G. K. Chesterton was once asked to submit an essay to the London Times answering the question, “What’s wrong with the world today?”
I’m willing to bet that Chesterton’s essay was the shortest. He said simply:
What is wrong with the world? I am.
G. K. Chesterton”
Chesterton was right. We are what is wrong with the world. What is so wrong with mankind? The answer is sin. What makes avoiding sin such a problem for us? The reasons are many, but I wish to focus on only one of these reasons.
One reason why we have such a difficult time avoiding sin is that some many of us don’t really understand what it means to choose sin. God created all of us with free will. Although we have free will, that doesn’t mean we can just choose to do as we please, and expect there not to be consequences.
No one builds themselves a home with the intention that it will collapse on them one day. You build yourself a home with the intention that it will be a reliable shelter from the elements. No one has a child with the intention that the child will turn out to be a disobedient ingrate. You have a child with the intention that he/she will learn to be decent human beings.
Furthermore, you would not give a gift to a friend with the intention that they treat it carelessly, or with disrespect. When you give a gift to a friend you expect them to treat that gift with the level of care and respect your friendship warrants.
It is the same with God. He created us and gave us the gift of free will with the intention that we would use it to help Him carry out His will. We are free to abuse our free will; just as we are free to abuse a gift from a friend. But, like our friend, God is not happy when we abuse His gifts. Abusing a friend’s gift can damage our friendship with that person. Abusing God’s gift can damage our friendship with Him.
Yet, to choose sin isn’t exactly equivalent to abusing our free will. In fact, it’s much worse than that. To choose sin is to reject our free will. It means we refuse to make a choice.
First of all, sin (evil) does not exist in any positive sense of the term. As St. Augustine tells us in many of his writings, sin/evil is simply an absence of good. In other words, it is a negative. Augustine actually uses the analogy of light and darkness. Dark is an absence of light. Evil (sin) is an absence of good.
Second of all, our modern culture’s claims to the contrary not withstanding, to choose sin is to choose slavery. We are not free when we choose sin, because sin isn’t really a choice. God created us to do His will. When we choose otherwise, we are refusing to fulfill the purpose for which our free will was given to us. This makes a slave to our own will, because we can not live our lives fully. Allow me an example.
My son, Wesley, really wanted a Tom Brady action football figure for Christmas a few years ago. He got it, and enjoyed it for a little while. However, the figure had a football glued to his hand. Wesley wanted the ball to come loose, so he pried it off. The result wasn’t what Wesley expected.
The ball came loose from the Roy’s hand, but the hand also broke off. Now the toy was broken, and in such a way that it could not be repaired properly. While Wesley could still play with the figure, it didn’t function properly.
Wesley thought that by prying the ball free his play-time experience would be enhanced. He used his free will to do as he wanted with toy, instead of what I told him to do. (I had warned Wesley that the toy would break if he tried to pry the football loose.) The result was that Wesley limited what he was able to do with the toy further. He is now a slave to the toy. His experience with it is limited by what the toy is now able to do with only one hand. Wesley can’t get the full experience out of the toy, because it doesn’t function properly.
We are no different. We were created to use our free will for a certain purpose. When we choose not to fulfill that purpose, we are doing ourselves harm. We distort our nature, and enslave ourselves to that distortion. As a result, we cease to function properly. We become “broken”. This prevents us from living our lives as God intended. We are unable to “live life to the fullest”.
Let us live our lives to the fullest. We can only do this by accepting God’s gift of our free will. We can only do this when we use our free will properly. So let us choose the will of God, for that is really the only choice.
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity