The Power of Choice: A Reflection on Free Will and Fasting
by Ted Tschopp
An Exploration of Conscious Decisions During Lenten Season
And therefore I observe, that the Will (without any metaphysical refining) is, That by which the mind chooses any thing. The faculty of the will, is that power, or principle of mind, by which it is capable of choosing: an act of the will is the same as an act of choosing or choice. – Jonathan Edwards in Freedom of the Will
Did you eat breakfast this morning? How about Lunch? What did you do this weekend? What choices did you make over the long weekend? Did you make any choices or did you just go along with what you have always done?
Right now it’s getting close to 5:00pm and I am hungry. I have a cup of tea I’m sipping, and I have not had solid food in almost 20 hours. Sitting a couple desks down from me is a full spread of sandwiches from Togo’s. Back the other direction is a table with a large jar of smoky roasted almonds, one of my favorite snacks. I know where there is a cache of Milky Ways anda candy jar full of Kisses. I’m sure if I spent some time looking around the office, I would find the conference rooms with food from Baja Fresh, Trendy Thai, Pickup Sticks, or Panera.
But I’m not eating. My stomach is grumbling a bit. But I am choosing not to eat. Every time I walk past a large spread of food here at work I am reminded of my choice. I choose not to eat.
During this Lenten season, I have chosen to fast. I only told an individual or two at work about the fast, but it soon got out to the whole group.They allnow know that I was fasting for 40 day (but not 40 nights). One of the questions that has been asked boils down to: “Isn’t it hard to fast, how can you do it?” This question takes many forms, but it has been asked so many times that I think I will formulate a response that reduces my experiences to some general advice about what I have learned.
From the quote above we can see that Jonathan Edwards, in_Freedom of the Will_,defines the will as the mind choosing. This fast has made me start to question what it means to choose. What is free will. I am now of the opinion that man has a lot of freedom, but many times he choose not to exercise that freedom.
I am free to eat. I gain nothing in heaven or here on earth for not eating. Perhaps I’ll be healthier. Perhaps I’ll learn some lesson about my life. But in the end there is very little ‘value’ in my fast. It is a choice I make freely. The value for me is that I chose it. I chose to act differently.
How many times do we run through life and we don’t choose. We have freedom to eat whatever we want, but we choose to let the smells of McDonald’s fries choose our meal. How many times do we let advertising of a product make a choice for us. Each time I walk past a spread of food here at work, I smell the aroma of those foods. It calls to me. The voice reminds me of other voices I hear; the voices that call to me and tempt me to other things, more horrible things. But every time I choose not to eat the food, I make a choice. This leads me to ask how many times do I truly have my mind choose for me. How many times do I truly use my free will?
I can ask these questions about many areas in my life, but we are adults. Let’s make these questions count. How many times do I actively choose to do good instead of evil. How many times do I choose to be kind, instead of cruel?How many times am I just going with the flow of the culture or the social groups around us? How many times do I do just those things that I have always done? How many times do I actually think about each of my actions? Many of us at this point some will probably say the following:
“Well, I’m not so good at this. I need to work at this. I need to get better at this. I’m glad you brought this up. Now lets see; I’m going to choose to do a better job at choosing things in my lfe. I’m going to be different than all those other people. I need work, but I’m not as bad as those other people. I am no longer going to be a sheep, I’m not going to be like all those other sheep out there. They just follow each other into stupidity and ignorance. They do all sorts of evil and wrong.”
Can you hear that voice in your head? No? Wait until you drive to work tomorrow and you go the same way you have always gone without thinking. Wait until you eat the same thing you ate last week for dinner. Wait until you don’t make a choice and you just go along with the way things always were. You will then be a failure. That is when you will hear the voice. It will say, it’s not so bad, you did so good up until now. You are not as bad as some other people who fail all the time. You choose to do two good things this week. You have gotten one nagging habit under control. Well to that voice I have the following to say.
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Jesus as recorded in Luke 18:10–14
What is that voice in your head saying now? How do you respond to that voice?
This parable was recorded as occuring when Jesus was heading down to Jeruselem for the last time. Every step along the way, Jesus chose. He chose as no man before him orsincehim chose. He chose becuase he knew what was going to happen. He chose, even though he knew the outcome. Here is the point of all this writing. Many times we don’t use our free will. When we do, many times, we choose things we later regret. But someone else has already chosen. He chose to die. In his death he took on all the wrong choices we made and gave us all the right choices.
In this lenten time remeber that you have a choice. Remeber the choices that have already been made.