Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Rules of the Game

Well, dear readers, things have been rather solemn around here the last few weeks. It's Christmas now (yes, now, because I'm a Catholic and the 4 weeks before Christmas are Advent, not Christmas) so I'll end my evil series on a lighter note.

I think one of the problems that we have with free will is that we think God won't let us choose things that are bad for us. That's not quite right, though. On the one hand, His will is going to triumph no matter what we do, but on the other hand we can put ourselves and our world through a lot of evil before we arrive at that final triumph of Good. I once read in a C. S. Lewis book (I can't remember which one, perhaps The Problem of Pain) that this wouldn't work for the simple reason that if a multitude of choices only have one possible consequence, then they aren't really choices. If Adam and Eve had eaten the apple and God had just readjusted things so that they didn't have to suffer for it, then God would have had to keep readjusting things every time someone sinned. In this scenario, when Cain killed Abel, Abel would have come back alive again, and so then where was Cain's choice? He could choose to pop his brother over the head, but whether he did or not his brother would go on living. Instead of negating Cain's choice like that, God let him pop off poor Abel. Seth was born, and the righteous line continued in spite of Abel's death, but not in a way that made Cain's free will a sham.

To use an analogy that is probably familiar to anyone who has played any sort of videogame (I include for the moment games played on the computer rather than just those played on videogame systems): We want God to use the cheat codes. We want Him to fix everything by circumventing the way He programmed things and saving us that way.

He picked a different way to save us. He played the game Himself, by the rules that He made. He was a human being who hungered and thirsted and loved and suffered and died. He was like us in everything but sin. And that sinless bit wasn't cheating either. There isn't anything in our programming that says we can't be sinless. If we aren't it's our own fault for abusing our free will, not God's for giving it to us.

Think of it this way: I'm learning to play Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. Last I checked I'd died 119 times. And that was before I tried to jump over a pit without equipping my feather. The Cobbler started a game around the same time I did, and he's probably farther than I am by now (I can only play when I visit him, after all). So far he hasn't died. Seriously. Where my little game profile says 119, his says 0.

Assuming that you think of it in terms of extra lives as grace (rather than as simple biological life, which would be silly because nobody can physically die 119 times) then you can apply that to Christ. He's playing the same game we are, with the same rules. He's just smart enough to not fall in the silly pit half a dozen times before He figures out how to jump over it. He played the game all the way through to the end and won, so that whenever we run up against a boss who seems impossible, we can take heart knowing that winning is possible--even if we need a few dozen extra lives to make it.

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