This past Sunday, I repeated the term “Choose Life” a bunch of times because it fit with where I was going with the sermon for Easter – that we make choices about what we reject as “unlife” so that we can have a more pure experience of “Life-life”. But when it comes to our choices, we don’t really necessarily believe that we “choose life” in the same way that a Baptist Christian might think of it or in the same way that a Presbyterian Christian might. We’re distinct in our understanding of what it means to choose.
To explain this, we have to get into a little reframing of what it means to choose. In the classic sense of “choice”, the sense is that we are choosing *betweenavailable options*. This would be like if I held before you a chocolate ice cream cone and a vanilla ice cream cone, and said “choose”. This sense of choice gets muddied when we begin to introduce options that are not a part of the original set of available options. This would be like if I held before you a chocolate ice cream cone and a vanilla ice cream cone, and you said, “but I want strawberry”. Your expectation is that strawberry is an option, I’ve just been holding out on you. This is the same sense that we have of the Starbucks “secret menu”.
American culture tends to be one of strawberry ice cream cones. It is built into our DNA that we should have the freedom to choose that which has not previously been available to us. It may be more difficult to do so, but we believe that we can choose that which we want – we can be who we want to be, we can do what we want to do – all if we are willing to do the work in order to do so.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t work in Christian theology. I can choose a god who is not a part of a list of the available options, say like the Flying Spaghetti Monsterhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_Spaghetti_Monster, but that doesn’t make Pastafarianism (the worship of the aforementioned Spaghetti Monster) a valid theological choice. And since Christians believe that there is only one true God, the whole host of other god options are invalid because they are as real as the Spaghetti Monster. So there’s your choice – one God – known as YHWH throughout the Old Testament and revealed as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the New Testament. So your “choice” to believe in Him is kind of an overstatement. You are choosing one True God out of a list of True Gods which happens to have one choice on it.
Of course, when we talk about our “choice to follow God”, we’re usually not talking about “choice”, per se. We are talking more about “will”. Will is actually more of what we are talking about when we, as Americans, choose the unavailable option – because we are choosing to make the unavailable option available through the force of personal empowerment that we call “will”. This “Will” (cleverly dressed up in the future-tense form of the verb “be”) is how we tend to believe that things come into “being”.
The question is, whose “will” causes our relationship with God (salvation) to come into being? This is where things get difficult. The easiest part of the equation is that God causes salvation to even be a thing. Before God’s merciful will, this was simply not an option on the list. The list included one item: “death/hell”. Not much of a list. God’s merciful will included a second option onto the list, so now the list reads: “death/hell” OR “life/Resurrection”.
Out of your two options, you have a.) your choice to create your own reality which will end in death/hell because of your natural inability to will life/Resurrection for yourself; b.) God’s choice, included on the list because of His merciful will, which is life/Resurrection. Oddly, the option that we most naturally gravitate towards is the natural “death/hell” option, because we think that we can will ourselves into heaven. And when we believe that we can will ourselves into heaven, we naturally reject what God has put on the list (life/Salvation through His merciful will), because in order to understand ourselves as being in control of a possible good outcome from our will, we have to ignore the perfection of God’s will. And so it is like we’re choosing from one item on the list again – unfortunately, we’re choosing from a defective list.
But when we reject our choice to create our own reality, that causes us distress as well. We have to come to the point where we are actually crossing off our own will in the process of our salvation. That stings, because it is a crucifixion moment – a time of taking up our cross and denying ourselves. But when we do that, we see that there is only one choice left on our list, and the choice is “life/Salvation” because of God’s will, not because of our own.