Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me. I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you; I will praise your name, Lord, for it is good. (Psalm 54:4,6)
The Problem with Free Will
For centuries, theologians and philosophers have discussed the “problem of free will.” To what degree do we humans have the ability to freely choose anything? Do our decisions truly determine a course of action, or is that course determined for us—whether by chance…or circumstances…or God?
In Christian theology, this idea of free will includes the question of whether or not we can choose between right and wrong, belief and unbelief, even salvation and damnation. For Christians, we must reckon with the truth that we worship a sovereign God who is all-powerful and all-knowing. If we believe in such a God, is it possible for us mere mortals to freely decide or determine anything? And yet, we appear to make choices about everything, all the time. Is that really just an illusion?
It seems that, as the writer Isaac Bashevis Singer once wrote, “We must believe in free will…we have no choice!”
Fortunately, this isn’t the forum to debate the problem of free will. Our task is simply to listen to what God has to say to us in the psalms. In Psalm 54, David isn’t pondering deep philosophical questions, he is asking God for help. The inscription at the beginning gives us some context,
When the Ziphites had gone to Saul and said, “Is not David hiding among us?”
Psalm 54 is a real prayer, offered by a real person, addressing a real problem. You can read about it in 1 Samuel 23:14-29. David and his men were being hunted down by King Saul. Saul and his army searched for David “Day after day,” but “God did not give David into his hands.” But then the Ziphites, among whom David was hiding, decided they would betray David and hand him over to Saul. This is a real problem for David, so he prays a real prayer: “Save me! Hear me! Help me!” and God responds. Just as Saul’s army is closing in on David, the Philistines launch an attack on Israel back home and Saul has to break off his pursuit of the rebels.
You see, regardless of what Saul or David or the Ziphites or even the Philistines had chosen to do that day, God had chosen to make David the next king. God always manages to get His way in the end…that’s the problem with free will!
The real purpose of David’s prayer in Psalm 54 wasn’t to bend God’s will to his, but to align his will to God’s. And that isn’t always so easy. Eventually, David would become king. He would no longer need to run away from anyone or anything, but he would need to run back to God time and time again. What David needed to learn—and what I need to learn—is that freedom is found in constantly submitting our will to God. Only when our choices align with God’s choices can we be truly “free.”
So, when David pledges to sacrifice a “freewill offering” to God (vs. 6), maybe his free will is the best offering of all.
In Romans 12:1-2, Paul tells us how we can do exactly that–how we can begin to know God’s will and to align our will to His. It begins with offering God our bodies and it continues with letting Him change our minds. What Paul describes is a “freewill” offering that is truly freeing.
Listen to Jesus’ promise: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). If and when our will is freely aligned with His, we can live and move in unlimited freedom and limitless power.
Make a “freewill offering” to God today. Let your free will be your offering. In Christ alone is our help, our strength, and our life. Pray to Him, listen to Him, remain in Him…because you belong to Him. Stay thirsty, my friends.