Since humans began to think and reason, they have tried to gain more control over their lives. Whether you believe this came about as a result of an evolutionary process or the actions of a higher power, human beings are unique life forms. We have the capacity to change ourselves and our environment, at least up to a point.
The big questions are what do we change, how do we change and how much can we change? Philosophers and theologians have grappled with these questions for millennia. Since the Enlightenment, scientists and humanists have joined them in the search for answers. And, indeed they have discovered some answers. Today we know quite a bit about human behavior. We know that genes and body chemistry greatly determine who we are as well as what, how and how much we can change. We have more understanding about the impact of our environment in determining who we are and what we are capable of becoming.
Yet there remains significant disagreement with regard to exactly “what” we can change, “how” we can change and “how much” we can change. How much of our life is determined? To what extent are we destined to live a certain life? Do we have free will and, if so, to what extent? For theologians the disagreements revolve around God’s sovereignty vs human free will. For the scientists and humanists it’s a question of physics, biology and environment vs free will.
So do we have free will and, if so, to what extent does it matter? As a Christian, I believe that God is the creator of all that exists and I believe that he is indeed sovereign. In the end, His Will shall be done. But, I also believe that he gave human beings a measure of free will. Certainly enough to make us accountable for where we will spend eternity. Yet I must admit that my salvation is not of my own doing. It is by God’s grace, a gift which I do not merit. But while it may not be of my "doing"; is it of my "choosing"?
Still there are those “strings” that pull us forward or hold us back. Ties that bind and ties that are loose. Our lives are very much a product of our genes and the choices of our ancestors whose lives were also a product of their genes and those who went before them. We are shaped not only by who and what we are but also by what we experience. We don’t pick our parents, where we are born or how we grow up. If as a child you were well-loved and well-fed, that was not of your doing...or choosing.
If you have a good education, how much credit do you deserve? You might argue that you studied, you applied yourself, you earned it. But where did the educational opportunity come from? Why do you have the ability and the will to study and learn? Why do some seize the opportunity and others do not?
For the Christian who has come to the faith and found salvation, how and why did that happen? And why does it happen for some and not others? Does God speak to everyone in the same voice? Why do some hear and others do not? Why are some given so many opportunities to respond and others are not? And why does anyone respond at all?
How much free will do we really have? It’s a question that remains unanswered and may very well be unanswerable. We may agree that in this life we must play the cards we are dealt? But we’ll never fully know why we were dealt a particular hand. And how we ultimately play those cards is a mystery. Do we play as we choose or are the plays chosen for us?
"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am known." - 1 Corinthians 13:12