Freedom to Choose

One of the Sunday School classes is studying a book by Adam Hamilton titled Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say. In his introduction he talks about how there is truth to many of the sayings people attribute to the Bible but we often use them in ways that can lead people to an understanding of God that is not only incompatible with scripture but can hurt others. We say what we want to believe while using God as a shield. Half-truths hurt those who believe them. They can keep us from thinking about complex issues. They can be used to justify our own biases and prejudices and bring pain to someone else. When we refuse to serve someone or accept them as a customer or client based on a half-truth can we call it religious freedom? There was something familiar about what happened in Orlando.  I am increasingly grieved and troubled by people promoting hatred or discrimination in the name of religion. Did the religion they proclaim to follow twist and bear hatred, or did hatred claim religion as a justification? Religion should never foster, nor be a safe harbor, for hatred or violence.

You could say, “Everything happens for a reason” and I am sure many people will. Some preachers will even provide the reason as if they were let in on some secret article of faith that only a few are privy to. I don’t believe everything happens for a reason. I do believe Romans 8:28 “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (NRSV) and as the Contemporary English Bible translates Genesis 50:20, “You planned something bad for me, but God produced something good from it…” But we must be careful sharing even those passages with people in the midst of a devastating loss. They may not bring the comfort we intend and may keep us from wrestling with our own faith and struggling with the evil, hatred and bigotry around us.

The Bible tells us frequently that we have choice, not just the illusion of choice but real choice. While God is sovereign, we have been entrusted as stewards and given the ability to choose to operate as God’s representative or in our own best interest. We were not given the authority to claim our will as God’s. God is ultimately in charge but has given us the responsibility to care for all creation and to love one another. So when we do something counter to God’s will for us and others, we can’t blame God.

As a United Methodist, the idea of choice is very important to my theology. Throughout the Bible, God has given us example after example of how we are to live and the consequences when we choose not to follow. We can choose to live as God taught us in a way that leads to life or in a way counter to God that leads to death. We can choose to see all people as created good and in the image of God or act as if over time God has gotten sloppy and people are no longer created good nor contain the image of God.

I must also remember that I am not the only person given the freedom of choice. So were you and you may not always agree with all my choices. The people who believe that God calls them to religious violence were also given choice. That is where it gets really hard for me. God gave everyone the scriptures from which to read and learn. We were given the traditions of the church and its sordid history so hopefully we will not make the same mistakes over and over. God still speaks to us and guides us through new situations and we draw from how we experience God in our lives and the world around us. God gave us a wonderful brain and the Holy Spirit to help us draw all of this information together in a reasonable and righteous way so that we might freely choose the choice that leads to life. Not just our own life, but the life of others. That they and we might have life and have it abundantly. Yet, even with all this, some choose to kill, hurt and destroy. The way that leads to death.

God does still seek to influence people and often does so working in and through us and others. God sent Jesus so that we might know the way to live and how to share that way with others. And God does still interrupt our lives and intervene in mighty and miraculous ways we may never know or understand. But we still have a choice. And so do they.

See you Sunday,