Sirach 15:14, 16-20
God in the beginning created human beings
and made them subject to their own free choice.
Set before you are fire and water;
to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.
Before man are life and death, good and evil,
whichever he chooses shall be given him.
Immense is the wisdom of the Lord;
he is mighty in power, and all-seeing.
The eyes of God are on those who fear him;
he understands man’s every deed.
No one does he command to act unjustly,
to none does he give license to sin.
The Latin root of the word “terrify” is terrificare. To “terrify” is to cause to feel extreme fear.
And terrifying precisely is God’s gift of free will, for when it is exercised to evil, the consequences are disastrous.
Thomas Aquinas conceived an act of free will to be any thought, word, deed, desire, or omission that comes from a person acting with full knowledge of what s/he is doing, “who is free to act or to refrain from action, and who gives the full assent of his will to the act.”¹ The essence of free will, therefore, is choice—the favoring of one thing and the eschewal of another—informed by reason.
Terrifying though it is, free will is given to humans (and angels) because only by freely electing to believe in, obey, honor, and love God do the preceding acts have authenticity and meaning. For what good is a love that is coerced? As St. Thomas put it, “Man has free will: otherwise counsels, exhortations, commands, prohibitions, rewards and punishments would be in vain.”² But it is also free will that made possible the original sin of Adam and Eve, as well as all subsequent sins.
Sirach 15:15, 11-13
If you choose, you can keep the commandments;
loyalty is doing the will of God.
Do not say: “It was God’s doing that I fell away,”
for what he hates he does not do.
Do not say: “He himself has led me astray,”
for he has no need of the wicked.
Abominable wickedness the LORD hates
and he does not let it happen to those who fear him.
“If you choose, you can keep the commandments” — and the first of God’s commandments is:
I am the LORD your God,
You shall not have other gods beside me.
Our first parents were told they were free to eat from any of the trees save one, the tree of knowledge of good and bad. God counseled them in no uncertain terms that if they were to disobey his command, they “shalt surely die.” But the Devil appeared in the form of a serpent and said to Eve, “You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad.” Acceding to the temptation, Eve ate the fruit, gave some to Adam who, in turn, also partook of it. (Genesis 2:8, 16-17; 3:1-6)
Philosopher Francis Bacon explained that what precipitated our first parents’ fall was their supposition that “God’s commandments or prohibitions were not the originals of good and evil but that they had other beginnings which man aspired to know, to the end to make a total defection from God, and to depend wholly upon himself.”³
Put another way, the Fall of Adam and Eve is their gall to determine for themselves what is good and what is evil, although they already knew right from wrong for, as the Book of Jeremiah 31:33 says, God has placed his law within each of us, written in our very hearts. In other words, our first parents wanted to be their own gods with their own conception of right and wrong, which is nothing other than a contravention of the First Commandment.
Another way to say “wanting to be their own gods” is “Do as thou wilt” — the motto of satanist Aleister Crowley and the church of Satan, and the zeitgeist of our time.
Psalm 119:1-5, 10
Blessed those whose way is blameless,
who walk by the law of the LORD.
Blessed those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with all their heart.
They do no wrong;
they walk in his ways.
You have given them the command
to observe your precepts with care.
May my ways be firm
in the observance of your statutes!
With all my heart I seek you;
do not let me stray from your commandments.
¹Paul J. Glenn, A Tour of the Summa (Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1978), p. 99.
²Summa Theologia of St. Thomas Aquinas, Volume One (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1947), p. 418.
³Francis Bacon, Selected Philosophical Works, edited by Rose-Mary Sargent (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1999), p. 31.
May the peace and love and joy of Jesus Christ our Lord be with you,