Free to Say No

If we think we’re free to say no to God, should this influence how we navigate the choppy waters of engaging culturally and politically as Christians?

Most people I know think that we are free to say no to God. Was it C. S. Lewis who spoke of eternal perdition of God’s final, “Thy will be done” spoken to the creature?

Indeed, human freedom of the will (an idea that never gets any airtime in the entire Bible) is a much firmer part of most of my students’ theology than their tentative affirmations of “predestination” (which is affirmed in several places in scripture).

We experience ourselves as free, and that freedom is one that, in our experience, extends to our receptivity to the call of God. And gifted theologians do find helpful ways of marrying freedom and Providence.

While I was reading Barth last week, I was struck by something that, I confess, I cannot find at the moment! (So I may be making this up.)

Barth was talking about God being glorious in God’s freedom. The discussion of God’s glory in freedom shifted for a moment, to claim not only that God is glorious as God acts freely, but that God is glorious as God gives humanity the ability to act freely as well.

God is glorified in his willingness to allow the creature to say no to God.

It made me wonder if we truly believe in the freedom that we say we value so highly. If we believe that God does not want to force compliance or love (for then it would not be love!) then why do we so often see ourselves charged with enforcing compliance to the will, law, or theology of God as we understand it?

It struck me that a people who would not have ourselves compelled should not compel others, but should summon them with love.

All of us are willing to affirm the greatness of Jesus’ words of love:

Do unto others as you would have done unto you.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

But are we able to own up to what we would have done unto ourselves? Will we genuinely acknowledge our desires, our freedoms, our refusal to be compelled, when we are face-to-face with a neighbor who has different desires, yearns to exercise her freedom in a manner differently than we have exercised ours, resists the compulsions of the Jesus story we participate in?

If we insist on our right to say no (or to have said no) to our God, what might that mean for our neighbor who may want that right as well?

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