I've often wondered how with technology at levels that would have been unimaginable fifty, much less five hundred years ago, how there seems to be more suffering, scarcity, and hardship in the world than ever before. (At least that's how it seems) Today it occurred to me that the more developed a country is, the more energy it seems to expend pursuing wants rather than needs. So we get the situation of some people literally consuming themselves to death and others dying of starvation. Thoughts on this theory?
Today I went to a poker night/fundraiser for my church's men's retreat. I was pretty excited to talk with some godly men, eat food, maybe try some beer (big mistake), and try my hand (literally) at some poker. The $20 buy-in went straight to scholarships for the retreat, but the chips still represented "dollar" amounts so we could pretend we were real high rollers. I was fairly confident going in; I had a decent grasp of the probabilities behind the hands and the last time I'd played poker with friends, I'd won everything. This time was more normal. I soon realized that I had no idea what I was doing and that the game was more about reading people (which I'm hopeless at) than reading probabilities. Eventually I just started going all in to go out with a bang instead of a whimper. The biggest reason I hate competition is that after I lose, I just feel like I wasted my time. I got much more out of the time I spent talking with and learning from some older men than I did from that game.
But I know that life isn't like that. I just finished Don Miller's latest book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, which challenged me to view my life as a story that God is writing, filled with real significance, real tension, real sacrifice, real fulfillment. And I realized that life is kind of like a game of poker--the more you risk, the more you're rewarded. And yet it's not in that the reward is assured, and it doesn't consist in time or money or care or whatever you put in, it's something eternal and ultimately more satisfying than anything we could achieve by holding onto our resources. The real losers aren't the ones who lose have lost everything; they are in the perfect position for the gospel to turn everything around. The real losers are those who stand to gain everything from the bottomless wellspring of life if they would just stand and claim it, and yet risk nothing, gain nothing.
Perhaps the best Biblical example of someone who risked everything for Christ and gained infinitely more was Paul. He was a big Jewish leader with power, prestige, and respect. I would compare him to a senior United States senator with serious clout over the course of the nation, a perfect image, perfect home life, perfect everything. In modern terms, Paul had it made. He gave all this up to be beaten, insulted, imprisoned, and rejected, often by the very people who had looked up to him before. But he says it was all worth it. (Philippians 3:8) I want to discover for myself how this can be true.
The truth is that in God's economy, in the end everything really does matter. The way you go through school or your job matters. The way you treat your friends or your family, today, matters. How you spend your day (and the use of 'spend' is not accidental) matters. What you do first thing in the morning or last thing at night, when no one else is watching, matters. The point isn't to live a "better" life, but a lasting one that trades the temporal for the eternal.
I was recently made aware of another open-hand issue debated among Christians: the question of Synergism versus monergism. If my epic post on predestination didn't make it clear enough, I apparently fall pretty squarely with synergism. I'm not going to answer this question further, as I'd largely be repeating myself. But this issue combined with some sermons from my church I've been listening to have made me realize that apparently not everyone had the same definition of "free will". I'm going to unpack mine. Rather than risk overcomplicating the term, I'm going to define it basically in terms of its parts.
Free: The relevant dictionary definitions of "free" are "Not under the control or in the power of another; able to act or be done as one wishes", or "Not...restrained, obstructed, or fixed; unimpeded". I don't think I can better explain the meaning of "free" here than that.
Will: This is the crucial part. Take everything in the definition of "free" and apply it to "will". I would define will as "the power to unilaterally decide to act or respond in a particular way". The will is the executor of the self. No matter how much we want to do something, we don't do it unless we will it first.
Putting them together, free will could then be defined as "the unimpeded power to unilaterally decide to act or respond in a particular way". I would say everyone has this. It is the reason we hold people responsible for their actions: whatever you do, you first will to do. Free will means nothing can damage this power, inhibit it, or take it away. (With God this is debatable, but as far as we know He graciously allows us our free will) The ability to determine our thoughts and intended actions is part of the bedrock of who we are as humans.
Now notice what this definition isn't saying. The "decide to" part is important--though we are always free to decide to take some course of action, we are not always able to carry out this decision. Freedom of will is not freedom of action, the freedom to do absolutely anything you decide on, which only God possesses. This is where my pastor and I seem to disagree on what free will is.
Another implication is that free will does not guarantee freedom of our emotions or desires. These things are all subject to countless external and internal stimuli and beyond our control. This doesn't lessen the freedom of the will: no matter how many pressures are on our hearts and minds, we still have the final say in what to do; nothing decides for us. The decision isn't always easy to see, but it is always there.
How our free will interacts with our innate sinfulness and God's sovereign will is a mystery. I just know that they are both fully able to operate at the same time in each of us--I imagine them coexisting on different levels.
I'm sure many of you have heard of the controversial book by Rob Bell that's been receiving so much publicity, Love Wins. If not, it's okay. Just wanted to let the blagosphere know that Kevin DeYoung has already done with this book what I've wanted to. Enjoy.