The Christian world in North America is soaked through with Calvinism. That is the belief that God is sovereign, that God is all powerful, that God has a plan for every moment of every day of every person's life, and that God directly causes everything that happens.
We survive a car accident when two others are killed? God spared us for a reason, our Calvinist brothers and sisters would say. A couple gets pregnant, a politician loses an election, a baseball player swings the bat and makes good contact with the ball: it is all God's doing. God has a plan.
United Methodists look at God and life in a different way. We believe God is at work in history. We believe God is working to bend history in the direction of healing, justice, peace, and life. We believe God has made it very clear -the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount- what kind of life works best. But we also believe God trusts creation -and life- to us. God gives us something we call "freewill." Our choices count. We are not puppets on a string.
The Bible is full of moments when God places a choice before people. Adam and Eve are told not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But God gives them the freedom to obey...or disobey!
Abram and Sarai are asked by God to leave home and head hundreds of miles to the west.
Esau is asked to forgive the brother who stole his birthright.
Hagar, when a part of her wants to die because of the shameful way she has been treated by Sarah and Abraham, chooses to listen to an angel and live.
Joshua says to the people of Israel, "Choose this day whom you will serve."
Jesus says to would-be disciples, "Follow me and I will teach you how to catch people in God's net of amazing grace." Those men and women who hear his voice can either stay where they are, living their old lives, or they can follow Jesus into a new life. The choice is their's.
All through the Bible we see God respecting the freedom God has given God's people. God gives us options, God allows us to choose, God challenges us to use our best judgment and to pray, but God never forces us to be obedient or to trust or to give.
The reason this all comes to mind is because of Matt Damon's new film, "The Adjustment Bureau." It is Hollywood's attempt to frame the whole question about how free we really are. Handling freedom, working through the choices that define who we are and who we will be, is not an easy thing the film says.
Our choices count. The Bible makes that clear. Be careful...freedom is a powerful gift that can bring joy and healing or it can -if handled badly- bring misery and heartbreak.
God loves you. God chooses to restrain God's power so that your choices will matter. Don't live thoughtlessly, don't think you can do life on auto-pilot, and assume God's "plan" is to clean up every mess you or I make.
You are so loved that God not only gave you his only Son, but you are so loved that God gave you the gift of choice...of freewill.