We cannot control the behavior of other people. One of the things we briefly touched in last week’s A Mirror Darkly webcast was the question of free will and how that relates to God’s omniscience. In the movie Bruce Almighty, which is obviously fiction, God, as played by Morgan Freeman tells Bruce (played by Jim Carrey) that the one thing you can’t do is make someone love you.
And yet love—for God and others—is the core of the Bible.
But God has, at the very least, chosen to limit himself. I’ve pointed out before a shocking truth that is very clear from the Garden of Eden event between the serpent, Eve and Adam: God would rather we be free than that we be good.
That’s shocking for human beings because—thanks to that event in the garden—we are locked into a binary point of view regarding everything in life: is it good, or is it bad? By our nature, thanks to the choice Adam and Eve made, we are constantly concerned with judging right and wrong. We can’t help it. That’s why we are so obsessed with passing endless laws. Our very nature has become legalistic.
God didn’t warn us against eating from a tree of the knowledge of just evil, but of both good and evil. We weren’t supposed to think about such matters or even know about them; we were instead simply to love one another and God. If everyone focused on bringing happiness to others, on loving others, then we’d always have everything we ever wanted, always be satisfied, always feel complete. We would be in paradise.
But it didn’t go down that way.
Instead, we ate from the cursed tree of the knowledge of good and evil and so we judge everything. We were never intended to become the legalistic obsessives that we have turned into.
Nevertheless, God thought that letting us making a poor choice was better than us being denied the possibility of making a choice at all. All of human history, all the horrors that it has produced: the existence of death, murder, rape, slavery, war, suffering, disease, starvation—every bad and awful thing you can think of—God thought it was worth it for the sake of freedom. Freedom trumps everything, even the life of Jesus, his son, who had to die to fix the mess we made.
The philosopher Gottfried Leibniz argued that given a God that is both powerful as well as good—very good—he would necessarily design a world that would be the best it possibly could be, given the existence of this thing called freedom, the ability of human beings to make choices.
And we know that God made a good choice himself, in giving us choice. All you have to do is ask yourself: would you rather be free, or live in a totalitarian dictatorship? Is the US preferable to North Korea? The old Soviet Union? The Nazi Reich?
Ask your teenager if she wants you to micromanage her life. Can you make your children behave now? How about when they grow up? Can you determine all their choices for them? What music to listen to, what television to watch, which friends to have? Would they like that? Would you really want to be in charge of their lives for the rest of your lives?
In God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, C.S. Lewis wrote:
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
Those who would limit freedom always argue that it is for the greater good: to protect us and to ensure our happiness.
And we know better. We know it won’t work out like that.
The movie The Giver, which came out in 2014 (and is based on a novel of the same name by Lois Lowry), presents a seemingly perfect community without war, pain, or suffering. But it’s not as wonderful as it seems, and a young boy, chosen to learn from an elderly man about the pain and pleasure of the “real” world winds up rebelling against this “paradise.”
Later, as the boy’s friend and love interest is about to be euthanized in order to prevent the contagion of freedom spreading, the Chief Elder, played by Meryl Streep has a conversation with the Giver, played by Jeff Bridges:
The Giver: With love comes faith, with it comes hope.
Chief Elder: Love is just passion that can turn.
The Giver: We can do better.
Chief Elder: It turns into contempt and murder.
The Giver: We could choose better.
Chief Elder: People are weak. People are selfish. When people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong. Every single time.
God knows that we choose wrong. Every single time. But he’d rather that, and the world we now inhabit—than that we should be something other than free.