When I was a kid, I loved choose-your-own adventure novels. Those were the greatest things since sliced bread! I started off each story at the same place as every other reader, but then, at the end of each chapter or section of the story, I was given a choice as to which way I wanted to go. I made my decision, and then my story took on the direction I wanted it to go. I was in control. With each decision I made, I changed the course of my story, and I ended up in a final destination based on the choices I had made. No matter which way I chose, however, the author of the book knew exactly where I was going and how each choice would affect my course. The author didn’t control the choices I made, but he still knew just how things would work out. At the same time, he tried to work everything out for the best, even though some choices simply led to bad endings.
I often see life very much like a choose-your-own-adventure book. God is the wonderful Author of the stories of our lives. He creates us and sets us on a path. But along that path there are infinite choices: some as simple as what to have for breakfast and others as complex as who to marry or which job to take. We don’t see where each choice will take us, but God does. He leaves the choices up to us, and He is willing to guide us if we ask for assistance. But, in the end, our free will leads us through the path life takes.
I’ve read many times about the idea that if free will exists then it is in conflict with an all-knowing God. To me, free will is what makes us so delicately human. It was a gift from God to us, His way of making us like Him, and, as such, it is not in conflict with an omniscient God. You see, God is like the author of those choose-your-own-adventure books, and His ultimate goal is to lead us down the path that leads to faith in Him. He sees the infinite number of choices before us and can play out each one to the very end. Think about it. We make thousands of decisions each day, and each one of those choices adds to the mathematical expansion of the endless possibilities our lives hold.
For instance, in the past five minutes, I decided to change the wording of at least half of these sentences, scratch my nose rather than let it itch, look at the TV screen to see what the kids were watching, check the clock on the wall before remembering that the clock is slow, and type till the end of this sentence before taking my cake out of the oven. Each one of those decisions, no matter how small, affects the path I’m own.
My decision to rewrite things might change the way I appear as an editor, and my decision to check the broken clock instead of the working one might have allowed me the moment I needed to think of a way to end that sentence I was writing. Each possibility multiplies the possible outcomes of how my life might turn out. Thousands times thousands times thousands… choices and paths spanning an infinite number of possibilities that we cannot fathom… but God can.
At the same time, I believe that God sees those paths ahead of us and has tried to place people and ideas and places in our lives to steer us towards the path He knows is the best and that leads to faith in Him. He introduces us to people who might offer a ray of hope in the darkness. He makes our car stall before we wind up in an accident because we decided to stay up late the night before and overslept and were about to speed. He moves our job to a city with more churches and puts us in a cubicle next to someone with enormous faith. He tries to steer us and give us every opportunity to turn to Him. But, in the end, the choice is ours.
We make the choices that ultimately steer the course of our books (our lives), no matter how much the Lord wants that path to lead to Him.
I know there are millions of people who have never heard of Christ. I know that there are millions of people who don’t believe in Him even after hearing about Him. But I truly believe that God loves each of us and wants a relationship with each of us. He created us just for the pleasure of knowing us, and He tries very hard for each of us to find the path that leads to Him.
I know many people will disagree. They will say that if God knows every path then He knows the one path we will take. I can see how that thinking could come into play. But, again, I think the choices are still ours. God knows what will happen, but He knows not only what will happen based on the decisions we make, but what could have happened based on the decisions we didn’t make. I truly believe that He tries all He can on each possible path to direct us back to the best path–the path that leads to faith in Him–but sometimes He has to let us choose not to follow Him, no matter how much it pains Him.
I also know that this idea of free will and the choices being ours seems to imply that bad things happen to good people because we choose them. I won’t say this isn’t always so. I look back at my life, and plenty of bad things that have happened to me could have been avoided by simple changes I could have made. Not every bad thing, mind you, but plenty of bad situations came about by my bad choices. And, I think if we’re honest, we can admit that we all do that from time to time: look back and see what we should have done or could have done.
But at the same time, I think that evil is just simply a part of this world that we live in. Evil is in the world and of the world, and our lives sometimes just must be lived through the evil, right smack in the middle of it with Satan throwing things at us from every angle possible to keep us from following that “best path” that God knows is there. I don’t know why God allows some paths to be harder than others even when there doesn’t seem to be a choice about how hard it may be, but I know that God never tells us in the Bible that life will be easy. In fact, He warns Christians that it will be very hard.
In the end, I think that God is just so infinite that the limitlessness of His knowledge and love are amazing. I’ve never been a huge math fan, but I have to tell you that the thought of all those paths that He knows about from beginning to end gives me the chills. I can’t really fathom it all, but He can.