Free Will...what's up with that?
by Michael Maciel
Any discussion of volition necessarily involves the Law of Cause and Effect. Do we actually have the ability to set a cause into motion? And, do we have options within those causes? Can we choose, based on what we know, which of those options to exersise? The answer to these questions has to be yes, otherwise...why bother trying to accomplish anything?
Exercisng our free will goes hand-in-hand with letting go and letting God, because once we've chosen, we let God bring it to fruition. Doing God's will is the magnum opus of the spiritual life, but our freedom to choose is part of that Will. "We pays our money, and we takes our chances." It's when we let God handle the particulars that our "chances" improve significantly.
Someone once said that the only difference between us and a rock rolling downhill is that we think that we are in control. To a certain extent, that person was right. But in a larger context, he was just being cynical. Sure, we are all going to die. All the best of us have. Our bodies and everything they're attached to will ultimately pass away. So what? We are in the field of time, and that's how it works here. But there's a lot of room between birth and death, and within that room we have choices, choices that can make all the difference. As rocks rolling downhill, there is no question as to where we're all going to wind up -- at the bottom of the hill. But, unlike the rock, we can choose how we're going to get there.
There are two ways to look at the Law of Cause and Effect -- linear and non-linear. Linear is "every action has an equal and opposite reaction". Non-linear is where every effect influences the system that caused it. This has been termed "circular causality". Some call it a "feedback loop". When used negatively, we refer to it as a "vicious circle". When used constructively, it's called "positive thinking" or the "Law of Mind Action". All of these terms imply that somewhere within that circle lives free will.
Like the garland of flowers in the Strength Key in the Tarot, it is the small, consistent, and conscious actions that we take in our lives that turn into the sub-conscious patterns that control our destiny (the woman in the key represents our sub-conscious mind, but the flowers are the product of the day -- conscious mind). Ovid said, "Habit becomes character". And Character, according to every religion that I know of, is the key determining factor. Job may have quailed under Yahweh's thundering interrogations, but Jesus told us to ask and that we would receive. Isn't that the answer to the control issue?
As rolling rocks, our vertical path is set in stone, as it were. Too much energy is required to do much about that. But it takes a lot less energy to move that rock from side to side, especially when the energy is applied incrementally. Any action that we "ritualize" supplies this sideways energy. Small moves. Changes in course made early on have the most effect, of course, so later in life we ususally need some extra input -- some help. And that's where God comes in.
This rock analogy is spooky in its accuracy. If an outside force (such as a tree) tries to change the rock's course too rapidly, the rock will shatter. Paul Simon, in one of his songs, says, "Thinking I had supernatural powers, I slammed into a brick wall." This is where intelligence comes in. Small moves made early on equal wisdom. Too little, too late equals "brick wall".
Rather than let the Laws of Motion drag us into cynicism, it is far better that we "watch and pray". Each day is a new beginning, and beginnings are powerful things. Let's begin each day with prayer and ask God to give us the nudge we need to avoid the trees and brick walls in our life. This is taking control by letting go. This is freedom. And greater freedom opens the way for better choices.