Life in the Afternoon - Part 9 - Friendship and Free will

Life in the Afternoon - much more than a story of soaring - and reflections of that on my life - by P.K.Odendaal. 23 October 2011.

Part 9 - Morality, Free Will and Friendship.

Firstly, a not so short digression to introduce you to Morality and Free Will.
Every new Christian meets up with Mr. Legality from the town of Morality straight away, and every new Christian falls for the goods he sells. He is such a gentleman with such good manners and intentions. In fact - you will find no trace of sin in him, because he leads the perfect life. He lives according to a system of rigid moral and ethical rules and laws, and he thinks that his law abiding life will ultimately be awarded with the highest honours in Heaven, but what makes him really impressive, is the pretentious semblance of godliness he wears on his face.
It was thus only natural that I would buy his goods - at great price.
I do not judge people who live godly lives, and will commend them for it and support them in their quest for holiness, but this gentleman is such an impostor that we do not recognise him easily. Each one of us who have not received the saving and cleansing Grace of God, imitates him. I was so used to putting up a straight face that I did not realise the hypocrisy in my own life.
When I got converted, I knew I had to lead a pure, clean and holy life of godliness, a lifestyle I feigned, whilst my whole nature objected and betrayed me at every opportunity and whilst I looked the other way and pretended not to see.
This morality cuts two ways.
In the first place I pretended what I was not, and in the second place I hoped that I could accumulate a lot of holy points to enter the gates of heaven on my good behaviour - much like a prisoner who pitches for parole.
And this is the conflict that new Christians live with and which they may not realise at first. I even have an atheist friend who leads such a blameless ‘holy’ life. It is also the excuse many lukewarm Christians will actually use to enter the gates of Heaven. They will tell God how many times they went to Church, how many times they read their Bible and how many good deeds they did - it is these people who will claim their place in heaven:
Luk 13:26  Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. v:27  But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.
I knew these verses very well when I got converted and I knew my chances of entering the Gates of Heaven were very slim indeed.
This vicious circle goes like this: I get converted, change my life and put up a countenance of godliness for the sake of appreciation that God saved me from sin. After a time I forget why I am living this morally good life, and pride myself in doing God's will, which must now give me a free ticket to Heaven.
I realised quite soon that I could do nothing in myself which could please God and that was a large leap in the spirit although it was quite humbling and a disillusionment, but so was most of the things I learned from God.
Rom 7:18  For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. v:19  For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. v:20  Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. v:21  I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. v:22  For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: v:23  But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. v:24  O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
I do not think I can do better than to quote from a dialogue by Raymond Smullyan - a fictional but insightful dialogue between God and a Mortal :
Mortal :   And therefore, O God, I pray thee, if thou hast one ounce of mercy for this thy suffering creature, absolve me of having to have free will.
God :       You reject the greatest gift I have given thee.
Mortal :   How can you call that which was forced on me a gift? I have free will, but not of my own choice. I have never freely chosen to have free will. I have to have free will whether I like it or not.
God :       Why would you wish not to have free will?
Mortal :   Because free will means moral responsibility, and moral responsibility is more than I can bear?
God :       Why do you find moral responsibility so unbearable?
Mortal :   Why? I honestly can't analyse why; all I know is that I do.
God :       All right, in that case suppose I absolve you from all moral responsibility, but leave you still with free will. Will this be satisfactory?
Mortal (after a pause):   No, I am afraid not.
God:        Ah, just as I thought! So moral responsibility is not the only aspect of free will to which you object. What else about free will is bothering you?
Mortal:    With free will I am capable of sinning, and I don't want to sin.
God:        If you don't want to sin, then why do you?
Mortal:    Good God! I don't know why I sin. I just do. Evil temptations come along, and try as I can, I cannot resist them.
God:        If it is really true that you cannot resist them, then you are not sinning of your own free will and hence (at least according to me) not sinning at all.
Mortal:    No, no! I keep feeling that if only I tried harder I could avoid sinning. I understand that the will is infinite. If one wholeheartedly wills not to sin, then one won't.
God:        Well, now, you should know. Do you try as hard as you can to avoid sinning or don't you.
Mortal:    I honestly don't know. At the time, I feel I am trying as hard as I can, but in retrospect, I am worried that maybe I didn't.
God:        So in other words, you don't really know whether or not you have been sinning at all!
Mortal:    Of course this possibility is open, but maybe I have been sinning, and this thought is what so frightens me.
God:        Why does the thought of sinning frighten you?
Mortal:    I don't know why! For one thing, you do have a reputation of meting out rather gruesome punishments in the afterlife!
God:        Oh, that's what's bothering you! Why didn't you say so in the first place instead of all this peripheral talk about free will and responsibility? Why didn't you simply request me not to punish you for any of your sins?
Mortal:    I think I am realistic enough to know that you would hardly grant such a request!
God:        You don't say! You have a realistic knowledge of what requests I will grant, eh? Well, I'll tell you what I am going to do. I will grant you a very, very special dispensation to sin as much as you like, and I give you my divine word of honour that I will never punish you for it in the least. Agreed?
Mortal (in great terror):  No, no, don't do that!
God:       Why not? Don't you trust my divine word?
Mortal:    Of course I do! But don't you see, I don't want to sin! I have an utter abhorrence of sinning, quite apart from any punishments it may entail.
God:        In that case, I'll go you one better. I'll remove your abhorrence of sinning. Here is a magic pill! Just swallow it, and you will lose all abhorrence of sinning. You will joyfully and merrily sin away, you will have no regrets, no abhorrence and I promise you that you will never be punished by me, or yourself, or by any source whatsoever. You will be blissful for all eternity. So here is the pill!
Mortal:    No, no!
God:               Are you not being irrational? I am even removing your abhorrence of sin, which is your last obstacle.
Mortal:    I still won't take it!
God:       Why not?
Mortal:    I believe that the pill will indeed remove my further abhorrence for sin, but my present abhorrence is enough to prevent me from being willing to take it.
God:        I command you to take it!
Mortal:    I refuse!
God:       What, you refuse of your own free will?
Mortal:    Yes!
God:        So it seems that your free will comes in pretty handy, doesn't it?
Mortal:    I don't understand!
God:               Are you not glad now that you have free will to refuse such a ghastly offer? How would you like it if I forced you to take this pill, whether you wanted it or not?
Mortal:    No, no, please don't!
God:       Of course I won't. I'm just trying to illustrate a point. All right, let me put it this way. Instead of forcing you to take the pill, suppose I grant your original prayer of removing your free will - but with the understanding that the moment you are no longer free, then you will take the pill.
Mortal:    Once my will is gone, how could I possibly choose to take the pill?
God:       I did not say you would choose it. I merely said that you would take it. You would act, let us say, according to purely deterministic laws which are such that you would as a matter of fact take it.
Mortal:    I still refuse!
God:       So you refuse my offer to remove your free will. This is rather different from your original prayer, isn't it?
Mortal:    Now I see what you are up to. Your argument is ingenious, but I'm not sure it is really correct. There are some points we will have to go over again.
... read the rest yourself - from : The Mind's I by Hofstadter and Dennett.
I conclude this section with the words from 'The Pilgrims Progress' by John Bunyan :
I know what I would obtain (from the cross); it is ease for my heavy burden.
Worldly Wiseman:      
But why wilt thou seek for ease this way, seeing so many dangers attend it? Especially, since I could direct thee to the obtaining of what thou desirest, without the dangers that thou in this way wilt run thyself into; yea, and the remedy is at hand. Besides, I will add, that instead of those dangers, thou shalt meet with much safety, friendship and content.
Pray Sir, open this secret to me.
Worldly Wiseman:      
Why, in yonder village called Morality, dwells a very judicious gentleman whose name is Legality, and a man of very good name, that has skill to help men off with such burdens as thine are from their shoulders; yea, to my knowledge he hath done a great deal this way; ay, and besides, he hath skill to cure those that are somewhat crazed in their wits with their burdens.
What a friend.
It was a very strange and difficult process to unlearn all I had learned in the Dutch Reformed Church. It got so bad that I ultimately realised that all I learned was wrong and I became used to doing and believing all the opposite things  which that Church taught me, knowing that it would be right. There are, of course, righteous people in that Church as well who serve God with all their might, but it did not work for a rebel like me.
I wanted God as a friend, not as a God, although I did not know at that stage that God also wanted me as a friend. Having God as a Supervisor or Policeman shouting at my every act, omission and transgression, was too much like hostel life to me. I had had enough of that for a lifetime. My inner being felt that God might just be a God who could understand a human being and be friends with one - as my grandmother had taught me.
And that happened quite a few years later.
I was serving God in a strictly Pentecostal Church, where I learned a lot about God and His Holy Spirit, how the Holy Spirit worked, how I could discern Him, and how I could practise the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It was a learning school I had never thought existed, but it was excellent and insightful and I blossomed.
And then one day I had a conversation with God.
Three of us, including the atheist, flew, with my aircraft, to the Bazaruto Archipelago in Mozambique for business and then we came upon Paradise Island unexpectedly. It was the most beautiful Island I had ever seen and the sand and the aquatic life was phenomenal. We met a local fishing canoe with very poor indigenous people on board who asked us for cigarettes and matches. One of us had the necessary goods and in return they gave us one of their freshly caught crayfish.
The crayfish you get in that sea is very large and beautiful - about two metres long and it has the most beautiful green, blue and beige colours. So we chucked it into one corner of our boat.
After about half an hour of snorkelling I got tired, not being able to draw enough breath from the restricted orifice of my snorkel, and I lied down on a bunk of the boat to dry out, inadvertently with my head turned towards the crayfish. As I stared at the crayfish, I started to talk to God and told Him how smart and ingenious and beautiful and pristine he made the earth, the universe and all the living creatures. And then, suddenly, God started to speak to me; how, I still cannot fathom. He said that I am right, what he created was beautiful, but the most wonderful thing for Him was to go down to Paradise (and Paradise Island - my own thought) every evening to talk to Adam and Eve.
Suddenly, I came to my full senses again, not knowing that I was in a sort of  reverie for some time. I looked at my watch and saw that I have been in this reverie for thirty minutes which seemed to me like three minutes. I also noticed that it was just past ten o'clock on a Sunday morning - the exact time God usually spoke through His Holy Spirit to us in Church. That is no coincidence - come what may.
I suddenly realised that God wanted to be my friend - an almost blasphemous thought according to the conventional wisdom of my old Church, but I knew that I needed to pursue it - much like Samuel went to Eli to ask whether he called.
In engineering and scientific terms, I knew exactly how to deal with this. I would start from first principles and axioms and then work my way up by way of already proven theorems and physical laws to arrive at a final solution, and so I set off on a similar route, a process I have used many times before successfully. I first map the problem to a practical, scientific or technical basis or even a practical real life situation, and then apply the same type of solutions to this spiritual domain. Mine was not a step of faith - it was an intellectual journey as I said previously.
I started off with my children as a practical example to guide me on how I should go about becoming a friend of God.
When my children left high school, I thought that they were at a stage where they could actually understand what friendship means and entails. I then decided that I would like to become their friend rather than their father, and I fortunately also realised that I cannot be both. I needed to choose between these two.
If I remained being both, I could and I would misuse my authority as father to influence some outcome of our friendship or misuse our friendship to consolidate my father role, which, by this time, has already become marginal due to my children who thought they were very clever. They say the only person more clever than a second year student is a first year student.
This would be detrimental to both my roles. In the end I realised that if I wanted to be their friend, I had to give up all my authority, meaning that they could blame me, fight with me, deride me, criticise me, reject me, misuse me and so on - everything a friend usually does or may do ... and I was prepared for that. I fully realised that my authority over them would be gone forever.
And that was the correct thing to do - today I am their best friend.
So, why can't I apply this principle to my friendship with God. The reason is that in this case God has the authority and it would be up to Him to relinquish that.
I studied scripture and came to the following sobering thoughts:
1.     God gave up all his authority (dominion) over the earth, in order to be friends with Adam and Eve, regardless of whether they would trade it for an apple or use it wisely.
2.     Scripture says:
        Exo 33:11 And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.
        Jas 2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
        Joh 15:14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
3.     I cannot recall of any instance in which God used His authority or coerced me into doing something, or prevailed on me, or influenced my thoughts unilaterally in my relationship with Him ... Yes ... He was all along prepared to give off all authority, if I was prepared to become His friend;  why did I never realise this?
4.     When He wanted to come to Earth to save mankind, He did not once use His authority to let us know that He was the Creator of Heaven and Earth - He preferred a manger as His mansion.
5.     If God wanted a friend without a free will - one he had authority over- he could have chosen some from amongst His angels, but He did not. He gave us free will because He wanted us to be His friends. In fact, he went so far as to make us in His image to be ON PAR with Him. Well... that is laying down authority big time. If you doubt what I say, read:
        Rev 5:10  And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
        Obviously he cannot give us the whole tooty and put us in the shoes of one of His Arch Angels, Lucifer, who tried to become higher than God - we will not start that over again:
        Isa 14:12  How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! v:13  For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: v:14  I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
So, today I have this best friend, who has never failed me, and whom I may at times argue with, or tell Him I am unhappy with what he is doing. And I am free to do something for Him as well, and listen to Him when He is unhappy with me - an occurrence which He often has reason to do - but He does it quietly and diplomatically and lovingly and earnestly - like a very good friend should.
I can appreciate a true friend and so can you - and this inspired me to start the internet ministry called 'What a Friend' - which you can visit here:
I must close this part with the words of that beautiful song my grandmother taught me, so that it can infiltrate and saturate my whole body, mind and soul: (it is best if you listen to the version which is being sung by Larry Ford)

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Saviour, still our refuge—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.

Blessed Saviour, Thou hast promised
Thou wilt all our burdens bear;
May we ever, Lord, be bringing
All to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright, unclouded,
There will be no need for prayer—
Rapture, praise, and endless worship
Will be our sweet portion there.


Next time - Part 10 - Faith and the Blessed Assurance.