Very Big Questions

Photo cred: John Mark Smith

My parents made a (potentially) huge mistake when I was 16 and my brother was 18; they left town and trusted us to stay home to watch the house and the dog. Technically, we did both (as did the scores of our friends who were in attendance at the raucous house party we threw…sorry, Mom and Dad. Sorry, too, for the burns and knicks in the kitchen table. Super long story).

A group of my closest girlfriends and I were sitting outside on the deck when I raised a question. Erin Rodman, my oldest friend, said, “Welp, it’s never a no-brainer when Larissa is around.”

Let me quickly disabuse you of the notion that I am hinting around at the fact that I am brilliant in any sense of the word. The truth is that I cannot recall a single moment in which I was the smartest person in any given room. To say that I am not the brightest bulb in the chandelier is a generous understatement. This is not false humility, but fact.

That said, I did inherit my mother’s penchant for asking BIG QUESTIONS. And there has been a really big question on my mind for as long as I can recall.

WHERE IS THE LINE BETWEEN GOD’S MIGHTY SOVEREIGNTY AND OUR FREE WILL?

I have the exceptional good fortune of having access to a group of incredibly astute humans I refer to affectionately as “The God Squad.” These people have been deep in The Word to the point of earning PhDs from places like Duke University. So, when in doubt…shout it out. I did just that.

“Kindly fill in this Venn diagram for me. Note that total sovereignty is on the left while free will is on the right.”

The responses were endlessly interesting and thought-provoking and yet no two looked anything alike. Even my husband and I didn’t see things through the same lens, despite the fact that we are typically aligned.

I had to wonder how this was possible. How can we all be reading the same book and coming out with such vastly different interpretations? I suppose this is the beauty of The Bible; it is a living, breathing book of 66 chapters that requires an unrivaled level of discernment.

Because the Good Book never comes right out and answers the question at hand, we are all left to our own devices. I have spent nearly 2 straight years pondering this question alone and I would like to share what I have come up with (NOT because I think I am right but because I am curious to hear what others have to say about the matter).

In the book of Genesis, we learn that Adam and Eve were in perfect synchronization with the LORD. The instant that apple was bitten into, everything changed. We were separated from The Father and given over to our own fleshly desires. Free will reigned and things have never been the same since.

But what does that MEAN?

To me, it means that we were tricked by the snake/prince of this world into grabbing hold of our own will. It means that we have the capacity to exist in a state of complete and total self-determination. It means disaster often reigns.

So if a child contracts cancer, is that God? When our loved one dies in a fiery car crash caused by a drunk driver, is Our Heavenly Father part of that equation?

What about when we win the lottery? Marry the love of our life? Earn a full scholarship to college. Is that His handiwork or ours? Or an indeterminate hybrid?

The following is my personal opinion based on my own research of the Holy Bible. I do not proclaim to be “right” nor to have any special insight into the meaning of The Word. I invite feedback and look forward to it helping me grow in my understanding of scripture and in my relationship with my Awesome Dad.

Here goes…

The LORD has both a perfect will and a permissive will.

In my humble opinion, He offers us full agency over our lives and would love nothing more than to have us decline it in lieu of seeking Him.

He invites us to gather close to Him and to seek Him. He asks us to open our eyes and ears and hearts and spirits to Him. But He is an almighty gentleman; He does not force Himself upon any one of us. The more time we spend in His word and in prayer and reflection, the closer we can come to knowing and living in His perfect will.

I have to believe that it breaks His heart to watch us making poor choices. When we cheat on the test or get behind the wheel after drinking one too many margaritas or allow ourselves to be enticed into an emotional affair or “forget” to claim our salaries with the IRS, He allows it. But it hurts Him because He has taught us better. He sent His son here to earth to dwell among us so that we could see for ourselves what his gentle and lowly heart were all about and to set a perfect example for how to conduct ourselves in every possible situation.

I don’t know about you, but I have always preferred that my friends CHOOSE me (sorry, family members, y’all are stuck) rather than be FORCED to love and accept me. My Creator must feel similarly; after all, I was made in His image, wasn’t I?

For this reason, I do not blame God for any of the misfortunes I have personally experienced. It isn’t His fault nor His doing. It is His permissive will, which was “earned” in the Garden of Eden thousands of years ago. (Speaking of “earning,” I think Romans 6:23 encapsulates the miracle of Christianity in a matter of 7 words).

I have found that the closer to Him I get, the more I can make sense of the trauma and the heartbreak… the more I can absorb and believe His promise that all things are intended for our good.

So, I invite your commentary. I ask that it be kind and gentle and offered with the intent to help… just as Jesus would have done.

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