Free will

Armstrong Williams
Posted: Nov 27, 2001 12:00 AM
Against the backdrop of Sept. 11, I found myself wondering how an infinitely good and powerful God could permit such tragedies to happen? This is not a novel thought. A wild pack of philosophers called the Manichean dualists carefully considered the idea several centuries ago. After some furious contemplation, they concluded that either there is no God or that He permits good and evil to war against one another. The major implication: The world is split into equal camps of good and evil and that balancing these equal and opposite parts is the sweaty penance of man. St. Augustine scoffed at such notions. He rightly realized that evil is not a force on its own with an independent existence, but that it is a parasite living off of the good. So, how do we overcome this evil microbe within us? Free will. Free will allows us to choose good, rather than simply contemplate goodness. It is this choice, that endows principles with meaning. Without free will, there would be no good or bad, and we would be condemned to simply drift along in the random currents of life, managing little more than an aesthetic frame of reference. Free will allows us a more meaningful perspective. It allows us to choose good, and by extension, make good real. Thus does free will animate our lives with meaning and open us up to the truly beautiful possibilities of life. Which is all just a way of saying: We ought not pump our fists at God when bad things happen. That would be like blaming good parents when their children make mistakes. Plainly, children do not grow up in vacuums and parents alone cannot always produce good people. Children are susceptible to other influences. Sometimes they make bad choices, for which they bear responsibility. Collectively, we are all God's children. And sometimes we are susceptible to corrupting influences. As "fallen" creatures, this corruption is imprinted upon our destinies. The past is the present. Though Cain slew Able thousands of years ago, the legacy of death and corruption is present in us. Sometimes, God's children practice Christian acts of love, and other times they smash planes into the World Trade Center. Plainly, such things are a matter of free will - the same force that allows us to distinguish good from evil; the same force that enables us to seek a meaningful union with God; the same force that allows us at times to be the best and worst of all animals. In such choices, the human condition gains it's meaning. This is the opportunity that God presents us with - an opportunity to commit great harm, but also for steady improvement. For these possibilities, we ought not begrudge Him.