Have you ever had an “Aha!’ moment? A time when something just leaps out at you and gives you a new perspective, new insight? That happened to me on a recent trip to Israel. I had been there many times but I “saw” something new on this visit.
About half way down the western side of the Dead Sea is an oasis called En Gedi.
One of my favorite stories from history is set in this desert spot. Saul, the first king of Israel, had been rejected in favor of a young shepherd boy from Bethlehem named David. Saul in his anger pursued David to kill him and David fled for his life.
King Saul learned that David was in the wilderness near En Gedi. So he took three thousand men and went to look for David. During the search Saul went into a cave to use the restroom, not knowing that David and his soldiers were hiding in the very back of the cave.
When David’s soldiers saw Saul they said, “Now is your chance. Your enemy has walked right in and you can do to him whatever you think best.” So David quietly crawled close to Saul without being noticed but instead of killing him, he cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.
Immediately David felt horrible for what he had done. David believed that God had chosen Saul as king so he would not allow his soldiers to attack the king. Saul then left the cave. David then called out to Saul to let him know that he had the opportunity to kill him but had refused to do so.
I have known that story for years. I have read it and told it many times. I know that David exercised free will in sparing Saul’s life. He could have killed Saul and been justified in doing so but he chose to let Saul live. In spite of Saul’s determined pursuit with the intention of killing him, David chose to save a life rather than take a life.
Some people think that every detail of one’s life is determined by events of the past, over which a person has had no sort of control. But David’s action, or inaction, is a clear demonstration of free will, a capacity that is unique to human beings. The ability to make choices. To do as you see fit.
In An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, David Hume thought that free will (or “liberty,” to use his term) is the “power of acting or of not acting, according to the determination of the will: that is, if we choose to remain at rest, we may; if we choose to move, we also may.… This hypothetical liberty is universally allowed to belong to everyone who is not a prisoner and in chains.”
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes… and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.” We are afforded opportunities every day, many times every day, to choose how we act or react to a variety of situations. The choices we make every day determine our character.
I agree with J.K. Rowling. “It is our choices… that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” David exhibited a respect for human life and a devotion to God when he chose to let Saul live. The decision he made in this circumstance gives real insight into his character.
Most daily decisions do not carry the same weight as the decision David made in the cave at En Gedi. But every step we make is influenced by each previous step. Each thought or deed builds upon previous ideas or actions. We may choose wrongly and later have to take corrective measures but if we are wise we will be careful in the choices we make and the actions we take.
God has not created us to be robots or puppets. We are endowed with the ability to choose. God help us to choose wisely.
Note: You can read the entire story of David and Saul at En Gedi from I Samuel 24 in the Bible.