Acts 16:7

Nick Welford grapples with the issue of free will.

Nick Welford
Nick Welford

I'm not only a keen board gamer I also review games and work freelance in the board game industry.

One of the concepts that really interests me about board games is the idea of player agency, that is how much choice and decision a player has in the game. Are their choices really choices or are they being subtly or not very subtly led to make certain decisions?

Obviously depending on the game this is a more or less desirable quality. In a game that is for younger or less experienced players, having some decisions made more obvious isn't a bad thing, but experienced players like to feel in control, like their decisions matter.

Of course I recognise this idea of agency in other areas of my life too, particularly parenting.

As my son grows older I try to give him more agency, more decisions that he can make freely. Conversely when he was younger there was a need to guide him to a place where he could and sometimes show him how to make those decisions and spell them out to him.

All of which brings me to God, and the idea of our agency in the world.

It's a question that raises its head in another guise in society whenever a natural disaster claims human lives - is God all loving and unable to help? Or all powerful but doesn't care enough to help? Who's in control? Us or God? And if the outcomes of our lives are predetermined then is there much point in fooling ourselves otherwise?

Essentially it's the age old question of freewill and how exactly that works, when the Bible has words like 'predestined'. If I was predestined then did I ultimately have a choice anyway? And if I didn't have a choice, why was I 'playing' anyway?

One of the most interesting lectures I had on the Bible asked the question whether Paul and his band of early missionaries really knew what they were doing? These days we might examine their 'missionary' strategy and try in some way to imitate it, but there's a case to be made that they kind of made it up as they went along, going to places they knew and not in a logical travelling fashion. And then there is an interesting passage, Acts 16:7, which tells us that the 'Spirit of Jesus' would not allow them to enter Bithynia.

I find this absolutely fascinating. In my mind it's as though they had agency until they tried to go somewhere that for whatever reason God didn't want them to go. The news of Jesus and His ability to change lives for the better isn't just good news in certain pre-selected places, but it's good news for everyone. God didn't need to intervene until God did intervene.

I'm still working out how I feel about this, but in a lot of ways it makes sense to me that God would want us to act with as much agency as possible. Not to say that God doesn't get involved in the world or indeed our lives, but perhaps what colour socks we wear isn't of the upmost importance most of the time. Perhaps rather than seeking God's direct invention in our troubles and strife we'd be best served seeking God's friendship?

There used to be a popular phrase, 'don't look for a devil behind every bush', implying that not every bad thing that happens is because of the devil. I'm suggesting we don't look for God behind every bush either. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.