The Faith of Free Will

The story of Abraham and Lot is well known to many. When the herds grew too large to be supported together, Lot moved to the green river valley while Abraham continued to travel in the wilder, less fertile areas. There’s more to this story, however, that we should take the time to consider.

Abraham, in the culture of the time period, was head of the clan. Although Lot had his own household, he still lived under the authority of his uncle. Probably the closest comparison in our western culture would be the mayor of a small town, although theirs would have been a town composed of family and their employees. When the need for separation arose, Abraham had the right to rule as judge on the future of both his and Lot’s households. He could quite easily have ordered Lot to take his herds in any direction, ensured that Lot’s future took an approved form.

Instead, Abraham gave Lot not only a choice, but the first choice. Given the types of choices we see the younger man making after this moment, it’s likely that Abraham knew Lot’s penchant for bad decisions, but he still respected Lot’s need to choose. The reputation of the inhabitants of the river valley was well known and Abraham must have worried a great deal about the outcome of his nephew’s choice, but he knew that choice was out of his control.

We live in a society full of people trying to make other people’s choices for them. Each is convinced that his or her own choices are the right ones. If we didn’t think our own choices were right, we wouldn’t have made them, so this attitude is not a negative trait. It’s how we were designed. The problem only arises when we forget the simple fact that every other individual was designed the same way.

Abraham could not stop Lot from making the wrong choice. By doing so he would have denied God’s design of free will, of individual responsibility to choose. I’m sure, like all who have raised children to adulthood, he agonized and prayed for Lot’s heart to be more eternally focused. We know that he did his best to provide opportunities for his nephew to redirect; he even went so far as to raise an army to rescue Lot from being the spoils of war. When God made the decision to destroy the cities of the valley for their hardened rebellion, Abraham pleaded for Lot’s life despite all his nephew’s mistakes. But not once did he run in and drag Lot away or take control of his life.

Abraham recognized something that many of us have forgotten. Every choice carries its own consequence. God designed humans to learn through our choices. For example, if we touch something hot, it burns, and we learn not to touch hot things. No parent wants to see their child in pain, so often we go out of our way to prevent our little ones from the possibility of touching hot things. Sadly, our efforts fail, because ultimately choice is impossible to deny. Ingenuity and determination will only strengthen until the burn has been experienced and the lesson learned.

Abraham trusted God’s design of His children more than he trusted his own choices to be the right ones. Abraham had seen God use his own bad choices to teach him, help him grow into a stronger relationship with the Creator. Abraham had the faith to know that the God who created the free will of humans knew how to show Himself to us even through our poorest choices.

Free will, the responsibility of each for our own choices, is a frightening reality to accept. It requires accepting true individuality, the absolute certainty that every other person in the world will make choices that are different from ours. It requires accepting that every person in the world will make both right and wrong choices. Even more importantly, accepting free will requires the recognition that as a person my own choices will certainly not always be good ones. Free will requires faith in the One who created it. It requires certainty that He is greater than any human choice, and can use even our worst choices to call us closer to Him. Indeed, He already has.

Isaiah 53:7 (CSB): He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth.
Like a lamb led to the slaughter
and like a sheep silent before her shearers,
he did not open his mouth.

Luke 23:34 (CSB): Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.”

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