Free Will: The Choice to Live or Die...

Why do we do what is loathsome to us, repelled and reviled by our actions even as we commit them?
by Suze Forster | Source: Catholic.net

At the other sickening end of the pendulum, we fail to do the very things we know we should and want to. How did the human condition come to be split so evenly down the middle, subjecting us to unrelenting internal conflict, rendering us a battleground for the agents of evil and the warriors of the Lamb? More than this, can we even influence the outcome of the war? And if we can – how?

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We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:14-25)

These passages can be summed up in the simple but well-known phrase: the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Everyone has heard it at one time or another, and almost everyone has felt its thorny barbs deeply puncture the protective membrane of our souls and tear at the hallowed substance within. It can be by virtue of addiction – the inability to turn aside from gluttony or harmful chemical substances. It can be by virtue of sexual indiscretions – the compulsion to gratify carnal urges and violate a sacred relationship or a vow. It can be by virtue of violence - the inability or unwillingness to be resolve conflict without brutality. Whatever weakness of the flesh, it seems almost as intrinsically bound in and indivisible from the spirit as it is utterly divorced from it. It is in fact the palpable manifestation of the unseen turbulence at its root.

We tend to grossly underestimate the powers at work within us, for while we are subject to the irresistible lure of sin and the proclivity to sin following that first great Original Sin, we assume that only our own weakness is to blame for the transgressions we commit. To some extent this is true, for we are all accountable for our deeds – for every thought and word, even. To say that it is purely the fault of forces outside ourselves and beyond our control that cause us to sin is neither true (for God so loved us He granted us free will – freedom of choice) nor accurate, for the fact that we have the ability to overcome evil influences and tendencies negates the argument that we are mere marionettes of an overwhelming law and lord of evil. But we are guilty of forgetting, to the detriment of out ability to fully and cogently combat sin, to address the reality that our minds and bodies are a battlefield and the combatants are Satan and his demons and the angels of light of the Almighty God.

The singular weapon that can be brought to bear in this battle is the very thing that brought about our original downfall in the first place – free will. Choice. Adam and Eve chose disobedience to God and condemned Man to sinfulness and estrangement from our Creator. Thought the spirit, that of God’s which is incontestably holy and that of our own which has potential and capacity for holiness, we can choose obedience and restore balance to mind and body, a balance that was tipped and toppled from its perfect apex in the Garden of Eden, and turn the tide of the war. By making atonement in the act of living by the loving counsel of our Saviour as laid out for us in the Living Word, Satan and his singular objective to bring about the ruination and absolute undoing of every living soul is undermined, dismantled, rendered impotent by the astonishingly incontrovertible weapon of choice – free will. Urge is replaced with reason and faith. Impulse is first harnessed and then replaced by informed wisdom. Compulsion is incinerated by spiritual intelligence. Obsession is defeated by power of the Holy Spirit – a power that can only be animated when a choice – a choice – is made to embrace this most holy ghost and grant it the consent to transform and strengthen us from within.

We commonly overlook evil that is not evident or demonstrable. We tend to associate Satan and sin and evil only with bald-faced acts of violence and blood-letting – terrorism, serial killings, genocide. Things of fact, things documented and verified, things evident.

But what about the wars within? What about things of the spirit – of the soul – that cannot be seen with the eye or perceived by the temporal senses? Are they any less real? Are they in fact more real? Is there a middle ground?

Demon possession could be said to be the happy union of a spiritual battle taking place in an earthly environment. It is documented both in the bible and down through the ages, even into our ‘modern’ age of ‘enlightenment’ and is the extreme and conspicuous form of this supernatural battle played out on a temporal landscape. But it is rare and supremacy of modern day intellectual ‘superiority’ of spiritual acumen discredits it almost outright, in a way dismantling its effectiveness to stain and terrorize the human consciousness, which is perhaps why it is not as common a phenomena now as it was 2000 years ago, but it is nonetheless a frightening insight into the horror of this supernatural battle played out on the terrain of the human condition.

More commonly Satan battles for our souls – our ruin – through less observable means. Like venom in the bloodstream cannot be seen but nonetheless overcomes and slays its victim, so too do powers of darkness pollute, sicken, weaken and eventually overwhelm souls. This insipid form of corruption draws less attention to itself – so much so that the victims themselves are unaware that they are both quarry and casualty in the spiritual theatre of war, often even as the fatal blow is struck.

There are only two forks in the road of life – one leads to final and irrevocable destruction, the other to salvation and everlasting life. Each fork represents a choice – submission or opposition. We can surrender to the seductive, hypnotic lure of sin and evil which so effortlessly clothe themselves in fleshly gratifications – sexual immorality, power and influence, violence and domination, wealth and gain. Or we can oppose these false idols, take up our Cross, and walk with Jesus bathed in light and hope and grace towards an eternity He has revealed will be more glorious and joyful than our small human minds can possibly comprehend.

But we are creatures of immediacy – often willing to indulge the needs and desires of the moment without the foresight or wisdom to stem these urges before appalling and irreversible consequences are set in motion. We are linear of thought and perception, often unable to competently and laterally map our path in life. The catch-22 of this immediacy by which we conduct our lives, the proclivity to meet the needs of the here and now, the subjugation we suffer at the hands of an almost primal need for instant gratification, is that when we are in its grip it is like an intoxication. Many drunks behind the wheel of a car are acutely aware that they are intoxicated, that an external influence has assumed a higher degree of control over their physical actions (to the extent that reflexes are depleted and reactions are sluggish) and that this cannot be overcome by force of will or mental determination, and that they are grappling to control a vehicle they ordinarily can command with smooth precision. So why, in the knowledge of this awareness, would they go ahead and get behind the wheel anyway? Because inhibitions, stop-gaps and safe-guards were dismantled when the decision to drink was made (a decision reached in the full awareness and knowledge that the drinker intended to drive later on) – a decision made long before the drink itself had its intoxicating effect or the ability to impair decision-making. You see, it is not the drink that impairs judgment, but the choice made earlier to drive after drinking. We allow ourselves to be inebriated by the desire to gratify every need, every desire, every urge before any sin is committed.

Free will. In its most vulgar form, it is the choice to indulge sin long before the sin itself is indulged. It comes back to choice, always to choice.  Not some engulfing torrent of external evil of such overpowering influence that it renders us in a stupor of acquiescence, rendering us vulnerable to and puppets of a dark power beyond our capacity to fight back. We are not without defense against, or abandoned to, a fate of being tossed on a capricious sea of wickedness and dissolution, depravity and iniquity. But first we must make the decision to oppose evil – this makes it no less difficult to combat, for it takes many forms and attacks from every angle – but it does weaken it, it does debilitate and dilute it. Similarly, the decision to oppose evil fortifies and augments the already inexhaustible and endless power of the King of Kings to defeat Satan and his influence. The choice to turn away from the darkness of sin and look towards the light of the risen Christ is like placing in His hand the very sword by which only He can slay the Prince of Lies. We cannot conquer our inclination or appetite for sin on our own. And though choice is the only weapon that can defeat Satan who ransacks and plunders our bodies and souls, we have neither the strength nor the might to wield it. Jesus alone can guide our hand as with a sweeping stroke we slaughter our ultimate enemy - but He cannot do so until we make that critical choice, through the exercise of free will, to hand ourselves over to Him. His blow one day to come upon Satan will be fatal and final but perhaps not in our lifetime, for the time of Satan’s last stand and resultant final destruction is an appointed time known only to Almighty God for the unknowable purpose of the fulfillment of His divine plan. But we cannot gamble upon that happening before Satan has already ensnared and imprisoned us. The stakes are our salvation and very souls. In the meantime Christ can arm us, fortify and strengthen us, enlighten us, instruct us and last but not least – never leave us. In this we have all we need to withstand sin and evil.


So we are charged with being vigilant – alert to the danger of evil and sin. For it is the internal conflict – the discord within – that both enfeebles us and distracts us from the menace lurking in the shadows but a breath away. ‘Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.’ (1 Peter 5:8). Sin and evil are not abstract concepts – not merely a tendency or propensity. They have an origin and a form. They have a name. They are a being – a created being bearing conscious thought, exercising purposeful action and suffused with malevolent intent. He has been called the Prince of Lies. The Fallen Angel. The Devil. These are all titles. More frightening that this is that he has a name. He is Satan. He is very real. He is chillingly intelligent. He is unrivalled in sinfulness and evil. He is without mercy or pity. And where we are incautious, impetuous and shortsighted – he is ever vigilant, supremely calculating and alarmingly perspicacious. Our very inability to comprehend the true scope of the threat of sin and evil (and by extension its chief proponent) is both a blessing and a curse, for should we ever have the ability to gauge the true nature and intent of our enemy, we should surely die of sheer terror before drawing another breath. The very blessing of our oblivion to the threat is the very curse of the consequence of such.

This leaves us with only one choice. It is not without hardship, persecution and suffering. It involves internal conflict – no less a struggle than Jacob wrestling to overcome the angel. And the rewards of such a choice are not likely to glean benefit or relief in this world. It must be made with confident hope in the promise of the salvation to come and the glorious eternity that awaits the faithful:

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Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.
 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:10-18).

God be with you.

Amen.



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