Free Will vs. “God’s” Will

August 16, 2022

 

I met with a hospice family recently that exemplified the kind of confusion and disempowerment that many people experience as a result of their childhood religious teachings. The patient wanted to do death with dignity, but because of his dementia, he did not qualify. His wife talked with me about her religious/ethical questions, specifically, shouldn’t we let God decide when and how someone should die?

This was our conversation:

 

Chaplain:
Nobody really knows for certain how God operates. You could say that God gives us the opportunity for dialysis, chemo, etc., in which case you could say that God wants us to live. But even with those things, we die anyway, and we suffer in the process, so what did God actually want? Did he want us to suffer before we finally die, or would he want us to have quality of life? Ultimately, the choice is OURS. We have free will to make those decisions.


Patient’s wife (dumbfounded):
You mean God lets us make our own decisions? I thought he decides everything for us.


Chaplain:
How do you know which decisions are yours vs. are which are God’s? Is there really a difference? What if there’s no separation between us and this idea we call “god?” What if it all works together?


She was stunned by this idea. It had never occurred to her that our actions and experiences might NOT be controlled by a puppet master in the sky. And her question about God “making all the decisions for us” was infantile… something a five year-old might ask. Which means that all her life, she accepted and embraced the image of God she was given at five years old, never questioning it until there’s an existential crisis. And when loss and grief are involved, childhood images of God can create all kinds of obstacles to healing.

 

Here’s an article from the Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling that explores this in depth:
https://journals.sagepub.com/eprint/GKSJEVZXUMFNI7QCNUZZ/full

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Terri Daniel

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