For a short time when I was a child, my father smoked a cigar. Of course my little brothers thought there must be something wonderful about it and they begged to try it for themselves. My father resisted for a long time, but one day, to my utter shock and amazement, he said, “Yes” and handed the smelly thing over to my youngest sibling. Oh, he thought he was grand sitting there in Dad’s big chair, puffing and blowing…at least for a few minutes. Soon, however, a strange expression came over his face and in a few more minutes he was visiting the bathroom. My father turned to my mother and smiled. My other brother declined his turn and neither of them ever asked again to share Dad’s cigar.
We usually recall with resentful accuracy the times when our parents refused to give in to our wants and wishes and therefore “ruined our lives” or at the very least stifled our creativity and kept us from being the envy of our peers. When they punished us by demanding our obedience to their rules we complained loud and long, and we wrote those offenses down in our mental log books as proof of their unfairness.
What we don’t always remember are the occasions when our parents punished us by saying “yes” to our requests. I don’t know about your childhood, but mine was filled with plans and ideas that my parents allowed me to pursue while surely knowing the outcome would be failure. I don’t recall ever asking to do anything really harmful or dangerous, just many stupid things! One year I asked my parents if my brother and I could dig our own swimming pool in the back yard. Sure! After three days of digging we created a great little mud hole for the dog. He enjoyed it all summer! Then there was the summer I wanted to babysit- every day- for one of Mom’s friends. She tried to tell me some of the drawbacks of my commitment, but all I was concerned about was the money. After that summer I never again agreed to promise my whole vacation to someone else! I learned far more from those experiences than I did from many of the intentional “lessons” my parents tried to impart. I was reminded of that this morning when I was doing what I thought was some entertaining browsing.
You know already that my mind works in mysterious ways, so it will not surprise you that my intention this morning was to find out more about the “worst restaurant meal” in America. I heard about it on the news yesterday, but I was on my way to the laundry room at the time and didn’t stop to hear the details. So this morning I decided to find out more. Well, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Long John Silver’s “Big Catch” meal has garnered the dubious honor by containing 1,370 calories, 33 grams of trans fat, 19 grams of saturated fat, and 3,700mg of sodium. What did surprise me were the comments on some of the sites that posted the news. Many were appalled by the contents of the food and concerned about the allegation that LJS has been misrepresenting the nutritional value of their menu items. But many, many others were indignant that once again the “food police” were trying to change their daily diet! Several commented that they loved the food and would continue to eat it. Others said that KFC and those who have been more compliant in getting rid of trans fat have ruined the taste of their food. And one commenter made the point that this, like everything else in life, is a choice. Ah, yes. Free will. We are indeed free to choose from the good, the bad, and even the ugly.
And sometimes we do, willingly, choose the ugly. No matter which human activity you wish to discuss, there are those who not only make bad choices, but feel justified in doing so. Romans 1:32 says “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things, but also approve of those who practice them.”
I think a lot about free will. It is an encouraging yet perplexing concept. On the one hand, God instructs us in the way we should live our lives and He warns us of the consequences of disobedience. But he also allows us to disobey! He lets us use our little brains to make our own choices- big ones, little ones, and seemingly insignificant ones. If we did not of our own free will choose to love and obey God, then our loyalty would have little meaning.
We can blame everything that plagues us on that first bad choice made by Eve, but the truth is that despite a recorded history of mistakes and consequences we still behave like little children. We want what we want and we don’t think anything bad will result from fulfilling our desires. That’s because the true results of our actions don’t always appear immediately. There isn’t a lightning strike each time we sin. Often there isn’t even a slap on the wrist. But, if we are wise, if we have any sort of experience at all, we know there are always consequences for our actions.
One of the lines often quoted from an Oscar Wilde play is “When the Gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.” The Bible describes many instances when God allowed the “desires of the heart” to lead men astray so that they could learn from their own mistakes. A good example is found in Psalms 81:11 about God’s warnings to the Israelites concerning idol worship: “But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.” I don’t know about you, but I can recall many times when my “own devices” have lead to disaster! Free will is a powerful tool.
So, if there is a lesson to be gleaned from my rambling thoughts this morning it is this: Use your free will wisely and be careful what you ask of God. You just might get it. Wait…didn’t my grandmother tell me that a million times?