As fallen humanity, robotic as we are and constricted as our degrees of freedom may be, we nonetheless get to make choices however predetermined or conditioned these choices may be.
Let’s face it: we are simply thrown into this world, without choice or control. We do not get to choose to be born. We have no choice over our own existence. We do not control where we are born and to whom we are born. Our “thrownness” in the world—a chaotic dysfunctional one at that—is a given. We are—here, now. No free choice. No free control. Nada.
In life, our consciousness is inextricably entwined with our contexts. Heavily conditioned and neurologically determined in more ways than one, we really have little free choice no matter the illusion of choice we apparently experience. Deep ruthlessly honest examination will show this to be the case. I shall not belabour this point.
Be that as it may, we do have one fundamental choice—to acquiesce to the brutality of life and coast along as passive victims of existential vicissitudes; or to attempt to wrestle some control from brutopia and take responsibility for our own existential wellbeing. What may such personal responsibility look like?
One caveat: by personal responsibility I do not mean the new-age law of attraction kind where one gets to be anything one wants, fancies, fantasises, and craves for. That is pure rubbish. Similarly for the deceptive prosperity/hypergrace scam that is new-age cultism wedded to predatory neoliberal capitalism in Christian gloss. Rather, by responsibility I am referring to our ability to respond to situational events, in ways not entirely determined by our habitual reactivity. This means we do have a God-given ability to step back from our conditioning, step out of ingrained habits of emotional reactivity, and step into a non-reactive (relatively) space of mindfulness and open contact with present experience. Call it common grace or prevenient grace, we have such innate response-ability.
Now, by activating and utilising this response-ability, is it not possible for us to face up to our existential thrownness, meet the full catastrophe of our brutal life situation, and digesting the grist of existence, make them fuel for a purposeful and meaningful life directed by a transcendent energy that is ultimately from God—the One who fashioned us all?
Responding rather than reacting, from moment to moment, we can act from a deep place of our cherished values. Of course, we need to have spent time and energy reflecting on what we stand for, value, cherish, and give worth to in this life. This is in itself a process of meditative inquiry. It is part of the Socratic examined life. And as we allow ourselves to go deeper still, we touch the ground of our being that is spirit or pure consciousness. Let’s not freak out with this term “consciousness.” It simply means the knowing of our knowing, the bare experiencing of our experience. (Hyper-biblical legalistic Christians need not write to me half-hysterical over the fact that I used this “non-Christian” term, please.)
As we become familiar with recognising our ground of being—our naked knowing that enlivens our every experience—we begin to contact He who is beyond us yet intimately concerned with us. Above and beyond that, He has entered our humanity and our history, breaking into our existential horizon to rescue, deliver, liberate, renew, and transform us. He has done so because He loves us and desires mercy more than sacrifice. He desires to perfect us into His likeness to the glory of His name, the essence of who He is that is supremely worthy, supremely good, and supremely glorious. Rather than we contacting Him, it would be more correct to say He contacts us. He breaks into us, into our living reality. He stands at the margins of our consciousness, as Bonhoeffer would say, and beckons us into Himself. And at the divinely appointed time, He invades our very being, gently and graciously yet emphatically and irresistibly.
Regenerated in spirit by His Spirit, we move into a new horizon of existence where creative response powered by His grace becomes possible, nay certain. Gathering all the skills and growth achievements we have gained through exercising our innate response-ability, we continue the journey of growth and maturation in Christ.
Even if we have not developed any skill or made substantial growth in our past due to circumstance and/or personal inertia and passivity, Christ can enable us, equip us, empower us, and enliven us into a fresh start in life, if only we are willing to walk and work with Him. Saying no to passivity and lack of exercising response-ability, we can say yes to Christ and responsively co-enact with Him a new life of meaning, purpose, and yes, holy ambition. This is a process. A process takes time and sustained commitment. But it is a process that is worthwhile and if we let it, in time it will lift us out of the dark rut of despair we have been stuck in, whether by choice or by circumstance or both.
Let us not waste our response-ability. Take responsibility and choose to grow, however constricted and conditioned that choice might first appear to be. See how the seed we plant grow over time. By God’s grace and mercy, we develop mindfulness, discernment, non-reactivity, open contact with the moment, clarity of convictions, anchoring in deep values, recognition of spirit/consciousness, break-through encounter with Christ, and unending life transformation in the life and power of Christ in us, the hope of glory. May you be drawn into this amazing grace—an embodied grace in Christ who saves and trains us.