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Free will as an aspect of rational creatures


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#1 Mary

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Posted 13 March 2007 - 09:40 PM

From The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Ch 1:1 "Of the rational beings created by Him and honored with the dignity of free will..."

What does your Free Will mean to you? I never really gave it much thought. I only got as far as - you can't force anyone to love you. God couldn't program us to love Him, like robots, because then, it wouldn't be true love. I always found my own free will to be a hinderance to holiness. It's a miracle I'm a Christian, how my Free Will managed to make that choice, I'll never know. Sometimes I wish God would trim (or amputate) my Free Will so it would be easier for me to stay on the Narrow Path. But like my thoughts, my Free Will wanders and meanders all over the place and I keep losing myself. I forget what I learn. I can't remember half the things God has taught me. I keep making the same mistakes and I wonder when I'll ever learn. Surely, it's my Free Will that's to blame?

But - to see it as an honor given to me by God, to see it as something that gives me dignity... it's totally blowing my mind to pieces! I've never looked at it this way. God has created me in the same way as He has created animals - from the dust of the earth - and then, He gives me a beautiful gift - He honors me with Free Will. I am just dust, I am a worm - but He gives me dignity. Every choice I make with my Free Will, either upholds my dignity or smears it. Just a brief glance of my history shows me I've smeared my dignity, tossed away my honor and chosen to live like a beast. What a great treasure I've been given! By using my Free Will correctly, I can honor God. That makes it almost too simple! After all, I do know what's right and wrong, I just dont' have the motivation to do what's right... I suppose it makes it hard too, because now, all of a sudden, every single thing I choose to do (or not do) all day long, could either honor God or dishonor Him.

My Free Will is so permenantly a part of me, that nothing or no one could ever take it from me - even if I were to became a slave or a prisoner, I would still have the freedom to honor God. Even if I am totally paralysed and can't do anything useful for anyone, I would still have my free will, my honor and my dignity. It's always been easier for me to respect others than it is to respect myself. I'd never treat a slave, a prisoner or a paralyzed person like they weren't human, but myself - now that's another story... I'm the only one who can make me lose my own worth. I'm the only one who can toss away my free will and live like a beast. It's not my lack of skills and abilities that makes me useless - it's my ungratefulness for God's gift of free will (among other things).

Forgive me for dumping half baked thoughts on you. Last time I went on a trail chasing a thought, I ended up in the Heretical camp of Gnosticsm. I try not to listen to myself, which is hard, because I'm really good at deluding myself into thinking I'm actually right! I hope those of you who aren't as blind as I am, will be able to dig me out of my hole and also cover it up so some poor unfortunate soul doesn't fall into it.

Hmmm... need Herman's disclaimer here, but he's refusing to let anyone borrow it. I suppose I could offer to buy it, but I couldn't afford such a classic piece of original art...

Mary

#2 John Charmley

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Posted 13 March 2007 - 11:26 PM

Dear Mary,

Not at all half-baked - a very real distillation of a complex question, and one which exercises most of us.

If we did not have free will we would not be human. He endowed us with the power to choose - Adam and Eve could choose whether to eat of the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil. It is clear that the Incarnate Word could choose whether the will of the Father should be done, and He set the example we should all follow, as did our mother the most Holy Theotokos, whose obedience was freely given; the worship of slaves would not be pleasing to Him. What earthly Father or Mother would want their children to be robots? If we reason so, how much more does our Heavenly Father?

That we fall means we can choose to get up; that we fail means we can, with His help, try to succeed; the process is one of learning, and how often do we learn most through our failures? Only when we repent and try to make ourselves open to His voice and His will can we grow in Him. If we were perfect, we could not grow; if we were less than human, we could not learn. We may often choose not to learn, but at the very heart of our Faith is the wonderful mystery that He loves me, and you, and all of us enough to empty Himself, to be Incarnate of the blessed Theotokos, to suffer, to die, to be buried and to rise again on the third day - for us?

Even as I write that, a shiver goes through me. I am worth that to Him? And I have trouble keeping the fast!! How is that for a mystery? And what can I give Him except my all, unworthy as I am - He deems it otherwise - so let me in humility obey.

In Christ,

John

#3 Mary

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Posted 14 March 2007 - 02:42 PM

Dear Mary,

Not at all half-baked - a very real distillation of a complex question, and one which exercises most of us.

Even as I write that, a shiver goes through me. I am worth that to Him? And I have trouble keeping the fast!! How is that for a mystery? And what can I give Him except my all, unworthy as I am - He deems it otherwise - so let me in humility obey.

In Christ,

John


Humility... one of those elusive traits that I sometimes think I know, but usually, I don't. Particularly hard to understand is God's humility. Jesus said He is humble (Mt 11:29) ... what does that mean? That has always been one of the questions in the back of my mind.

And as my mind continued to wonder about being honored by God, I caught a glimpse of His humility...

I normally think of honor as something given to someone who is greater than oneself. So, when I pondered why God would honor me... value me... I couldn't get the image of Him bending down to give me a gift out of my mind. I suppose, it would be similar to the image of Christ bending down, kneeling down before His disciples, to wash their feet.

God doesn't honor me because of who I am, for I am nothing and He is my Creator. Rather, He honors me, because of who HE is - humble! By doing that, He gives me worth... I think... The only way I can honor Him back, is by being humble myself...

Ok - I get the feeling if I say another word, I'll be blaspheming. Forgive me for offending by displaying my ignorance.

In Christ,
Mary.

#4 John Charmley

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Posted 14 March 2007 - 09:08 PM

Dear Mary,

Again, nothing to forgive, and another real attempt to come alongside a difficult topic.

Was the unease over this?

God doesn't honor me because of who I am, for I am nothing and He is my Creator. Rather, He honors me, because of who HE is - humble! By doing that, He gives me worth... I think... The only way I can honor Him back, is by being humble myself...


I see what you are saying here, but I wonder about it myself?

How can we 'be nothing' to Him? If that were so why the Incarnation? What is stunning to me is that He loves me for who I really am; He can see me as He made me, and He wants me to be that person. So, however I have defaced that image of Him in myself, however I have erred and strayed like a lost (and none too bright) sheep, He loves me and He died for me; He desires not my death, but that I might turn from my sins and live in Him. In the face of that reality I am humbled and grateful.

Despite that, I still stumble and fall; for every two steps I think I go forward, I go back one; but I lean on Him when I repent, and I rely on Him and His Church to supplement what little strength I have. So, my free will leads me home to my Father, and through it I voluntarily move to walk in His ways. That I fail is not surprising; that I keep trying is His triumph over sin.

So, if I am worth that in His eyes, it behoves me to remember that everyone else with whom I have dealings is likewise His child, and is loved by Him; many do not know that love; others reject it; but it is there, we are all made in His image, and therefore all deserve that love and respect, each from the other - that men should know whose name we confess and whose disciples we are.

Or so it seems to me.

In Christ,

John

#5 Mary

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Posted 15 March 2007 - 02:14 PM

Dear Mary,

Again, nothing to forgive, and another real attempt to come alongside a difficult topic.

Was the unease over this?

God doesn't honor me because of who I am, for I am nothing and He is my Creator. Rather, He honors me, because of who HE is - humble! By doing that, He gives me worth... I think... The only way I can honor Him back, is by being humble myself...


I see what you are saying here, but I wonder about it myself?


John, I appreciate your kindness, for taking the time to wade through my mangled thoughts. Yes, I believe my unease was over that very statement. I knew I hadn't said it right... but there were way too many thoughts running around in my head and I was overwhelmed.

Some of what I was thinking when I said "I am nothing" - by the standards of the world, I am nothing. Not good enough to be successful, not bad enough to live off the kindness & generosity of others. Not all worldy standards are bad - I would never seek the help of a doctor who has failed his way though his exams. However, many of the worldy standards by which we measure our worth, are twisted; but, even knowing that doesn't keep me from using worldy standards to measure my worth.

Then - there's God's standards. According to that, He is holy and I am not. Even my desires for good things are tainted by my unholiness. If there is anything good in me, it is from Him. Of myself, I have nothing to offer that amounts to anything. I don't even have tears. And even my desire to repent is from Him, not from me.

What bothers me is the fact that I seem to have lost all feelings. I see how deep my sins are, but I do not feel despair. Does that mean I have learned how to hope? I see how deeply I have offended God all my life, and I haven't wept buckets of tears. Does that mean I have not repented? I've always known my heart is hard, but it's never been so dead, and yet, I don't really feel dead. Not like the dead, lifelessness that I used to feel when I used to be depressed some years back. In fact, I am not even truly 'bothered' as I said at the beginning of this paragraph, I just couldn't find the right word to describe what I'm feeling (or not feeling!)

I've never been in such an odd place before and I am afraid. Not shaking in my boots and paranoid, like I used to be. But rather, afraid that if I am not watchful, I will easily delude myself and feed my pride, or awaken despair, or fail to repent. Shouldn't the tiniest glimpse of God bring me to my knees and humble me? Yet, I fear it hasn't. What's it going to take to break me? And break, I must, how else can the hardness of my heart be healed? Of course, I'm too much of a coward to do anything to try and break myself, so I just wait. And wonder.

Am I making any sense? (aside from that question, I dont' even know if I truly have a question at all!)

Thanks again, for taking the time to respond to me.

Mary.

#6 John Charmley

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Posted 15 March 2007 - 10:38 PM

Dear Mary,

How my heart goes out to you; I hope that your priest can be of help here, for what you describe is something to talk to him about - and how well I know it.

When you write

What bothers me is the fact that I seem to have lost all feelings. I see how deep my sins are, but I do not feel despair. Does that mean I have learned how to hope? I see how deeply I have offended God all my life, and I haven't wept buckets of tears. Does that mean I have not repented? I've always known my heart is hard, but it's never been so dead, and yet, I don't really feel dead.

you touch me, and upon a phenomenon with which I know others are familiar.

Earlier this week I felt something similar. I was fortunate enough today to be able to take a day away from work and go on pilgrimage to Walsingham - a resurrected medieval shrine dedicated to Our Lady; and now I have lost all feeling for a different reason - the spiritual experience was so intense that I have yet to emerge from it; indeed, I doubt I will - unchanged. And that is, perhaps, a point you might bear in mind; we are changed by our faith.

As I look back at what, as an Anglican, I would have called my 'manifold sins and wickedness', I cannot imagine that there would be enough tears to wipe away their traces. Yet, now I know that He does so; and through the sacrament of absolution I can find His forgiveness. And what do I have to do? Be humble enough to repent; be obedient enough to follow His way; and lean upon the bosom of my mother, the Church. He died for me - what is to despair about? Even my backsliding is an opportunity for some real humility and repentance - and renewed prayers to Him.

It would be good to take this to your priest, but I do know where you are. But it seems to me that when you write

so I just wait. And wonder.

you are exactly where you should be - that is obedient to His will.

Perhaps that is your lesson for now - that that is enough. Sometimes we, as sinners, feel the need for some extravagant gesture of repentance; but maybe His lesson is that we just repent, and keep doing it - without some great catharsis that we might feel purges us, but would simply give the impression that we could stop repenting for a while.

Sometimes it is the quiet daily living of the Christian life that is the hardest path.

And we know He is always with us - even to the end.

May He make His face to shine on you,


In Christ,

John

#7 Mary

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Posted 16 March 2007 - 01:55 PM

Thanks so much for your time, John. And for understanding. I will most certainly talk to my priest - he's been extremely busy with preparations for our metropolitan's visit and other things. We have another big week coming up after that, with our bake sale and such.

But it has been helpful to write out my thoughts and get feedback. Sort of like getting the cobwebs out of the way so I can step into the dark dusty room without fear of getting spiders in my hair. Among other things, I remembered that last Saturday, during vespers, I felt very much like I would like to be inside a cacoon - hidden away from all others while God silently cleans me up inside - until I am fit to be seen and heard.

Perhaps God has actually answered my wishful thinking! I feel like I should withdraw for a while and just go about my daily work and extremely limit the amount of time I spend talking (online or directly). So, I think I'll do just that. And thank you for lighting a candle for all the members of Monachos at the Walsingham shrine to Our Lady. As I read about it, I felt my heart warming up, somewhere deep inside, and I also felt so much more connected to everyone else here.

You said:

As I look back at what, as an Anglican, I would have called my 'manifold sins and wickedness', I cannot imagine that there would be enough tears to wipe away their traces. Yet, now I know that He does so; and through the sacrament of absolution I can find His forgiveness. And what do I have to do? Be humble enough to repent; be obedient enough to follow His way; and lean upon the bosom of my mother, the Church. He died for me - what is to despair about? Even my backsliding is an opportunity for some real humility and repentance - and renewed prayers to Him.


... which reminded me of something I was thinking of just Wednesday night after presanctified liturgy. I was thinking how wonderful it was that our Salvation is an ongoing, a lifelong process that I can actually contribute to by the things I do, as opposed to the One-Time Event that I grew up believing it to be. If it's a something that's already completed, it leaves me in a place of emptiness, a place where real life doesn't match up with what I believe, a place where there's nothing I can do to make that salvation real to me.

How good it is to fast, and to pray and to prostrate and to light candles and to kiss icons, kiss the cross, bow to the priest, kneel down and confess... to actually work out my salvation - makes it so much more real and so alive - so much more a part of me... and I have already felt the changes... so many changes in such a short time, it's like a dream. Changes that my protestant faith knew about, but couldn't make real. How true it is when we sing: "We have found the true Faith..."

I love Orthodoxy - even from inside my cacoon. =)

Thank you for listening. And now I will take my own advice and be silent.

In Christ,

Mary.




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