The Marvelous Gift of Free Will
DO YOU appreciate having the freedom to choose how you will order your life, what you will do and say? Or would you want someone to dictate to you what your every word and action must be, every minute of every day, as long as you live?
No normal person wants his life taken out of his hands and controlled that completely by someone else. Having to live that way would be very oppressive and frustrating. We want freedom.
But why do we have such a desire for freedom? Understanding why we treasure our freedom of choice is a key to understanding how wickedness and suffering could originate. It will also help us to understand why God has waited until now before acting to bring wickedness and suffering to an end.
How We Are Made
When God created humans, among the many marvelous gifts he gave them was free will. The Bible tells us that God created man in his ‘image and likeness,’ and one of the qualities God has is freedom of choice. (Genesis 1:26; Deuteronomy 7:6) Thus, when he created humans, he gave them that same wonderful quality—the gift of free will.
That is why we prefer freedom rather than enslavement by oppressive rulers. It is why resentment builds up against harsh and stifling rule so that people often revolt to gain freedom.
The desire for freedom is no accident. The Bible gives the underlying reason. It states: “Where the spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17) So wanting freedom is part of our nature because God created us that way. It is something that he wants us to have because he himself is the God of freedom.—2 Corinthians 3:17.
God also gave us the mental abilities, such as the powers of perception, reason, and judgment, that work in harmony with free will. These enable us to think, weigh matters, make decisions, and distinguish right from wrong. (Hebrews 5:14) We were not created to be like mindless robots that have no will of their own; nor were we created to act primarily out of instinct, as were the animals.
Along with free will, our first parents were given everything anyone could reasonably want: They had been put in a parklike paradise; they had material abundance; they had perfect minds and bodies that would not get old or sick and die; they would have children who would also have a happy future; and the expanding population would have the satisfying work of turning the entire earth into a paradise.—Genesis 1:26-30; 2:15.
Regarding what God had set in motion, the Bible says: “God saw everything he had made and, look! it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) The Bible also says of the Creator: “Perfect is his activity.” (Deuteronomy 32:4) Yes, he gave the human family a perfect start. It could not have been better.
Freedom With Limits
However, was the marvelous gift of free will to be without limits? Well, would you care to drive an automobile in heavy traffic if there were no traffic regulations, where you were free to drive in any lane, in any direction, at any speed? Of course, the results of such unlimited freedom in traffic would be catastrophic.
It is the same in human relations. Unlimited freedom for some would mean no freedom for others. Unrestricted freedom can result in anarchy, which damages everybody’s freedom. There must be limits. Therefore, God’s gift of freedom does not mean that he purposed for humans to behave in any manner without considering the welfare of others.
God’s Word says on this point: “Behave like free men, and never use your freedom as an excuse for wickedness.” (1 Peter 2:16, The Jerusalem Bible) So God wants our free will to be regulated for the common good. He did not purpose for humans to have total freedom, but relative freedom, subject to the rule of law.
Whose laws were we designed to obey? Whose laws work best for us? Another part of the scripture at 1 Peter 2:16 noted above states: “You are slaves of no one except God.” This does not mean an oppressive slavery but, rather, that we were created to be in subjection to God’s laws. We are the happier if we stay subject to them.
God’s laws, more than any code of laws that could be devised by humans, provide the very best guide for everybody. As Isaiah 48:17 states: “I, Jehovah, am your God, the One teaching you to benefit yourself, the One causing you to tread in the way in which you should walk.” Yet, at the same time, God’s laws allow for a wide scope of freedom within their boundaries. This allows for much personal choice and variety, making the human family more interesting, indeed, fascinating.
Humans are also subject to God’s physical laws. For instance, if we ignore the law of gravity and jump off a high place, we will get injured or killed. If we stay underwater without a special breathing apparatus, we will die in minutes. And if we ignore our internal laws for the body and stop eating food or drinking water, we will also die.
Hence, our first parents, and all who issued from them, were created with the need to obey God’s moral or social laws as well as his physical laws. And obedience to God’s laws would not be burdensome. Instead, it would work for their welfare and that of the entire human family to come. Had our first parents stayed within the limits of God’s laws, all would have been well.
What happened to spoil that fine start? Why, instead, have wickedness and suffering become rampant? Why has God permitted them for so long?
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The marvelous gift of free will separates us from mindless robots and from animals that act mainly on instinct