Wednesday, June 02, 2004

That's not my will...

The issue of our free will vs. God's omnipotence seems to trip up a lot of people. How can we claim to have free will when God is in control of the whole universe? Ed over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars takes a different swipe at the issue by pondering just how a Christian's prayer can convince God to change another person's supposedly free will decision. This is a topic I've also been thinking about, albeit from a different angle - how do our prayers intersect with free will decisions? I think that we first need to understand just what prayer is and what it is not. Prayer is not simply some verbalization of a wish list to our supernatural provider in the sky. Prayer is communion with God. What was the model prayer taught by Jesus?
“Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. So pray this way: Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored, may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. “For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins. Matthew 6:5-15 (NET) (emphasis added)
Isn't it interesting that Jesus stated that God knows what we need rather than what we want? Note that the Lord's Prayer begins by honoring God and focusing our attention on His will. The only tangible request on our behalf is that we be provided with enough sustenance for each day. The entire prayer is not about what requsts we supplicate to the Father but is about how we can achieve spiritual formation through a mature attitude. Although something like the Prayer of Jabez might be what we want, I think that the Lord's Prayer is what we need. How about Jesus' own example of prayer and free will as He modeled in the Garden of Gethsemane?
Then Jesus went out and made his way, as he customarily did, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. When he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He went away from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Yet not my will but yours be done.” Luke 22:39-42 (emphasis added)
Here we see further indication that the issue of prayer and free will is not a situation in which we are human robots, simply playing out the script that God has written, nor are we beings with the freedom to confound God; rather, there is a combination of free will along with God's sovreign hand. Jesus instructs His disciples to pray that they will have the strength to make a free will decision to not fall into temptation - the opportunity is there for deliverance, yet they still have the ability to choose. Also, He himself acknowledges that His desires of the moment are contrary to the will of God the Father - He is secure in His understanding that, despite His free will desires, God's will is sovreign. This hearkens back to the topic of decision making and the will of God. In making decisions, as Christians, we should be cognizant of God's Moral Will in conjunction with wisdom and personal desires. Yet we need to remember that God's Sovreign Will encompasses the entirety of our existence. We are His creatures, in His creation.

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