Free Will or Free Willy?

I was posed a question about free will with regards to vocation choices recently and decided to explore it. The below are my personal thoughts and reflection.

For those of you who have lived long enough, you might recall the 1993 film “Free Willy”. It was one of my favourite shows growing up. It tells the story about an Orca trapped in a sea aquarium, longing to be free. Despite the devious plotting of the management to end its life for insurance money, Willy manages to be set free with the help of a young boy.

This story captures how many of us feel when we have to make hard decisions in the storms of our lives. Are we like Willy, trapped in the aquarium of this world, forced to do tricks and swim a certain path at the behest of the mysterious ‘management’ behind the glass? Where is our freedom to exercise this so-called ‘free will’ that we have been promised? More specifically, each of us has a desire in our hearts to fulfil this vocation (leading to true happiness) that we are called to – but we did not choose the vocation that was planted in our hearts, God did. Therefore it seems like we have been programmed to feel and think a certain way that ultimately follows His plan. This is inherent in us and seems to go against the concept of ‘free-will’, does it not?

Maybe so, but I will argue that the idea of a loving God demands that we accept the fact that we each have a specific vocation and purpose, whilst ensuring our ‘free will’ stays intact. In fact, perhaps I can convince you that we do not need a young boy to save us, because we were never in that aquarium in the first place!

Firstly, the idea of a loving God presumes that He cares for us, and wants only the best for us, like all parents do. Yet because He is God, He is the perfect parent and loves perfectly. Take the example of a carpenter who decides he wants to build an object. A careless carpenter would lazily join parts together to make a random object that he has no purpose for (“I’ll think about it when it is done/ along the way”). He might end up with a wooden contraption that can only be described as an ‘avant-garde wood sculpture’ (here I apologise to all art majors I may have offended), with no practical use whatsoever. On the other hand, we have a careful, meticulous carpenter who believes that wood taken from a tree is precious and must be crafted for a purpose. He makes of the oak a nice rocking chair that reflects his craftsmanship – his identity he has imparted into his work. A loving God would be more like the second carpenter than the first. In more ways than we can understand, He would have known our purpose before He made us to be. He would have planned exactly how we would turn out, and being beyond space and time, would have measured everything to perfection such that we would be taken care of for the rest of our lives. This is as revealed in Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Such is the requirement of a loving God who creates for a purpose. Consider this question: Would you rather know that your existence in this world has a meaning and purpose behind it, that you were made for a specific reason by a loving God who cares for you, or would you rather believe that your existence was random, by chance, the outcome of a careless carpenter? I hope this explains the problem of why we are made with a vocation, why each of us has the desire in our heart to fulfil this inner purpose that God has made us for – as St. Irenaeus puts it, “the glory of God is man fully alive.”

This then brings us to the question: can we call this free will? In order to answer this, I will adhere to (since this is written in a catholic context) the concept of freedom that St. John Paul II spoke about in his 1969 book The Acting Person, and reaffirmed in his 1974 paper The Personal Structure of Self Determination and 1993 encyclical,  Veritatis Splendor, . Very quickly, freedom as the Church understands it is always linked to the Truth – in the words of Christ, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32). This philosophy of freedom runs counter to the value-free concept so prevalent in contemporary culture where many people today would say that freedom and truth are wholly separable, since anyone is free to affirm the truth and abide by it, to ignore the truth, or even to deny it and act against it. To better understand this, please visit this page (http://bit.ly/PGzhXK). I am afraid I will not be analysing or challenging his points (perhaps another time). Further, the Saint argues that God willed to leave them [human beings] “in the hands of their own counsel,” so that they would seek their Creator of their own accord and would freely arrive at full and blessed perfection by cleaving to God. (Gaudium et Spes 17;  Veritatis Splendor 38). This is transposed to the political realm by Lord Acton when he says “[freedom] is not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.” Lastly, it does not follow that the whole course of our life is prescribed in advance by an objective order of truth that excludes any originality and creativity on our part. In most situations we are faced with a choice between several competing goods. Just as I am free to eat what I want, or to walk naked in the snow, so too am I at liberty to choose any occupation or walk of life that is honorable in itself and suited to the talents I am endowed with. It would be wrong to imagine that there would be only one ‘right’ course of action. In this way, God invites us to make decisions, albeit in consonance with the moral law, the inescapable Truth.

A good point is raised by Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. on a meditation by St. John Paul II: In this connection one must consider the idea of vocation. God may invite us, without compelling us, to do more than duty requires. Looking at the call of the rich young man at the beginning of  Veritatis Splendor, John Paul II points out the distinction between obedience to the Commandments, which is required for salvation, and a particular vocation, which may enable an individual to attain more perfect freedom. Many spiritual writers hold that the rich young man, whom Jesus urged to give away his goods to the poor, was not strictly required to perform this generous act. He could presumably have saved his soul by continuing to observe the Commandments, as he had been doing for years. Ordinarily, at least, the vocation to the life of the evangelical counsels does not come as a command but as a gracious invitation. Although we cannot achieve perfect freedom without accepting the highest possibilities opened up to us by God’s grace, we are morally free to do all that God does not forbid.

By its nature, the ability to exercise one’s free will is inevitably tied to one’s freedom. God, as merciful as He is, despite creating us with love and for a purpose, has given us the choice to decide whether we want to follow the path He created for us to walk, or to go our own way. In any decision that we make, He in His infinite mercy, blesses us still (“…for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. -Matthew 5:45). Moving beyond that, God in His love sent His Son to die in order to redeem for us eternal life. Yet, He imposes none of His will upon us, and allows us the freedom to make our choices. Although one cannot deny that every action and choice has its consequence, we ultimately have the final say over the choices we make. Therefore, we are indeed given the freedom to exercise our own free will. By no means are we ordered to swim in synchronised movements or jump through hoops – rather, the world is our ocean, and we are already free willy-s.

Comments are welcome. Continue reading “Free Will or Free Willy?”

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How Relevant is God in our world today?

How relevant is God in our world today? I came across this question today – the scenario posed was that people can be good but reject God in their lives. How can one do good and yet be condemned by God at the same time? Furthermore, how are we to convince people of the need for God when there are good, non-Christian people around?

—– 2 Points: (1) God is necessary for goodness to prevail, and (2) God is the necessary answer to the question of fulfilment in human existence. —– To begin, I firmly believe in the necessity and unchanging relevance of God in our world today. The main points that I will have, in response to the above problems posed are firstly, the idea of goodness in the context of the Christian God. Secondly, the need for God in the context of our creation and purpose. Finally, I wish to say that these views are entirely my own opinion, unqualified as I am. Any comments are very welcome.

God is love; He is the source of love, and all goodness comes from love. Without God, can good exist? This would lead to another question, which was thrown up in a debate a few days ago on campus regarding the necessity of God for morality to exist (I will not go there). The short answer is no, because all measure of goodness is given by God, the objective morality. We were all created by God, in His image and likeness, and thus man has in his heart a law written by God – this law that holds man to obediance: to love good and shun evil; our conscience. Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin. In this way, a man who does not know God, or believe in God for that matter, can know what is the right thing to do, and have some knowledge of the good.

However the difference between this man and a man who does know God will be apparent when a moral dilemma is imposed upon them – the guiding principles of an objective morality will show forth in one who is guided by God, whilst the tides of contemporary culture, popular ideologies, and the seemingly practicality of outcomes will lead to a spirit of ‘moral relativism’ in the other. When one does not abide by love, or allows oneself to live according to the immutable laws of God, our actions will surely be according to the shifting sands of the world. To illustrate, perhaps person X would have rejected the idea of homosexual sex or abortion 50 years ago, but put into today’s world be totally for these causes because they seem ‘just’, ‘good’ and ‘practical.’ Yet with such a position, what is ‘goodness’? If we are to accept that an action is good, surely it must be good despite the change in culture, perception and time? In this regard, God is entirely relevant in our lives today – He is the rock and anchor to which we must cling to and recognise in the midst of the ever-changing faces of ‘goodness’ we see in our world today.

Secondly, we must view the need for God in the context of our creation and purpose. This is especially important because everything we do in this life must have a ‘why’ attached to it. To what end and for what purpose are we on this earth? The answer to that question will explain a lot of our innate desires, needs and wants.

In present day and age, we have lost the sense of God in the midst of the noise and distraction – our gadgets and our fancy toys, whilst often championed as pushing the boundaries of human existence, have the tendency to alienate us as a race. We hardly have a minute of silence without a new facebook notification or a tweet from someone. At times, we feel bored and seek new experiences, plugging our lives with activities to fill the void in our hearts. Some identify it as a need for comfort, intimacy and love, seeking then solace in companionship, relationships, and sexual comfort. Jumping from one hurt to another, pushing square pegs into round, God-shaped voids in our hearts, we never seem satiated, never happy or fulfilled. Just what is it that we are looking for?

In looking for solutions, it is always a good place to begin searching by starting from the beginning in order to identify a root cause. We were created by God out of love, a love that is so true it must be shared. God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness, freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength.

The desire for God is written in the human heart because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for. In many ways, throughout history down to the present day, men have given expression to their quest for God in their religious beliefs and behaviour: in their prayers, sacrifices, rituals, meditations, and so forth.

It is perhaps this desire that pushes us daily, but many, because of external influences and contemporary instruments, find no way to identify an answer that fully satisfies. God calls, but we cannot seem to figure out where the phone is in order to answer the call. Because of this, the world feeds us with its ideals and traps us in a vicious, never-ending cycle destined for death and doom. Because of this, God is even more so relevant in our day, as the answer to our longings. Jesus said to the woman at the well, “anyone who drinks this living water will never be thirsty again…Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” As disciples, we are called not to keep this living water in earthern vessels to ourselves, but to spread His word, and share the truth in love that was bestowed upon us. The world is crying out yet again for a saviour, unaware that He already came, and died and rose again for us 2000 years ago.

The world needs God today. Our yearning for happiness is the ultimate and eternal homing device, designed to draw us gently toward our eternal home. Our yearning for happiness is a yearning for union with our Creator. As Augustine pointed out so simply and eloquently, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, Lord.” Wherever men and women yearn for happiness, Christ will be relevant. He alone is the fulfillment and satisfaction of this yearning, and so for every person in every place and time he remains, “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).

just because.

because I would not want to live one moment without knowing you, and would rather die knowing you; because I want my tongue to give you incessant praise, and should I one day be unable to do so by my infirmity, then allow my every breath to give you praise; because my every thought is shaped around giving you my mind, my will, my memory, I want you to occupy every crevice of my being, and fill me up to overflowing; because your joy is my strength, I want my every action to lead to your glorious grace, I want my joy to be complete in you alone, my strength; because you have no hands and no feet, I want my limbs to be at your service, to walk a thousand and one miles if you willed me to, to kneel and prostrate if you willed me to; because everything I have was freely given, and because I have more than I need, indeed, more than most people have, I want you to dispose of it at your good pleasure; because there is nothing I can give that you have not given, and nothing I own is not already yours, do with them as you will; because my eyes are limited in their vision and impairs my perception, I desire that they be wholly fixed upon your wonderful face, straying no further than the light of your glory, whilst the things of this earth frow strangely dim; & lastly, because my precious and fragile heart upon my sleeve knows no master, because it flutters and fidgets and flails at every opportunity, I present it to you, the only one who can quell this restlessness that has been cast upon it, you who can change it, tame it, and own it. 

This, I pray, with my mind, my soul, and my strength,

Amen.

Dear Lord,

You know us better than we know ourselves. The past week of ignatian contemplation has all but revealed that to me. You have shown me things about myself that I did not realise. Only in you can I be made perfect.

Sometimes when accidents happen, we shout to you in anger: “Why Lord? Why does it have to be like this?” Why did A’s mother have to die yesterday, suddenly in the middle of the night? Why does B’s mother have to suffer with stage 5 cancer, tormenting the family of her impending departure? There are so many things beyond our comprehension, and looking at you, our Creator and loving Father, we ask again: “How could you let this happen? Where are you?”

At times like these, it seems you hide your face from us. All around us loom dark clouds of doom; no piercing sunlight through the clouds, no fabled light at the end of this tunnel, no eagle to raise us up. We feel utterly and hopelessly alone. Caught in a world too busy to care, removed from a society too self-absorbed to notice, we feel abandoned, even rejected by humanity in our private moments of anguish.

Yet even if we do not sense you, or hear you, you are there with us. You remind us through your footprints in the sand, when we saw but one set of prints, that you were carrying us all the way while we shouldered our burdens. You remind us, each and every day at mass, that no matter how devastating life may seem, no matter how hostile the world can become, that it hated you first, rejected you first, tortured you first, and left you hanging on the cross – rejected, abandoned, alone. 

At your moment of death, Jesus, you cried out in pain and sorrow like we do: “eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” And through your prayer you give us strength eternal. You were lifted up on the third day, with the promise that we too will be lifted up from our misery. Looking at your body hanging there on the cross, it is a reminder to me that my God suffered first in this world; that my God took on the pains and burdens of this world; that my God too suffered the loss of his friends in this world – Lazarus, for one – and mourned for countless people He met during His mission; and my God too felt the physical, mental and psychological pains of this world. If even God is subject to this, who am I to refuse the cup given to me?

However we are never alone. Sometimes, a certain darkness is needed to see the stars. When B’s mother was diagnosed, the rosary crusaders visited her home daily to pray for her. Within hours of A’s mother’s passing, my youth community back home organised rosary bouquets for her soul and their family, paid them trips and offered much support. He is there in the midst of them. He is there in the Blessed Sacrament. He is there in the pain, and He tells us that it is all part of His altogether perfect plan. 

Perfect plan, we ask. What sort of perfect plan involves death? Through our tear-filled eyes all we can see is pain and gloom, and it is then that we must seek our Blessed Mother’s guidance. Did she not follow Jesus to the cross, when His ‘perfect plan’ to become the Messiah somehow involved a dishonourable death on the cross? Did she not accept the seven sorrows that pierced her heart as she followed Him along Calvary? Did she not wonder, why He allowed Himself to be led, meek and humble, like a lamb to the slaughter? Yet in our Mother was the beautiful seed of faith – a ardent belief that it was all part of the plan. She did not understand; how could she, when all around her were pools of Her very own Son’s blood, and a rabid crowd baying for more? She accepted it in her heart, surrendering all the more to the will of God, as the humble handmaid of the Lord.

In moments of grief, nobody understands our pain like our Mother. On Mothers’ day, let us ask her to continue to intercede for us, that we may have the grace of humble obedience to the will of the Father, that trusting our weary hearts to her she might fill us with the confidence in our Lord. 

Thank you Lord, for the gift of mothers, and the gift of a mother in heaven. In you I trust, in you my soul rejoices forever.

Amen.