a closed-system factory. He did not create the world to be a building with no doors or windows, nothing coming in or out, filled with automated machines. Machines that do their job and are self-maintaining, programmed by God to work in a certain way and never deviate from that programming.

God didn't put Adam and Eve in an assembly line; He put them in a garden.

A garden is messier. Plants grow, plants die, weeds sprout, pansies miraculously appear where you least expect them. People are like plants, not machines. We grow where we're not supposed to, get entangled with kudzu, and die from lack of water. God sets boundaries, like path borders, which we cheerfully climb over until we're whacked by the lawnmower. Sometimes God transplants us to a better location, one that will help us thrive and maybe even provide shade for another plant.

In other words, we have a say in how we live our lives. Our next door neighbor in Alabama was a 70-something year old named Marion. Master gardener. Just amazing. She was always tinkering. Which I didn't really understand. My grandma was a gardener as well, in Portland — where you can trim the rose bushes, miss a small clipping, and come back the next year to a new rose bush. Grandma never really moved anything, but Marion was always shifting the flowers or moving the tomatoes to the other side of the yard. If a plant wasn't doing well in one spot, she'd see if another bed had the right sun or water to help it grow.

Like Marion, God knows the best possible conditions for each plant in the garden, and sometimes He arranges us to give us a better chance at life. But we do have a say. We are not mindless machines in a factory. We're morning glories trying to take over the world.
The thing is, if God is outside of time and has already seen our lives, and He's the Master Gardener Who knows what will help us grow, what arrogant bucketheads we must be to choose against His will. The hubris and foolishness must just make Him shake His head. Good grief, His patience is amazing.

He knows my life from start to finish. He knows the conditions I live in, the people I interact with, and the impact He's prepared for me to have. But then I get scared, back off, and take the safer route — and He lets me! He lets me lead with a low card, forfeiting my chance to shoot the moon. He lets me grow onto the path instead of up the trellis where I'd be safe from the lawnmower and provide shade for the more fragile plants.

He knows everything. He has our best interests at heart. He lays out guidelines that will help us experience joy and life. When seen in that light, obedience doesn't sound so bad.

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Published 11-12-12