“To a greater force, and to a better nature, you, free, are subject, and that creates the mind in you, which the heavens have not in their charge. Therefore if the present world go astray, the cause is in you, in you it is to be sought.” (Purgatorio, Canto XVI, lines 79-83)
Free will has been a prevailing theme in modern western culture since its inception, and indeed, its roots can be found among the oldest scriptures, as well as in Dante. As Dante says, humans are subject to a force superlative to that of the heavens; that of free will, the ability to choose to defy God, and if therefore, everything goes wrong, humanity is the bearer of fault and not the divine. The Curious thing about free will is ironically, the immense freedom it bestows upon the world’s inhabitants. It grants the infinite potential for good, as well as great wickedness; it is precisely that freedom which also bestows an immense burden of pesonal responsibility.
Free will can be defined as, “the apparent human ability to make choices that are not externally determined.” (Dictionary.com) Humanity has had this uncanny ability to choose since the dawn of man, quite literally if we are to believe some of our earliest folk literature. In Genesis for example, God places man and woman in a garden paradise, commonly referred to as Eden, and leaves them with one instruction: don’t eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. The male-female pair enjoys this paradise, but it is to be short lived once man meets serpent. The serpent convinces man that if the forbidden fruit were consumed, humanity would be god-like. Desiring such power, and seeing no such wrong in disobedience to God’s one instruction, man consumes the fruit, and thus exiled from Eden (Genesis 3-4).
It is precisely because of free will, not the consumption of some “fruit” that humanity is made like God. Humans have the capacity to affect themselves as well as others around them. An example from my own life comes to mind. When I was 22, I was approached by a man who had been my friend since the age of 6, and he asked to borrow fifty dollars for the purchase of a pistol. This man in particular was known to be involved in some illicit and often dangerous activity. Knowing this, I refused to lend him the money he needed, stating that I would neither be involved in his dealings, nor in the act of taking another human life. I made a choice, and received news of his death a week later.
The power of free will is a very god-like burden to bear. It has given us the fruits of knowledge, while condemning us to death. We, as well as God, have the power to take it away. Dante’s insight is both relevant and powerful, for if the world should descend into chaos, or rise to the heights of heaven itself, it indeed will be the direct result of man’s eternal gift of choice.
“free will.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 31 Aug. 2010.
<Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/free will>.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Fully rev. ed. Kenneth L. Barker, gen. ed.
Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002. Print