Free Agency, Action,
Trials & God's Will
NCW 22, August 1995
Q. God has ordained everything in our lives. Nothing is accidental, if I understand the New Covenant position. If I have a serious illness, then God intended it to be so perhaps to get my attention in a deficient area of my spirituality. I am supposed to be where I am. But isn't thinking like that dangerous, leading to a "hands off" attitude in which we accept what happens to us simply as fate? Is that really what Christianity is?
Indeed not. Christianity is thrusting, breaking new barriers, bringing order to chaos, and definitely not accepting the status quo which has its origin in the prince of this world. Christianity is definitely not a "setting down, hands off" religion. It is not, as Hindus maintain, a matter of casually accepting ones fate which is the result of bad karma. Christianity operates on the basis that life is an all too short probation in which to better ourselves and to help others better themselves through an intimate relationship with the Saviour of mankind.
Yet it is also true that God ordains the circumstances we find ourselves in for our betterment, and that these engineered circumstances are in some way related to the choices we have made, and are making now. Life and living is an extraordinarily complex system with billions of souls making zillions of decisions based on free will every second. The system is so complex that sometimes we are tempted to think that it is quite unmanipulativable, that in many ways life is like a river whose current we must either follow or drown in. Even that is only partially true. We find ourselves in the currents of events which shape or future and, in many ways, predetermine our future. It is important to understand, however, that we find ourselves in a particular current either because that was what we pre-ordained from the beginning of the world for ours, and others' spiritual progression, and/or because it is the result of certain life choices.
Whatever situation we find ourselves in, however, is not the result of some absolute predestination which we are powerless to change. Everything we do changes the whole human race -- seemingly imperceptibly, but real nonetheless. Change is the keyword of life. And that change can be for either our spiritual progression or regression, depending what we choose.
When I finished school at 19 I had a bewildering array of universities to choose from. There are hundreds of them in the United Kingdom. I mentally went through a selection process weeding out the ones I definitely didn't like and making a list of the ones I thought I might. I then had to see if my school grades would entitle me to admission and whether or not they had the courses I wanted to take. It was a complicated proceedure. In the end I decided that I would choose the best and then do my best to gain admission to it.
Jesus Christ offers us the best and the choice to choose it. If we choose the best then we are expected to do our best. If I hadn't done my best at university then I would not have passed my preliminary examinations after the first year and would either have had to do them again or have fallen out of the university. In which case I would have had to have gone to a less prestigious institute of learning. The choice I faced was therefore two fold: (1) To choose the university I wanted to study at, and (2) To do my best within it.
Our choices in life are, I believe, always two-fold. They always involve two things: First, choosing what we want to do, and Second, choosing whether to give our best or not. In the job market we know that usually one does not climb the corporate latter by doing nothing but by giving one's best and being entitled to a better job. It maybe that after a time we can't do any better in that company and so we decide to switch companies or jobs. Sometimes we must start at the bottom again.
We are all invited to choose the Path or Way of Jesus Christ, but that is not all. There are millions of Christians. But not all Christians choose to follow the fullness of the Way. They pick and choose those parts of the Gospel they like and reject that which doesn't appeal to them. Jesus doesn't, however, just invite us to follow Him -- He invites us to follow Him all the Way. The extent to which we decide to follow Him will determine just how far along the Way we make it and what kind of glory we will inherit in heaven. We are not forced by an irresistable destiny to walk, for example, as a Methodist or a Roman Catholic.
We are free to accept Jesus' invitation in part or in whole. If we accept it in part He will arrange for us to walk it with other like-minded souls so that we can be prospered by our pilgrimage, however unsatisfactory it may be in the final analysis. At the same time He will cause those walking a higher Path to agitate us to choose the better Way and at the same time permit others walking a lower Path to tempt us to follow them. He allows us, in short, to have a real choice. Once the choice has been made, however, we are usually expected to complete the learning experience along that Path until we are ready for something higher. We are not offered alternative choices every ten minutes for that would be far too confusing. Usually we have to be progressed gradually.
Jesus likens this to the agricultural seasons. We have our cycles and seasons too. Once we have chosen a particular Path we must figuratively plant it, water it, and grow within it. I once walked the path of a Buddhist and learned much along the way. But when there was no crop I willingly allowed myself to be "pulled up like a weed" and then replanted in new soil. I have changed my Path four times in my life and been progressed by each. Each time I chose a Path, I found that I had both great spiritual opportunities for growth as well as restrictions because the Path is never a rose garden.
I am reminded of a computer game that we sometimes play at the school where I teach. The pupils have to build a boat, collect water, and do a number of other tasks. The tools required for all of these tasks cannot, however, be held at the same time. We must decide which tools we are going to have -- boat-building tools, digging tools, etc.. Similarly we must decide on a profession -- I cannot be a pilot, architect and doctor all at once, even though all are undoubtedly fascinating professions. If I become an architect then I naturally lose out on the enjoyment that piloting or doctoring give. We can't do everything in this life. Indeed, choosing a profession can be extremely difficult for some, particularly if they have many interests.
In all the choices we make we must therefore be prepared to accept limitations. We can't do everything we want. When a man or a woman chooses to become a Christian he must become voluntarily self-limiting. If a professional tennis player is called by God into full-time ministry, for example, then obviiously the joys of tennis playing must be forfeited. Tennis playing is, moreover, not a sinful activity. It is a lawful one. However, in order to be progressed we must give up not only that which is forbidden by the commandments but also that which is permitted and therefore lawful. Sometimes I think that the challenge to surrender that which is lawful is greater for a Christian than that which us unlawful. Indeed, the higher we climb into the light, the more we understand that that which was lawful on one level of light is unlawful on another.
Take Jesus Christ. I am sure that He was an excellent carpenter. I am sure He could have made a successful and honourable profession out of it for the rest of His life. Carpentry is a lawful progression, an honourable profession. But God the Father commanded His Son to go into full-time ministry, and that meant giving up carpentry. What was generally lawful for mankind now became unlawful for Him. To have remained a carpenter and disobeyed His call to enter full-time ministry would have been unlawful. He was free to choose, of course, just as we are.
This is what I mean by voluntary self-limitation. God sets us the example by coming to earth as a mere human. We, too, must limit ourselves not only to obey God's command (which will be for our spiritual growth and blessing) but also for others' sakes. I think of that wonderful girl Joni who accepted paralysis from the neck downwards for the sake of being a witness of Christ's love and overcoming in the world. I think of a lot of people who are willing to give up simple joys and pleasures and to suffer on behalf of others that Christ might be known. The circumstances that lead to these situations of paralysis, cancer, and other disabilities seem, on the face of it, diabolical and cruel, until it is understood that these and similar situations are often agreed upon between us and the Lord before we are born. We agree to these situations because the Lord gives us a vision of the great light and joy these will eventually give us and others after the trial of our faith, even though we forget these covenants when we are born. In our forgetfulness we wrestle with these terrible circumstances until we learn to subordinate our will to God's and to accept, in faith, that His knowledge is perfect and His intentions loving.
This is what we as New Covenant Christians mean by predestination, sometimes called foreordination. Without a doubt lots of people do not keep their pre-mortal covenants because they resist the will of God in mortality and in so doing "damn" themselves, in other words, they retard their progression and sanctification.
Whatever our situation may be we are to make the best of it. If we don't perfect ourselves within the situation we find ourselves in we cannot move on to more challenging and more blessed situations. If we are in a situation that is, or seems, unpleasant then it is because that situation is to teach us something. Running away from it, or just giving up, will only make things worse, perhaps putting us in a situation on a lower level of light where learning the lessons we need to learn is considerably slower and more difficult.
So we, in the New Covenant Church, would agree that nothing is "accidental" but with a caveat -- our situation, such as it is, is designed to meet our needs, and is not necessarily designed to be permanent. Perhaps a situation is intended to be for a life-time, but maybe it isn't. We don't know the Lord's plan in its fullness, and are never likely to in this life so long as our imperfect spirituality requires us to live by faith. It is sufficient to know that we must do our very best whether we are the king of a country or a simple road-sweeper. Salvation and glorification is equally available to both because salvation is predicated upon faith manifested in good works. The king who rules justly and serves his people, and the roadsweeper who takes pride in a job well done, have the same rights of access to heaven. They have simply been given different jobs to perfect themselves and to be a blessing to others. We don't know the situations in the pre-mortal worlds that led people to be given different callings on earth, and we don't need to. We do know, however, that God loves us, and that so long as we do our best in faith and love, and don't give up, that God will justify and reward us with treasures in heaven and on earth.
Let us not miss the one-and-only opportunity we have -- here on earth, in one lifetime -- to become victors in Christ in these dark corridors of time.
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