This Lent has taught me that Martin Luther was correct: We have no free will. Our wills are thoroughly corrupted by sin and our selfish desires.
See, I had given up sweets for Lent, and I really was doing pretty well. Pretty darn well. But then Shirley, one of my congregation’s gracious grandmas, brought to the church office a plate of her famous candy peanut butter Easter eggs.
Shirley is one of the best candy cooks in the entire Milky Way galaxy. For instance, there’s her fudge, which has a gentle, moist, yielding texture with just a hint of crumble. Shirley’s culinary alchemy transmutes the sweetness of sugar, the goodness of cream and the bitterness of chocolate into pure confectionary gold.
So I knew I was in big trouble when Shirley brought the peanut-butter eggs.
Free will? Not a chance! My will mounted no defense and uttered not a whimper of protest. It simply surrendered. And the eggs were better than I imagined, since they had an extra ingredient — the intoxicating spice of forbiddenness.
Point is, our wills are never free when it comes to the sins and desires that tempt us. The more we are tempted, the more in bondage our wills remain.
Think about it. If we had truly free will, there would be no diet industry. As our culture waddles in obesity, we try this diet plan, we buy that diet book, but the only thing getting thinner is our wallets – by $40 billion a year. Our will to be thinner stands no chance against our will to eat fattening food. If our wills were truly free, wouldn’t we simply choose to eat in moderation and exercise more?
The credit-card debt crisis is another product of our wills enslaved to sin and selfish desire. Like flies in a spider’s web, millions of Americans are trapped in consumer debt that far exceeds their ability to pay. We long to be debt free, but it the more we struggle the more we are ensnared.
If we all had free will, really had free will, wouldn’t those of us with stable jobs and a decent income simply choose to live on what we earn? If we had free will, it wouldn’t be hard.
Instead of free will, let’s talk about free choice, which we really do have. We are free to choose even those things that are bad. And because our wills are in bondage to sin, the results are always disastrous.
Just look around. On a conscious level, we tell ourselves that we really want to be healthy, to live on a planet that is clean, to use our resources in a sustainable way, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. But because of sin, we are perpetually unhealthy, our planet is polluted, we are gluttonous with its resources and care not a whit for our neighbors.
Paul put it well in Romans 7:19: “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.”
What’s a species to do? Well, first, we can do nothing by ourselves, as Luther observes. We can only fall on our knees in repentance, ask God for forgiveness and let the grace of God wash us clean, renew our spirit and slowly – over a lifetime of repentance and prayer – help us make better choices.
Which is exactly what I intend to do — just as soon as I’m done with Shirley’s peanut butter Easter eggs.