Ryan, CS Lewis, & Prince Humperdinck

My cousin, Ryan, is nine years younger than me. I’ve loved him ever since he was born but because we didn’t live very close, I didn’t get to see him very often. I always enjoyed Thanksgivings that we could be together. And I loved watching Ryan grow up.

I think that as soon as Ryan could talk, he learned the phrase, “But why…?” My brother and I used to sit in the back of the car and giggle when Ryan would ride in the car with us because Ryan would barrage my Dad with questions.

“Unca Neal, why is the sky blue? Why is the grass green? Why did that bird go to that tree? Why did that cat jump on the fence?”

My Dad would try, very patiently—which is not a particular strength of his—to answer each of Ryan’s questions. But no matter what Daddy answered, Ryan would respond with, “But why…?” And my brother and I would dissolve into another fit of giggles.

I’m a lot like Ryan—and not just because our Dads are brothers. And I’ll bet some of you are right there with me. Anytime anything happens that I’ve never seen before or that I dislike, my questions start.

“God, why was that person unkind to me? Why did they tell that rumor about me? Why was I abused as a child and raped as a teenager? Why did that mother of three get killed by a drunk driver? Why did that Daddy leave his family?”

And no matter what answer I seem to get, I always come back with Ryan’s favorite question: “But why…?”

I recently had a friend ask me, “But why does God allow my ex-husband to use our child to hurt me?” I know it sounded hollow to her ears and it felt weak for soothing her troubled heart, but the truth is: “Because your ex-husband has free will.” And that answer almost inevitably leads to a slew of questions, one of which I’d like to discuss:

“But why does God allow free will?”

CS Lewis speaks to this very clearly in the chapter of Mere Christianity that we’re looking at this week.

“Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having…. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.” (Lewis, 52)

For those that struggle a bit—like me—with Lewis’ words, what does this actually mean? The best analogy I can think of is Prince Humperdinck and Princess Buttercup from the movie The Princess Bride. In the movie, the Prince has sent away Princess Buttercup’s one true love and attempts to force her to marry him, although she does not love him. She’s so bereft at the loss of her one true love and at the thought of being forced to be married to Prince Humperdinck that she pulls out a dagger, intending to end her life.

What if God was like Prince Humperdinck? What if He stripped away from us the things we truly love and enjoy and that give our life meaning? What if He forced us to make an empty vow to Him, promising our life to Him, even though we still loved another?

Thank God, He is NOT like Prince Humperdinck! He allows us to choose who we will love, serve, follow, and spend the rest of our lives with. And though we may choose God, not everybody will. The result is that those of us who choose God still aren’t perfect and make mistakes—which inevitably affect those around us, sometimes in negative ways. And those who don’t choose God choose something/someone else to serve—which inevitably affects those around them, sometimes in negative ways.

The gift of free will is one of the greatest gifts that God has given us. But even so, it’s sometimes the most difficult to understand and cope with. I think that for me, the key is remembering Jeremiah 29:11—that God’s not just looking out for Himself, He’s got my best interest in mind, too. And that He’s the only one strong enough to make “the best” happen for me anyway. No matter what men’s free will brings about in my life, God is bigger. For me, that’s a great hope to hold onto.

This post is part of the regular Wednesday book discussion on CS Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” that Jason Stasyszen and I are having on our blogs. A bunch of our friends are joining us and everyone is welcome to participate whether they’re reading along or not. If you’ll hop over to Jason’s site, you can read his take on the chapter and you can add your link to the widget if you’ve written about the chapter. Otherwise, please just hop around and make yourself at home!

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  1. Free will is scary, because I could make the wrong choice and choose to separate myself from Him. Free will is beautiful, because we can more fully love and appreciate Him when we make the right choice.
    Love you, Sarah.

  2. i am glad that we have been given a choice.
    that God is allowing us to choose Him, and
    that He will not reject us if we do choose Him.

    thanks be to the Lord.

  3. I couldn’t say it any better than Helen.
    Thank you, Sarah! I love you.

  4. Sarah Salter says:

    Helen, as much as our hearts are corrupt, the Holy Spirit lives inside of us and helps us to make the right choices. We don’t always do it. But that’s why we have Grace. And thank God for that! I love you, too! 🙂

  5. Sarah Salter says:

    Amen, Nance! Amen!

  6. Sarah Salter says:

    Love you, too, Sarah Bee! 🙂

  7. I love the Princess Bride! Aside from that, I agree wholeheartedly with what you said about free will. Thank God that He gives us that freedom to choose.

  8. Sarah Salter says:

    Thanks, Matt! Good to see you! And thanks for the giggles on the Twitter last night! 🙂

  9. Ahh the questions. Then you have the other side of it, that God can and does change hearts as we pray and love and give. He directs paths and saves lives (physical and spiritual) as someone stands in the gap. Does that violate free will? Are they choosing? And then you have Jesus saying that we didn’t choose Him but He chose us. I know my brain is too puny to comprehend all this, and I’m thankful that God is more than able to sort it all out. 🙂 Great post, Sarah.

  10. Sarah Salter says:

    Yes, Jason: “The Questions.” I laughed while I typed that because I could almost hear a suspenseful soundtrack playing in the background. LOL! We ALL have the questions and some of them will never get answered here. That’s why I love what the late Tommy Tyson said: “Being Christian doesn’t mean I have all the answers. It means I know The One Who Is The Answer.”

  11. I so agree with you Sarah.. I am happy He gave us free will, yet it is a burden heavy to bear at times and then I wish He would make my choices for me.

  12. Barbara Capps says:

    Yeah you picked a scary one there sister.. But I believe you hit the nail on the head.. but it is truly a great gift God gave us.

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