The free will with which a dog lives is something to be envied. Each choice is inherent in it's nature, indecision is merely a matter of the moment. Angst over choice is forgotten the instant action is taken. How different from humans who wrestle and struggle with the daily choices.
To what degree do we really have choice? Are we actually choosing, or do we simply think we're choosing?
(And it's at this point non-nerds may wish to depart ... might I suggest going here. Else jump down to the last three paragraphs - the rest is, well, quite odd!)
This morning I was engaged in multiple conversations about choice. It was nerd conversation ...
Think about our lives as having multiple dimensions, as in the way we live in 3 space dimensions. But our lives are really multiple dimensional ... hyper-dimensional ... many times more than simple 3 space dimensions. This is our choice-space ... the space within which we make our decisions. It includes dimensions of the physical, emotional, and spiritual, and dimensions of history, context, and randomness. In some senses we make choices in all dimensions, and they are all (or should be but maybe aren't) intertwined.
Fundamentally choices are decisions for action ... until you actually take a step and act, the choice is really only potential choice. Like paralysis ... when paralyzed we do not act, and no choice is effectively made because there is no action that leads from the choice.
Now, in this multi-dimensional choice-space there is an optimum place on each dimensional axis -- that point of optimal choice among the myriad of apparent options. It's interesting to consider that, if you were perfect, if you could see everything for what it really is, your choice would be a binary one. Either you choose the best, or you choose sub-optimally. In fact, if you were perfect, by definition you really have no choice at all! For if you were perfect you could not choose a lesser option without destroying your own perfection, and the perfect could not do that, else it would not be perfect to start with.
So, the perfect is an optimal place on each of our choice-space dimensions. But, do we perhaps spend most of our lives locked in a local optimum, not recognizing there is a higher optimum yet to be reached? In our imperfection, are we are not easily deluded to think our choice patterns are normality? Delusion leads to pride, in pride we have yet to recognize the higher optimum and think ourselves already there. Such moments calls for an external force to jolt us out of our sub-optimal semi-equilbrium state (go and read Terry Pratchett's "Thief of time" to think about levels of equilibrium).
So, to move us out of this dangerous sub-optimal complacency requires the application of a force. This is, I think, one way to view God's intervention in our lives, where He brings external disturbances to our place in choice-space -- it's like God's version of Brownian motion that keeps the temperature up so we jiggle around on each dimensional axis of choice, and so we might then gently settle down closer and closer to the true optimum. It's rather like God is annealing our lives, much as we might do with metal to make it stronger and less brittle (I think the self-righteous are exactly like someone stuck in a sub-optimal choice place and unaware of it - rather like Tea-party Republican politicians in US politics).
Our choices on any one dimension distorts the dimensional surface and pushes and pulls us on other dimensions. For example, a good choice in the physical dimension (like choosing a healthy diet) pulls our spiritual and emotional dimensions closer to their optimum position. Likewise, a bad choice (such as flirting with the occult) pulls us away from our optimum on other dimensions.
This dimensional picture gives greater meaning to Chesterton's dynamic tension of life, where he speaks of how Christianity got over furious opposites by keeping them furious and keeping them opposite. Our optimum place in choice-space is thus where we hold things in tension by keeping them in equilibrium. Life like this is the null point, like a giant multi-arm see-saw in balance (anybody thinking of Luther's drunkard on a horse?).
So, perhaps perfection is such a state of holding a dimensional existence in perfect equilibrium ... perhaps this is the place of Joy (as described by Lewis) ... perhaps this is like heaven. Here we hold grief and pleasure in perfect tension. We all know what it is like to master a task, where we have developed the skills to hold all aspects at once, where we sit at the nexus and with small controlled input in different directions we keep chaos at bay. And once achieved, it becomes progressively easier to recover, like riding a bicycle, sailing a windsurfer, playing a piano, and the end result is beautiful harmony.
In this paradigm we might imagine God defines the infinity point of each axis, that sin is any act that destroys our equilibrium, and hell is at the zero.
The metaphor is thus that life is a journey to seek the null derivative in our individual choice field ... when the first derivative (velocity) and the second derivative (acceleration) on each dimension are zero, then we have found the position of optimal equilibrium. We have found the null point in choice-space ... we then have perfect sight, perfect tension, holding all in balance with mastery, and here we find that choice disappears because we see there is only one truth, only one wisdom.
We're like a child the first time they climb on a bicycle, wobbling along and trying to balance all the tugs and pulls on our precarious state, unable yet to find the perfect equilibrium with mastery, yet with enough capacity to keep a general direction with the occasional fall.
Thus, choice (as in, having alternatives) only truly emerges where we have uncertainty, where we cannot see clearly, and where we perceive there to be apparent alternatives. Our life is about listening to God draw us back to that place of created perfection and one truth. God is working to clear our eyes of the clouds of uncertainty that come from incomplete understanding, a shortcoming from a fallen nature.
Choice then, for us, becomes a simple question of remaining true to our intended created nature, and seeing the apparent alternative options as expressions of a fallen nature. The problem is, we are not fully cognizant of our created nature, and hence the apparent choice options seem to present themselves as equal value alternatives.
God's grace is what keeps us in some state of equilibrium. It is God's hand in the bicycle seat that steadies us as we mature in the skills of understanding balance.
One of the best definitions I know of Grace is "God's empowering presence to be all He created you to be, and to do all He calls you to do". This is a beautiful recasting of the two greatest commandments. The first is "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind" -- we are created to worship God, and so Grace is His empowering presence to be what He created me to be, a worshiper. And the second is "Love your neighbor as yourself" ... Grace enables me to do this.
So it is through grace that I navigate my choice-space. By Grace I can see the decision tree. Grace draws me to my optimum in the hyper-dimensional existence of actions. Grace brings me toward the life as I was created to be. This non-orthogonal dimensional paradigm for life's choices opens the door to a vast field of imagining a new possibility space. Now that's science!
NOTES for the pedantic:
Some may say that based on the above, I'm saying that God has no choice. One might argue that, with His complete clarity and transparency about His own nature, He can only remain true to who He is by following a single alternative in each apparent choice, otherwise He would be contrary to His nature. But choice is about action, and action is inherently a time-language concept. For one who is not bound by time (as God is not), how do we even begin to talk about choice? We do not have the words nor the comprehension to understand choice when the straitjacket of time is loosened and stripped away. We can't even begin to articulate choice in Gods perspective. I wonder sometimes about the Bible passage that says "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him". For me this is (possibly) an enticing and exciting allusion to a heavenly experience where time will no longer shackle us. Such an existence is beyond my rational sense; I do not have the language to begin to imagine it.