Would you remove free will?

What would you do if you were God for a day?

I once spent a few hours asking people that very question. It was a question board I did with the Christian Union at university.

The premise of a question board is simple. There is a board with a question on it, passers by are asked to answer the question, those answers are stuck on the board using post-it notes. It’s a good way to quickly gauge opinions about something, and discuss them if people are interested in doing so. On this occasion the question put people in the place of God. How would people use the power? How would you?

Most of the responses I received have been lost to the mists of an imperfect memory, but one sticks very clearly in the mind. I remember it because I was shocked by it, and because it was by far the most common answer that the people I spoke to had.

I’d remove free will.

At the time I was totally unprepared for that answer. It had simply never occurred to me that people thought they had too much free will. Too little, maybe – after all, plenty of people seem to think of religion as a set of restrictive rules – but too much free will?!

I guess we can think of free will as being free to do what we want to do. I’m sure a philosopher could pick holes in such a simplistic definition (do leave comments to help me refine it), but it’ll do for my purposes. If I have a certain desire, can I satisfy it? Can I do the things which I most want to do?

Is this a type of free will which we have? It seems to me that people do have this freedom, but paradoxically are enslaved by it. We can do what we want, but I’m not sure we can do anything else! We always act according to our desires, and when we deny ourselves it simply shows we have found a greater desire. I may forgo the pleasure of some food, but only the greater pleasure (or at least, what I perceive as the greater pleasure) of losing weight. Or conversely, I might (and often do!) forgo the pleasure of fitness for the greater pleasure of laziness. We are constrained to follow our own free will.

Into this world, Jesus came and offered freedom. Freedom from what? From slavery to our desires which often go against God’s good desires for our lives. That is why Jesus calls you and me “slaves to sin”. How does Jesus give us this freedom? He changes our desires. He cuts right to the heart of the problem, and changes us from being slaves to sin to being slaves to righteousness. We are still constrained, but to live a completely different way. The way that God knows is best for us.

I assume that the people who told me they would remove free will had in mind that they would impose perfection on the world. I assume they would prevent people from doing things which cause suffering. Perhaps they would even force people to worship them. How different the God of the Bible is! Rather than making people act against their will, He changes people from the inside out. The Christian isn’t compelled to do good, but longs to do it. God doesn’t force us to worship Him, but shows us how wonderful He is and our worship flows naturally from it. What a gentle way of dealing with a race of sinful humans!

What would you do if you were God for a day? What do you think of the idea of removing free will?

A big day out

Tuesday was Gareth’s big day out – a day spent in London consisting of culture, friendship, and a name worthy of a Wallace and Gromit film.

We kicked off at the British Museum with a guided tour of some of the exhibits which relate to the Bible. I was impressed by the speed at which we went round, as my parents always do museums far too slowly to keep my interest. It did strike me just how much archaeological stuff is pottery, which makes for a very monochrome museum, but it was nevertheless interesting to see some of the details of the lives of people in Biblical eras. It helped to drive home the reality of who these people were, and the world in which they lived.

After lunch it was on to the Tate Britain, where the art lover within me failed to materialise. I didn’t understand any of the art, but I did think about art for the first time. I did actually quite like one of the abstract pieces, but my artistic observations were along the lines of ‘It’s very big’ or ‘Oh, that’s green’! I’m a little confused about what art is after being told it doesn’t need to look nice and doesn’t need to require skill, but I think art is anything that’s been created by someone inside the art world. By the same (somewhat cynical) token, good art seems to be anything which has caught the eye of someone influential enough to display it somewhere.

For me, the highlight of the day was walking past the houses of parliament and looking at the security arrangements. I didn’t dare photograph them too closely for fear of being arrested, but I was fascinated. I can only imagine that having a whole bunch of new MPs must have caused chaos for the security arrangements! It’s a small thing, but seeing a van being let into nearby Downing Street was, bizarrely, a slightly special moment.

The day was my first experience of tourism in London, and the related joy of the tube (or underground tram network, as it’s been aptly described). It was a nice day, it did broaden my mind a little bit, and I got to take photos of colourful elephant statues and equally colourful sword-wielding soldiers. The only disappointment was that I expected Trafalgar Square to be a bit bigger, but considering it’s prime London land then I must admit £240 is a cracking price for it! Monopoly will never be the same again.

Events week 2010

This coming week is Reading University Christian Union’s events week. This is a week in which we plan to host loads of events, talk to as many people as possible, and share the message of the Bible with them. I won’t post a full schedule here (it can be found at if you want to see one) but I would ask any Christians reading this to pray for it. I will be a panellist in a ‘grill a Christian’ event on Wednesday lunchtime, answering any and every question which people can think of to ask me and the rest of the panel. I’ve not done anything of the sort before, but I trust God to give me the words to say.

Nothing appealing

One of many differences between humans and God struck me over the weekend, while on the RUCU houseparty. The Bible talks were from Isaiah chapters 53-55, and in my personal devotions I was reading Romans chapter 5. Just a few hours apart I read both the following passages:

He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Isaiah 53:2-3

When we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8

Spot the difference? We looked on an unattractive Christ and, by nature, reject Him. God, on the other hand, looks upon an unattractive humanity and loves it. God comes and dies for sinful humanity. What is the result?

I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.

Isaiah 52:12

Jesus, God the Son, is honoured by God the Father because He bore our sin. A just God punishes all wrong things, and Jesus took that punishment for us. What amazing love! No wonder Jesus is honoured!

Great movements of God

Every great movement of God can be traced to a kneeling figure.

D. L. Moody

Today, Friday the 6th of November, marks the IFES World Student Day, a 48 hour period of solid prayer around the globe for the work of Christian students as they aim to live for God in their universities. RUCU‘s termly prayer week is this coming week, the 9th to the 13th of November, after which we head off for a weekend of fellowship and teaching at our houseparty. Some of my (few) readers are Reading students, some are not, but if you are a Christian why not join us in prayer this week? We will be praying for salvation on Reading campus and for God to make great movements in the lives of individuals, and through them great movements which impact throughout the whole world. Be part of it. Pray to God.

Perhaps the Lord… He just did!

One month ago, to the day, I had a tedious job to do at work which required very little thought. I wanted to make good use of the time, so I listened to a talk by Richard Cunningham which I found through Bish’s blog. At the time I thought it was a good talk, and made a note to blog about it, but I never got round to writing that post. Yesterday I read the same passage in my quiet time. The passage is the first half of 1 Samuel 14 and in it Jonathan, the son of King Saul, attacks an army with only one ally and one weapon between them. They have faith in God, and decide to take a massive risk, aware that God is able to use even the smallest and weakest things to bring salvation, and they say “Perhaps the LORD will act” (NIV).

I was aware as I read the passage that there was an event put on by the CU small group at Bridges hall in the evening, aimed at international students, but it had been arranged within two days. I wasn’t hopeful of it being very good. The gospel content was supposed to be in a talk, but I didn’t think the event lent itself to having a talk. We couldn’t get any follow up forms for people to fill in. Only four Christians could be there. There was next to no advertising. It was shaping up to be an all time low in the history of CU small group events.

We went ahead, of course, hoping God would do something useful. It didn’t go too well. We had two people come and chat to us awkwardly, which was nice, but not brilliant. One left to go to her room when she was getting cold. We’d been there for quite a long time. Certainly it was over an hour, and our two contacts were polite enough and friendly enough, but neither seemed overly interested. Then two more people came. I’d been hoping to get away and go to bed by this point, but I had to stay and chat. Again it was awkward, with no natural conversationalists at the event and a language barrier to overcome. It was getting really late when another international student walked into the room and joined us.

We were all getting tired and it was time for us to go. We started packing away, and said goodbye to our contacts. Just the last student remained. I turned away from packing up food, and saw he was chatting to a group of Christians, including two from other small groups who had come to be supportive (thank you both!). I chatted to a guy who was on the Bridges JCR committee, but the conversation never really got onto spiritual matters. I played a game of pool with a friend. Still the conversation was ongoing. I thought it was reasonable for me to intrude so I stood in the circle and listened. The conversation was about spiritual matters, but not the gospel itself. It didn’t seem to be getting any closer to the gospel either. Eventually I asked the student about the reason behind his own moral beliefs. He thought it was good to do good things, but not because we want to get into heaven.


What an opportunity to explain we’re not doing good things to get into heaven, but because we’re loved by God and already booked into heaven! That conversation lasted a long time, finishing at 1am, and having survived moving to a different room and numerous interruptions from uninterested parties. The JCR member I’d previously spoken to listened silently the whole time, offering no opinions but hearing the gospel explained in no uncertain times.

I got home at 1:40am, thankful to God for showing me once again that His strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). In no way could it be claimed that the small group members were responsible for a very successful event. The gospel was heard by at least half a dozen people. Free gospels were given away, along with invitations to further events. Several people gave us their contact details. We got permission for a further event in the hall, after some confusion over email resulting in us being denied permission. Greatest of all, of course, we got to share the gospel as clearly as it could be shared.

I had prayed beforehand that every Christian would get to explain the gospel to someone, so we could grow in our confidence and desire to evangelise. I hadn’t expected all of us to explain it to the same person, but we did, and even the most shy among us contributed. Let us be thankful to God as we end the work of telling the gospel (for one day), and begin the work of praying for the people we met. I certainly hope to meet them again and carry on the discussion.

In other news, we can be grateful for 29 freshers who have contacted RUCU in one way or another before freshers’ week even begins!


I will be away at forum for the coming week, from Monday until Friday, so there won’t be any blog posts from me until I get back. For those who don’t know, forum is UCCF’s summer training conference-type thing aimed particularly at CU leaders. I’ve not been before, but I have high hopes for the week. I hope to (in no particular order):

  • Encourage people from other CUs, and be encouraged by them
  • Make and renew friendships
  • Finish reading A Call to Spiritual Reformation (or at least read a large portion of it)
  • Get some serious praying done
  • Enthuse about freshers’ week
  • Sharpen my iron (Proverbs 27:17)
  • Have fun
  • Grow to love the Bible more after a whole week of listening to preaching from it
  • Is there any chance of learning to unicycle properly?

My own peculiar way

As to dancing, my dear, I never dance, unless I am allowed to do it in my own peculiar way. There is no use trying to describe it: it has to be seen to be believed.

So wrote Lewis Carroll in December 1873. Judging by the CU ball, the sentiment is still true for many.

The joys of hard work

In recent weeks I’ve had a lot on my plate. I am continually amazed by how much work is generated by being on the committee of a Christian Union. I still don’t know what causes it all – it seems to be a continual supply of one-offs provided by God to encourage me to rely more on His all sustaining grace.

It’s incredibly tempting at times to feel resentful of the amount of responsibility I have. Not only do I have a to-do list as long as Lee’s hair, but I’m also meant to find time to pray for God’s blessing on it all? Ridiculous!

As I sat listening to Ludovico Einaudi and preparing a Bible study for the RUCU committee meeting last week I was struck by the joy of salvation, and the privilege of serving God. I’d chosen to look at Psalm 116, which is well worth a read any day of the year. The Psalmist speaks about his salvation, and his gratitude shines through in each sentence before he turns his attention to serving and worshipping God. Having written about this joyous subject, the Psalmist ends in the only way he knows how – “Praise the Lord!”

Suddenly giving up a few hours of revision time doesn’t seem so bad. The same God who raised Jesus from the dead and has given me new life is sustaining me and enabling me to work for Him! I can work hard for God’s glory in God’s power! I know God expects me to give my whole life to Him, but He expects no more. God wants 100% from me – but not 110%! He doesn’t want me to do more than He has enabled me to do. God has called me to work hard for His glory, and to trust Him with the results of it. This applies to revision, organising CU events, doing housework, talking to friends, and everything inbetween!

I don’t expect my struggles to disappear. I don’t expect to be able to get the balance between working for my degree, serving the CU and spending time with friends right. I don’t expect to know how much time to spend relaxing. But I do expect God to help me learn. I do expect God to bless the work I do for Him. Most of all, I do expect God to glorify Himself through me. And no other thought has made me appreciate my work so much!

Further reading: