I’m not sure of all the terms associated with types of free will except for what I’ve read on Wikipedia, but I think our employment of our will has to do with how we view person, action and nature. The area that is currently giving me pause for thought is in the area of desire. It seems that we do not have control, at least initially, over what we desire. Or at least when we are under the influence of Satanic deception. But before that, it seems that Adam and Eve innately desired good, though with an immature conception of what “good” is. They enjoyed their relationship with God and His creation, which was all good. Satan used this desire for good to deceive and manipulate them. It is, after all, good to be like God. It appears though that before her encounter with Satan, Eve did not battle a lust for the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was only when Satan focused her attention on it and gave her the idea that it was attainable by warping God’s commandment. The Bible does not say that she considered the Tree when she accepted that it was not attainable through the commandment of God. In rationalizing about disobedience, she developed a strong desire for the fruit of the Tree. It may have had alluring properties before this, but it had not yet reached the realm of possibility, and thus her relationship with the barrier around it was amicable. She was happy with it until this barrier of God’s commandment became the enemy through a sense of entitlement. She was convinced to presume that she deserved it, that God wrongly withheld it from her, and that taking a shortcut to Godliness was actually beneficial. To reject it at this point would bring about pain. She had now imagined and fantasized about attainment, and to not attain at this point would cause her to experience pain of loss. Pain of hunger, pain of deprivation. Lust.
Her lack of lust up to her encounter with Satan can be described as immaturity and inexperience. She was innocent but untested. She had not considered the content of the one object that had been withheld from her. I believe the Orthodox say that it was God’s intention to eventually share it with Adam and Eve, but not at that point in the story. They were commanded to leave it alone. There is also the taught typology that the tree represents the cross, and the fruit Christ’s sacrifice of His Body and Blood. Without dwelling on the necessity of sin to bring about Christ’s death on the cross, what else could the content of this tree be that they were to abstain from? At first it was simple, trusting obedience that kept them faithful. If Satan hadn’t tempted them, and Christ would have eventually joined with creation without the sinful element of procreation, then His Body and Blood could still have been the content of the tree. It would not have been the cross, but perhaps the tree could still have been the symbol (don’t make too much out of that word) of His joining with creation, albeit without death. A living tree instead of a cut down one.
But they were not ready for this. Perhaps it is because they had not yet been tested, and testing shows your maturity. If they had not eaten they would have had to be matured differently. Perhaps He would have revealed the nature of Good and Evil to them more incrementally than all at once. Having it revealed to them all at once at an immature point in their lives caused a disruption in their development. They were separated from themselves, each other, and God as a result. I can’t help but think of it as sexual revelation and intention to a child before they reach maturity. It is devastating.
Since we are born now with too much information about good and evil, I wonder how this affects our freedom of choice. But first let me continue with Eve’s introduction to lust. Was that her ruin, or was it the actual partaking? If she had abstained, but then felt like she was missing something, would that have ruined paradise for her? Trusting in God’s mercy, love, and providence makes me think He would have gently and satisfactorily guided her through it if she had confided in Him during their walk in the cool of the evening. Perhaps this is what Mary did differently while she was growing up.
I still haven’t dealt with the choosing of desires. Deep down, our desires are good. God intended and provided for us to be warmed and well-fed. When we feel lack, we develop strong desires for something we don’t have. It seems that the object of desire varies from person to person. Some lust for control, food, alcohol, sex, drugs, excitement, and possession of people and things. I don’t know if a person can change the object of their desire. But perhaps it is a shortsighted fulfilment. When we actually indulge in consuming our object of choice (?), after the initial enjoyment and fulfilment, the emptiness returns, along with guilt and a growing need for more of it to satisfy us. If we do not indulge, and ignore it, the desire may wane, but it probably then only goes into remission and remains a part of us, buried though it may be. We distract ourselves from it.
I want to explore the method of staying distracted, or of dealing with it more directly. We all know that we are to stay focused on God. The Church helps us do this by providing enough prayers to keep us distracted from anything else 24 hours a day. This is especially easier in a monastery. As I read in Fr. Seraphim Rose, His Life and Works, though, “psychological” problems still need to be dealt with. I believe the prayers will have a beneficial result, but in interacting with others especially, it seems our unmet needs will show themselves. If we are aware of our desire for other things, we can stifle them, and distract ourselves. But this doesn’t seem ideal. I wonder if instead we can pray that we feel a strong desire and do not believe that the root of this desire is wrong, such as love for God’s creation and his intention for things. That we think that stifling this desire may be stifling a vital part of our ability to love and desire God. The different objects of people’s desires may be sort of like icons of Christ, but we mistake them for the end of our desire. So instead of stifling this desire, we need to look through the object to Christ. This may take a violent refocus. Such as with those 3D computer pictures, where if you force yourself to focus beyond, you can see the object in the otherwise random color swatches. This may be what “plucking out your own eye” means. Not to deny the desire, but to suspend attainment long enough to think about God and submit it to Him. The psychologists call this delaying gratification.
Otherwise, I believe we are annihilating ourselves. One is denying ourselves temporarily, with hope of future fulfiment, the other is killing ourselves perhaps permanently. A genuinely joyful martyrship or a dramatic suicide. To be, or not to be.
Most people choose life, and this can take the form of living from an undisciplined heart. Some choose death, by denying their hearts and living in their heads. But choosing predestined life is learning wisdom, discernment, and what to do with our pain. These are options that we can employ through our free will, by the grace of God. Back again to the objects of desire themselves. It seems that we are pre-programmed somewhat as to the earthly form these will take. We can be genetically (this includes hormones that control many of our cravings) or experientially programmed through our nurture as small children, or other things we willingly subject ourselves to, or find their way to us throughout our lives. These don’t all have to be desires for “bad” things. As far as our desires for certain types of relationships with certain people, I think there are many variables that mold what we think are ideal qualities and what makes us connect with certain people, and them us. It can seem out of our control and will though. In this way it almost seems that “nature” instead of “person” is pre-eminent in controlling our preferences that we desire attachment to or union with. I suppose that Adam and Eve may have preferred different fruits than the other one preferred before the temptation. The Tree then took precedence. This may be a positive indication of an immature desire for physical union with Christ before His Incarnation. That all of us deep down desire this before all things. Our “natural” preference for other things can almost be dismissed scientifically as being constituted by different ratios of hormones, nurture, and other circumstances. But each object is good, and perhaps these differences in preference are providential to make sure that everything gets appreciated. God loves the whole world. It is we who have diminished capacity and only love certain parts of it. Laying aside personal preference I suppose is a step towards gaining an authentic appreciation for other things. I am wrong to selfishly desire and demand only this. I must trust God to ultimately and more satisfactorily fulfill my desires as I obey Him in loving other things. Hopefully He will give me the same desire that He has for other things. And He suffers no want. He is not stifled.
But then there are individual talents. Again, it seems that a person cannot choose their talent. It is a specific gift. I suppose there is an intended fulfillment in loving a craft expressed in a certain way. But the best artists have to chose the disciplined way. Their mind, their will, and their heart are all engaged by their personal faculties purposely employed to reach their individual and varied telos, in Christ, the predestined object of their desire.
Or maybe I’m rationalizing and justifying engagement when withdrawal and stifling are called for. Don’t look at the tree at all, only pray rote prayers, instead of entertaining how to have it and God too.