Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pain and Free Will

In two earlier posts I mentioned how some pain in our lives is caused by our owns sins and some pain in our lives is caused by the sins of others. I want us to expand the discussion about those two ideas a little more in this post.

As I minister to young people, they often ask me why God gives us so much freedom to make such choices if we are just going to make choices that cause us pain. Young people want to know why God did not make us in such a way that we will always do what is right. This is a complicated question. 

The answer focuses on the free will God gives to people. I try to help young people understand that though God is indeed all powerful and could control our lives so we would be free from all pain, that choice would render us mere robots or puppets on a string that God was dangling around in the world. God loves us too much to give us such empty and meaningless lives. God has chosen to give us free will as an expression of His love for us. Unfortunately, our free will has been deeply tainted by our fall into sin. The apostle Paul confessed in Romans 7:15, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (ESV).  This verse shows that even Paul struggled with his free will and its tendency toward sin. Free will has a price, for with control comes responsibility. Much of the time when we think we are exercising our free will, we are actually acting as slaves to our sin. This slavery to sin causes part of the pain we experience in our lives. Pain is often the natural consequence of our bad choices.

When we trust Christ as our Savior, we are freed from our slavery to sin. We receive the Holy Spirit, and He helps us make better choices and use our free will as God intended it. When we use our free will as God intended, it has positive results. When we use our free will in a way that God did not intend, the consequences are almost always painful. While we are free to make our own choices, we are not free to choose our own consequences. Many people prefer to make bad choices and then blame God for the results of those choices, but that is just not the way the real world works. Everyone wants God to fix their problems, but no one wants to join God in His eorts to do the fixing. God is always at work to bring hope to the hopeless and to change painful situations into joyful experiences. Hope and help are gifts from God, who is both powerful and loving. But we must respond to Him when He reaches out to us. We must open our hearts and minds to His working in our lives. If churches hope to help postmodern people come to faith in Christ, churches will work hard at expressing love to those who are bound up in sin while patiently showing a biblical way out of the pain sin causes.

If we think through the concept of free will completely, we have no choice but to conclude that though God is able to free us from all the pain of life, that would be inconsistent with His gift of free will. Therefore, one reason life can be painful is that even though God has given mankind the ability to make choices, mankind has not used that ability very well. We have used our free will to sin, and that sin has caused much of the pain in our lives. This may not be politically correct in our pluralistic culture, but it is morally, theologically, spiritually, and emotionally correct. We must help the next generation understand the connection between sin and pain.

Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.


  1. I'm glad you grant free will in your theology. Although I'm not sure your comment on my blog post was exactly pertinent.


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  2. Ben,

    I'm sorry you thought my comment about free will on your blog post about how people can use their free will for good or evil was not pertinent. I must not have understood your point. I'll have to read it again and see if it makes more sense the second time through. Thanks for continuing the conversation.


  3. This is a great post. Thanks for sharing it with us.