I am deeply grieved today as I write. And the reason is this: at this very moment, people are turning away from God and sinking into despair, their faith in shambles, bitterness and grief clutching at their chest, because they don’t understand – or perhaps want to accept – two simple words:
Two short words. Easily defined. Even the theology behind them can be stated in words of single syllables:
Free will means I can choose what I want to do.
So where does the doubt come in? The despair? The broken faith? The bitterness? The grief?
It comes here:
Suppose you have a friend or family member who is making choices that are wrecking his or her life. Maybe it’s drugs. Or alcohol. Promiscuity. Pornography. Wanton spending. Staying in an abusive relationship. The list goes on and on. The bottom line is this: their life is in chaos, they are screaming out in agony, they may actually be on the short road to death and even hell, and you love them with all your heart.
What do you do? You advise, you plead, you intervene, you act. And you pray.
And then … nothing happens. Nothing changes. The pain in the other person’s life just goes on and on and on.
And you pray.
Still nothing happens. Nothing changes. The pain is worse than ever.
And you pray.
And … nothing … changes.
Then comes the day when you stop praying. When the despair sets in. When the doubt that was creeping at the edges of your consciousness springs into full bloom.
You find yourself doubting God’s love. His power. Even his existence.
You bitterly resign yourself to “whatever he wants.”
Your entire spirit collapses within.
And maybe, you even hate God.
Because God didn’t do what you wanted him to do. Because God didn’t save your loved one. Because God didn’t work a miracle in the other person’s life.
And surely, that would have been for God’s glory and the other person’s good, wouldn’t it? Your prayer wasn’t selfish. It wasn’t focused on you. All you ever wanted was for the other person to be saved, to be happy, and to give God the glory for a beautifully changed life – delivered from all the pain and garbage they had been experiencing.
What was wrong with that?
Here’s the answer:
There is nothing wrong with wanting those things. That is, indeed, what God wants, too. He doesn’t want your friend or your family member to be caught in the web of pain. He longs to deliver them.
But here’s the catch:
We’re talking here about a loved one whose pain is the direct result of the choices they are making. This isn’t about someone in pain because (for instance) they have cancer and God has not brought healing. A person with cancer didn’t choose his or her illness in any way. Today, we’re talking about people who are making poor, unwise, or sinful choices that are directly impacting their lives in a negative way.
And because we are talking about choices, we are talking about free will. And free will is always, forever, and exactly that:
That means … are you ready? … God can’t change their life unless they choose to let him do so.
God … can’t?
Correct. God can’t. Because that is the nature of the gift of free will. When God gave us free will, he gave it to us with no strings attached: nothing and no one, not God himself, can impose their will on us. We are truly free to choose. All the time. In every circumstance. Period.
But, you say, God is all-powerful!
Correct again. God is all-powerful. But he also obeys his own rules. Because he gave us free will, he limits his power in that respect. He will not use his power to overcome our free will. Otherwise, free will would no longer be free.
Let’s bring this home:
When a friend or family member is choosing a destructive path in their life, you can pray that God would do everything that is within his sovereign power to influence, guide, and direct them toward repentance and healing. That might mean that:
- God would pour out his grace on them.
- God would entreat them constantly through his Spirit.
- God would remove the veils of deception from their mind.
- God would give you and others words that would speak to their heart.
- God would order circumstances to influence them.
- God would convict them concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment.
- God would place a yearning for himself in their souls.
And so much more! God is all-powerful – and all these things are well within his power! You can therefore pray for all these things and look for them in the person’s life. I am sure you will see God moving in these ways.
But there is one thing that you must remember at all times: God can do and will do all these things when you pray. But he cannot do one thing: he cannot force them to change their life.
God can pour out his grace, his love, his power, and his truth on the person: but they can still choose to refuse his grace, ignore his love, disparage his power, and spit on his truth.
Or, they can choose to respond to his grace, accept his love, delight in his power, and embrace his truth.
It is their choice. It is not God’s choice. It has everything to do with them. It has nothing to do with God.
That is the nature of free will. We are truly free. We can freely choose evil and hurt and pain and folly, just as we can freely choose good and healing and joy and wisdom.
So if today you feel like turning away from God, if you are doubting your faith, if you are in despair because God hasn’t answered your prayers in saving your loved one from a destructive path, or if you’ve already turned your back on God … remember this. God hasn’t failed you, nor them. He is doing everything he can to speak into their lives.
I know it hurts. I know you are grieving and in pain. I know you are anxious for them. It is right to feel all those things, because you love them. And though you may not realize it, God feels all that, too – much more than you ever can. He loves the person you are praying for with all his infinite love … the love that brought Jesus to Calvary.
But we are free. We are always free to choose our way.
Therefore, the final choice to change is, and must be, their own.
© 2009 Paula Marolewski, www.SinkYourRoots.com