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Truman Burbank had everything a young man could desire. A vivacious, loving wife, a nice house in a picture-perfect neighborhood, good friends, a good job, and security. Especially security. The only thing he lacked was the freedom to be himself.

Although he didn’t realize it, from the moment he was born, he had slept and played and worked under the unblinking eyes of TV cameras. He took his first steps, rode his bike, went to school, and grew to be a man in a model community staffed by hundreds of actors. Each actor, plus the technicians, lighting specialists, and other support staff, had specific roles in keeping him happy and making it technically possible to televise every moment of his life.

Truman was free to do anything he wanted—except make his own choices.

Little by little Truman awakened to the terrible truth, and the 1998 hit movie that tells the story—The Truman Show—ends with him taking a perilous journey to freedom. A life of superficial pleasures—despite the comfort that built-in security and routine could offer—could not satisfy him.

While fictional, this parable about Truman—“True Man”—resonates with our everyday lives. It is the rare person who would want to live a preprogrammed life, a life without worry but without personal choices. For we—you and I—were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26, 27), a “little lower than the angels” (Hebrews 2:7). And because God desires only heartfelt, loving obedience from His children, He gave us the power to choose to obey—or not to obey; to choose right or wrong, life or death. In fact, God so values our freedom of choice that He literally died to preserve that freedom.

A dazzling lie

Our first parents chose to believe the dazzling, seductive half-truth of the serpent: If you eat the forbidden fruit, you will be like God (Genesis 2:16, 17). Eve did it first. Then Adam, with one quick look over his shoulder, took the fruit from the hands of his wife, and he ate too.

The truth embedded in the devil’s lie was that the first couple would indeed gain an increased understanding of the universe. What the devil didn’t tell them was that this benefit would come at an unbearable price. When Adam and Eve bit into the forbidden fruit, sin bit back. From mountaintops to mitochondria, everything in the world around them sagged under the crushing weight of sin.

God could have made it impossible for Adam and Eve to sin. He could have programmed them to obey Him. He could have placed them in a perfect world with no choice at all except to say, “Yes, God.” But because the irrational, unexplainable thing called “sin” was alive and strong in the heart of Satan, God chose to give the earth’s first children the freedom to choose. To be true to Himself and His eternal laws, He had no other option.

Life is tough. It isn’t for the fainthearted, neither life in today’s world nor life in biblical times. The Bible tells it like it was. Just look at the dysfunction of Jacob’s tangle of wives and sons. The violence and lies. Notice how, hundreds of years later, God’s chosen people were still charmed by gods they could hold in their hands. Jump forward a couple thousand more years and watch the religious leaders squeeze their eyes shut to God when He came to the earth while small children and streetwalkers recognized Goodness and gave their lives to Him.

Oh, we have excuses for our misbehaviors:

“It’s ridiculous. I’ve never heard that before.”

“I just can’t help it—I’ve got my mom’s temper.”

“Can’t you see where I was born? I didn’t have a chance.”

Wrong. No genetic inheritance compels a person to make a dishonest or immoral choice. The Holy Spirit opens our hearts to what’s right and convicts us of wrong (John 16:7, 8). And if we are willing, the Spirit will lead us into all truth (verse 13).

A God of surprises

Some Christians teach, mistakenly, that every detail of our lives is determined for us before we’re born. They believe that to be faithful to God’s will for their lives, they have to figure out His ideal plan and live in harmony with it down to the last detail.

But God is a God of surprises. He doesn’t tell us, “You can do anything you desire—as long as you volunteer to clean the church twice a month, read the Bible before breakfast, and wear only the nicest clothes to church.” Our relationship with God isn’t just that of a servant with a master—it’s a partnership.

Into each of His children God weaves specific details—abilities and small quirks, likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams. “Look at My Susan,” God might say. “She’s always been crazy about sports—volleyball, soccer, swimming, you name it. I love her energy, her persistence and dedication. The quiet things she does for her family and friends really make Me smile. Working together, we can make something beautiful.”

Or God might say: “Look at My Louis. He changes career plans as often as he does his shoes. He can’t wait until he’s out of school and has a chance to do something—he just isn’t sure yet what that is. But I see his love for figuring out how things work. He’s fascinated by how cars hum and airplanes fly. I think I know some things he’ll truly find fulfilling.”

This is not to say that we can’t shortchange God’s will for our lives by disregarding His principles of health, behavior, and stewardship. God has established laws in nature that contribute to our happiness: proper diet, exercise, and rest; the Ten Commandments. God gives us the freedom to choose, including the freedom to act contrary to His will and principles for life. But Jesus promised us that we need never make our choices alone.

It’s a general principle that a life lived in harmony with God’s will is a life of good health and prosperity, while a life out of God’s will brings poverty and pain. Living in a world marred by sin this side of eternity, Christians can’t completely escape sin’s effects. Like other people, they still lose their jobs, struggle with depression, worry about their kids, grow old, and die. In times of famine, good Christians starve along with their atheistic neighbors. Christian believers have heart attacks and head-on collisions just the same as unbelievers (Matthew 5:45).

But throughout the best and the worst, living in harmony with God’s will covers us with a peace that is beyond understanding (Philippians 4:6, 7).

It’s true.

Try it and see!

Penny Estes Wheeler is a former editor for the Review and Herald® Publishing Association in Hagerstown, Maryland, USA. She is retired and lives in Hagerstown.

I Just Can’t Help It—Or Can I?

by Penny Estes Wheeler
From the November 2019 Signs