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One of the great secrets to finding peace in life is realizing that we are creatures of limited choice, and choosing to use our choices well. We aren’t totally free, as some like to claim. We are primarily responders—things happen to us and we choose how we will respond. None of us chose to be born, for example. There was a day when we were simply thrust from the womb by forces which were beyond our control. None of us chose to grow—our bodies acted of their own accord, elongating and developing without any sign-off from us. We did not choose our human guardians. We do not choose to see, hear, and taste. We do not choose so many of our emotional reactions: fear, anger, falling in love. In life, experiences are constantly being thrust upon us by a God who is greater than us. All we can do is identify when we have an actual choice available to us and then decide if we want to use those choices well or not.
We can’t control when God will introduce Himself to us, but when He does, we have the option of listening to Him or defying Him. If we listen to Him, we can’t control when or how He’ll speak to us again, but when He does, we’ll have another real choice to make. If we blow Him off, we can’t control if He’ll ever give us another opportunity to receive Him. Our control is so very limited, yet we can do nothing to change this, which is why railing on and on about how much we dislike our lack of control is an epic waste of time. We might not like it, but we’re stuck with it, and the sooner we accept this, the sooner we can turn our focus onto the things that really matter.
Here’s the thing about our choices: they might not be as abundant as we’d like, but they still define us. Our choices matter. We crave absolute control over reality. God says we’ll never have it. But then He says that some control is still available to us. It all comes down to our choices: how are we using them? Are we choosing to be wise or foolish? Of course we can’t be wise on our own. When we come to a decision point, so often we don’t know which path we should choose. Without some direction, our choices become uninformed, meaningless things. It’s God’s advice that helps us understand what we are choosing between. But the moment He says “go that way, not this way,” He radically changes the significance of our decision. We’re no longer just deciding on a course of earthly action, we’re also making a value statement about our own Creator.
“Shut up and go away,” is a very common response that God receives from the creatures He has made. Perhaps the presenting dilemma seems entirely human—such as whether we should propose to our girlfriend tonight or whether we should invest in that business venture. Yet as soon as God interjects His advice, He transforms the situation into a personal wrestling match between us and Him. So often we want Him to stay out of our decision making process so that we can enjoy the illusion of functioning independently of Him. Yet He keeps butting in, forcing non-spiritual decisions to become statements on how much we value Him. After all, He is our Creator. He is the One sustaining us. An intimate bond exists whether we want it to or not.
No one is closer to us than our own Creator. No one knows us more fully or cares for us more deeply. No one is more invested in our existence than Him. Compared to God, every other human in our life is some disinterested stranger. His interest and investment in us is immeasurable. His focused hovering, His constant intervening—ours is a Creator whose hands are always gripping us. He never lets us go. He never looks away. He never severs the connection. As long as we exist, His hands are on us: guiding us, shielding us, and changing us. We cannot drive His Presence away from us, we can only choose to cherish or despise it. We can either embrace Him tightly, or spend our lives pushing against Him as hard as we can. But we can’t escape His hold on us because He is infinitely stronger and He will not put us down.
So then, one of the great secrets to finding peace in life is realizing that we are creatures of limited choice, and choosing to use our choices well. God will not leave us alone. He constantly hounds us, forcing our attention back onto Him and He keeps pinning us into corners where we must keep declaring how we feel about Him. It’s love or hate. It’s desire or repulsion. There is no neutral position. God knows when we hear Him calling to us, so there is no feigning deafness with Him as we can we other humans. By the time we die, we’ve told God countless times how we feel about Him. We have defined the limits of our desire for Him over and over again. We have wrestled with the options, and settled on the one we want.
Though Christians often talk about salvation as the defining decision of our lives, it is far more complicated than that. The choice that results in salvation is just one drop in the ocean of responses we make towards our Creator. Simply “being saved” does not begin to describe the caliber of our relationship with Him. Are we cherishing Him or simply enduring Him? Are we gripping Him tightly and longing to know Him better, or are we taking Him for granted as we treat everything in the universe as more meaningful than He is? Are we cherishing His insights or blowing them off as irrelevant?
Life is about God—not because we want it to be, but because He forces it to be. We revolve around our Maker whether we want to or not. We are constantly declaring our value of Him, and it is all of our responses combined that we will be judged by. We don’t get to just pluck one or two moments out of the ocean of choices we’ve made and say, “These are the only ones I meant, God, so just judge me by these.” We mean them all. When God gets in our faces, we react to Him with purpose and passion. So yes, we can spend the majority of our lives rejecting Him and still end up in Heaven if we have met His salvation requirements. God has never made salvation a matter of continuous, wholehearted longing after Him. If He did, hardly anyone would make it. But because He is so gracious, God opens His Heaven to souls who have expressed a wide range of interest in Him on earth. He certainly demands a certain degree of submission, but that submission has never been something we must maintain our entire lives. Under the Old Covenant, a soul could live his whole life in rebellion and still end up on the right side of eternity through sincere repentance and submission at the end of his life. Under the New Covenant, we can cross the line of reverential submission to all three of our Creators, obtain Their permanent acceptance, and then squander the rest of our lives on earth with willful defiance. Many choose to go this route, not realizing that it is all of our decisions which we will be judged by. Our God is big on extremes, and there will be nothing mild about His response to us in eternity. After listening to us declare our value of Him for our entire lives, He will then unveil His response to our response to Him.
The experience of Heaven will vary drastically for souls, as will the experience of Hell. Far from being a place where our differences are equalized, eternity will be a place in which vast differences are created between us as all of the spiritual choices that we made on earth are unveiled. In eternity, we will be defined not by our relationships with other humans, but by our response to our Maker. Many who spent their lives discarded and despised by other humans on earth will be revealed to have aggressively sought after God, and their reward will be great. Many who spent their lives longing for sweet communion with a Creator who always seemed to keep a silent distance will find themselves carried off into secret places with Him that the rest of humanity is barred from. Our choices matter. The way we are choosing to respond to God now is defining the way He is going to respond to us forever.
Eternity will be a place of shocking extremes: a place in which our passionate God suddenly unveils the full extent of His delight in our desire for Him as well as His great indignation that we had the audacity to defy Him. When all of your responses towards God are pooled together, you don’t want the final result to be some lukewarm interest. God says it is those who sincerely seek Him who will be given the greatest rewards on the other side—not silly mansions and irrelevant crowns, but the priceless treasure of close communion with Him.
Eternity is where God unveils His response to the way that we responded to Him. Life on earth is an endless series of responses as God keeps forcing us to choose between respecting or rejecting Him as we go through our daily lives. There is no way to get through this life without making a very clear, very strong statement on how you feel towards the One who created you. Give careful thought as to what you want that statement to be, because God’s response to it will be extreme. Will you be someone who He rushes to embrace and showers with delighted kisses? Will you be someone who He greets with a solemn expression only to then vanish behind an impenetrable veil of mystery? Will you be someone who He tears into with violent hate? You’re deciding that right now by the way you are responding to Him. Your choices might be limited, but they are shaping your eternal future. So choose wisely.
Relating to an Alien God
If God controls everything, how is it fair that He punishes us for making certain choices?