In the biblical story of the first humans, Adam and Eve face a choice: obey their Maker’s directive or disobey and seek their own way. They chose the latter, at great cost to the race.
We might wonder why God would put them in a place where a choice of this magnitude, with such potentially catastrophic consequences, would be required. One reason seems to be this: if they were to have any hope of becoming the magnificent beings God intended, they would need to become volitional; that is, they would need to become choosing creatures.
The stakes would have been even higher had God waited until there were millions of humans before presenting such a choice. In terms of humanity’s prospects, the one thing worse than a wrong choice by Adam and Eve was a no-choice by Adam and Eve. God made them to be human, which is another way of saying, he made them choosing creatures.
One can think of the world and the entire universe, 46-billion light years across, as a gigantic choice-making factory. It is possible that God created a material universe for this very purpose: to provide humanity with the opportunity to make choices. Life on planet earth constantly creates choice-making situations. From childhood on, each person’s history provides countless opportunities to make choices, some of little, but some of enormous, consequence. People need such choices, sometimes tough choices, heartbreaking ones even, to become fully human – to become the glorious beings God intends and calls us to be.
(This, by the way, is one reason forcing religion on someone is counterproductive. It goes against the way God made us and frustrates the goal he is pursuing. In talking with others about God, there is no place for arm-twisting or manipulation.)
A Christian salesman once told me to frame questions in a way that the person I was talking to could say no, because it is psychologically easier than saying yes. So instead of asking, “Are you ready to trust yourself to the Lord and give your life to him?” which would require a yes answer before proceeding, he wanted me to ask, “Is there anything holding you back from making this decision?” In that case, a “no” or even an “I guess not” answer would suffice. But doing an end run on a person’s volitional responsibility will handicap that person from the very start. Making a choice, a clear, determined choice, is essential not because God needs us to do so but because we do.
When Jesus told his disciples not to cast their pearls before swine, this kind of thing was in mind. He did not want his students forcing their pearls of wisdom on others; didn’t want them pressuring people into decisions for which they were neither ready, nor willing. God knows humans will never be the strong, happy people he intends them to be unless they make choices: the choice to trust in Christ; the choice to give their life to God; to give their money; to deny themselves; to forgive those who have harmed them; to put others first; and much more.
We must make choices. People are not machines to be managed, and we mustn’t treat them, including our own children, as if they were. Making intelligent choices, free of coercion, is crucial to our success.
Even though we raise a battle cry whenever someone tries to limit our freedom of choice, we frequently hesitate over even the simplest choices, because choice brings with it responsibility. Yet people must make choices, or they’ll never be fully human. This reality is apparent throughout the Bible. The drama of decision is played out from Genesis to Revelation.
I have talked with people (as has every pastor) who are anxious to discern God’s will not because they desire to do it but because they think knowing God’s will will help them avoid making a mistake. God is probably less concerned about us making mistakes than we are. He does not disclose his will so that people can avoid mistakes but so they can make informed choices. Either way, they must choose. God will have it no other way.