Free will

Recovering Calvinist/Reformed folks will understand why I love “Freewill” by Rush so much.  Or if prog rock isn’t your thing, you might at least understand why I love the lyrics, posted after the jump.

A planet of play things
We dance on the strings
Of powers we cannot perceive

The song gets at one of many issues I have with Reformed understandings of divine will: they’re often used to excuse apathy or enable abuse.  I can’t count how many conversations I’ve had with Reformed folks where some sort of significant personal trial – theirs, or someone else’s – has been explained away with “God is sovereign.”  Whatever horrible things might have been done to you, they were just part of God’s will, and you need to “trust in his good plan” (which often means: “get over it, and stop complaining”).  The implications of claiming that every awful thing that’s ever happened was preordained by God are staggering, and stomach-turning.  Even the sexual abuse of children is claimed to be part of God’s sovereign plan (trigger warning).

If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice

It’s a callous and disgusting philosophy, used not only to rationalize personal suffering and abuse, but also to minimize horrific social injustices and avoid making any serious effort to address them or even think about them.  Poor people are just meant to be poor, you see.  God has “his” reasons.  Better left in God’s hands, mysterious ways, etc.  But like the song says – “leaving it in God’s hands” is still making a choice.  It’s making a choice to do nothing, and effectively saying that it’s not worth making the effort to do something about injustice and suffering.

All preordained
A prisoner in chains
A victim of venomous fate

All too often divine sovereignty is used not only as an excuse for inaction, but as an active defense of abuse. Women married to men who abuse them or their children are told that it’s against God’s will for them to divorce or even live separately from their husbands; in some cases they’re even reprimanded for even bringing the abuse to someone’s attention, because this is “disrespectful” of their husbands.  I’ve personally experienced my parents telling me that even if they were totally wrong in their behavior towards me (which in many cases was emotionally and verbally abusive), God had made them my parents, so it was God’s will for me to submit to whatever they thought was best, and without complaint – complaining would mean I was saying God had made a mistake in having them be my parents.  And obviously, God doesn’t make mistakes.

You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose freewill

I’m done with worrying about divine plans, done trying to line my life up with the whims of a God made up by humans, done being told that God wants me to accept, or forgive, every abuse or indignity.  I choose free will.

Freewill, Rush

There are those who think that life has nothing left to chance
A host of holy horrors to direct our aimless dance

A planet of play things
We dance on the strings
Of powers we cannot perceive
The stars aren’t aligned
Or the gods are maligned.
Blame is better to give than receive

[Chorus:]
You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose freewill

There are those who think
That they were dealt a losing hand
The cards were stacked against them
They weren’t born in Lotusland

All preordained
A prisoner in chains
A victim of venomous fate
Kicked in the face
You can’t pray for a place
In heaven’s unearthly estate

[Chorus]

Each of us
A cell of awareness
Imperfect and incomplete
Genetic blends
With uncertain ends
On a fortune hunt that’s far too fleet

[Chorus]

(source)

3 Comments

  1. Sorry I haven’t been commenting very often; I’m in a bit of a faith crisis and haven’t been able to say much lately.

    I had a friend who told me that a woman in her church died to show her how she wasn’t right with God. The arrogance of that astounded me, and it also made me realize something – in all the “everything happens for a reason/is predetermined” ideas, I have yet to meet a person who believed that they ever suffered for the purpose of someone else. I’ve only seen it as a self-centered belief system: everything that happens to me is for my sake, everything that happens to others is for my sake. Everything that happens to others that *isn’t* for my sake I can explain away in a rationale that makes *me* feel better.

    I’m not going to even touch that thing on sexual abuse being part of God’s sovereign plan because I’ve heard it too much and it makes me sick. “If you would just accept it as God’s purpose for your life, you would be happy.” The subtle force of Christian says forgive, says forgiveness will make everything better (when it really is just to silence you so everyone can forget it) says that because everyone is sinners, you deserved no better. I saw a comment once somewhere that I thought pegged Christianity very well – that Christians are so vocally opposed and willing to stand against things like premarital sex and homosexuality – both of which are consensual – and yet fall silent on issues like rape and sexual abuse. There’s something broken and backwards about that.

    I’ve decided this – I will not worship a God that does not give us free will. But if he did not give free will, then he’s the one that designed me not to worship him in the first place. In which case, it’s his fault anyway.

    • Sorry to hear you’re having a crisis! It’s good to hear from you again, though :)

      I had a friend who told me that a woman in her church died to show her how she wasn’t right with God.
      Wow. That is really, truly horrible. It’s bad enough to think something like that, but to think nothing of sharing it with someone else . . . wow. You’re right that it’s ultimately a self-centered theology. When there were the huge fires that required evacuations in San Diego a few years back, none of the homes belonging to members of the SGM church there burned down or even had any damage. Of course the interpretation of this was that God had graciously “spared” the church members and giving them an opportunity to “show the love of Christ” to their hurting neighbors. It was a stunningly self-absorbed and callous way of looking at things, given that lots of people lost their homes. Guess it was ok if it leads to an opportunity to witness! Gag.

      I saw a comment once somewhere that I thought pegged Christianity very well – that Christians are so vocally opposed and willing to stand against things like premarital sex and homosexuality – both of which are consensual – and yet fall silent on issues like rape and sexual abuse. There’s something broken and backwards about that.
      That’s very true. Shows you where their priorities lie.

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