If God has a plan for me, what’s the point in having free will? This is a question that comes up every now and then among friends when we’re talking about choosing a path in life, and trying to make sense of our deepest desires.

It’s really about two different ideas of freedom, “freedom from” and  “freedom to.” Freedom from is the instinct to run from chains, to say to an authority, “Who are you to tell me what to do?” Just about everyone goes through that phase. Some stay in it longer than others. It’s reasonable. After all, every person has a right to be free from bondage. But is that really what freedom is about? It sounds like just running away from something we fear.

The “freedom to” idea sets one on a much more proactive, creative path. I can only really understand how God’s will and my freedom work together when I understand that freedom is to be used to accomplish something, not just to avoid submission to a higher power.

The early Christians were killed if they didn’t bow to Caesar. In the ancient world, freedom was seen as a privilege, not a right. After being suppressed for centuries, Christianity emerged as the triumphant herald of freedom and human dignity. The free world created by our ancestors, however, is different than our idea of freedom today.

 For some people today, freedom is a life of long weekends where one doesn’t have to do anything.  That is not the valiant, resilient liberty that our fathers sought, not the Church fathers or the fathers of our country. Freedom is what brought saints like Francis Xavier  from Europe to Japan to the southwest deserts. It’s what motivated early Americans to push to the West Coast, and after that explore new frontiers in technology.

But freedom also led Blessed Mother Teresa to a life in the Calcutta slums, and led heroes like St. Thomas More and Patrick Henry to their deaths. It’s an altogether unpredictable, uncontainable force. History has shown that the truly free person will let nothing get in the way of fulfilling his calling.

The autonomous American, on the other hand, lives saying, “I can make it on my own.” That philosophy of life actually leads to the most constrained form of freedom. When we are given the freedom to pursue our own plans, what we find is that our idea of freedom is very limited, not well thought out, and not what we expected it to be. What else should we expect when putting our freedom in the hands of someone whose power is limited?

The omnipotent, infinite God is the freedom within us. He is the restlessness that I wrestle with every day trying to figure out the mystery, the lion in the cage roaring for me to let him out, the sometimes misunderstood artist who challenges the boundries of his art form. When asked how he made a sculpture, Michelangelo said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Think of God in the same way,  as the sculptor of our lives who’s constantly chiseling away until we are the masterpiece he made us to be.

Instead of seeing God’s will as something that works against my freedom, it’s much more invigorating to see it as something that works with me to find it. Those who do find this freedom discover that it never really was a fear of suppression, but the fire burning within them to fulfill a divinely ordained task, a fire that no force on earth has the right to hold back. 

Kilby is a long-standing freelancer for The Monitor and editor of Rambling Spirit magazine.