“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
- Joshua 24:14-15
“A person’s will is embodied in the actions of the whole person. I cannot give up my will— I must exercise it, putting it into action. I must will to obey, and I must will to receive God’s Spirit. When God gives me a vision of truth, there is never a question of what He will do, but only of what I will do. The Lord has been placing in front of each of us some big proposals and plans. The best thing to do is to remember what you did before when you were touched by God. Recall the moment when you were saved, or first recognized Jesus, or realized some truth. It was easy then to yield your allegiance to God. Immediately recall those moments each time the Spirit of God brings some new proposal before you.”
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (emphasis the author’s)
Okay, to clear up confusion with the title, you can give a military command to “Fire at Will,” meaning at each soldier’s discretion, identify a target and engage it. In business, the only state that does not have a “fire at will” policy is Montana, according to one website that I visited, meaning that the company can lay you off for a variety of reasons at any time, and most states allow you to serve notice to leave their employment at any time. But, as usual, I am having a play at words. God gives us free will. It is described wonderfully in Oswald Chambers’ quote above, but there are so many that are befuddled by it and try to take shots at the concept. They “fire” at free will.
But for the military meaning, many years ago, I saw a comic strip that showed a group of soldiers in foxholes. The new guy looks at one of the veterans in the platoon and asks, “Why is he so nervous?” The platoon sergeant replies, “His name is Will.” In the final frame, the platoon leader yells, “Fire at Will!!” I think I would be nervous if my name was Will.
But why do we have so many people firing shots over the bow at the concept of free will?
In a few days, I plan to talk about that from a philosophical point of view, but I can start with a personal view.
A friend asked me about how I resolved that God is sovereign, God is all knowing, but we have free will? He then asked me, “What if you did not accept Jesus as your Savior when you did?”
I replied, “In the mental state that I was in, having tried to accept Jesus, but holding something back, for over a year, I would have gone stark raving mad if I had not eventually surrendered. I accepted Jesus of my own free will, but at that moment, the weight of all my sin, and I was the nice kid that never got into trouble … all that sin was weighing upon me so badly that I felt that I had no other choice.”
Along that same vein, when the draft lottery pulled my birth year’s numbers out of a fishbowl, my number was a single digit number. I was already in ROTC in college. That same day, I was offered an Army ROTC scholarship. I felt that the paperwork arriving in the mail on that same day was God telling me something. The news was talking about eliminating the college deferment for the draft and the Vietnam War was still going on. I would have been the first drafted in my area. I accepted the ROTC scholarship of my own free will, but I found it odd six years later, when I finally reported for active duty after finishing college and graduate school, that the Army was now considered “All Volunteer” even though my choices six years before were between slim and none, and I did not wholeheartedly think of myself as being a “volunteer” although I technically was one.
Yet, I served faithfully in the military for four years while many others in my position got lawyers. I worked with one fellow years later who was educated at West Point with a five-year military commitment and only served a year. Nope. When I say that I am going to do something, I do it. My service was delayed due to graduate school, but I served the full time and continued for a few extra years in the reserves, of my own free will.
But some think that if God is all powerful and He is sovereign and His will is going to be done, then we fall into a determinism, where we think we have free will, but we are really puppets on a string.
I have written about a variety of concepts regarding God’s will, His perfect will, His moral will, His sovereign will, etc. God does orchestrate circumstances, but we, as Chambers suggests, can say yes or no. In my opinion, God always knows what is going to happen. And if God really has something in mind for us to do, He will orchestrate circumstances for that something to happen. I would never be writing this blog, in my opinion, if I had skyrocketed up the corporate ladder and I now had a corner office in a chemical corporation somewhere. I would probably have too much sense of seeing that job through to retire or to listen to what God wanted me to do instead – but even then, God would find a way.
And regardless, we have the free will to choose a different path. My path was filled with dead ends and pit falls, but I ended where God wanted me.
And I can say without equivocation that God’s plan was the better choice all along. If I had listened along the way, just a little more, I would not nearly have the battle scars.
Could God pull puppet strings? He has the power to do so, but He does not have that totally in His attributes.
Why not? Because, more than anything, God loves us and He wants us to love Him of our own free will, and on His terms.
And that last prepositional phrase is what “separates the men from the boys” as the old saying goes. Sorry, I am too tired to make that gender non-specific.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.