Existentialism, Choices, and Discerning God's Will

One verse I keep seeing a lot lately in my social media is Jeremiah 29: 11

“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—says the Lord—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.”

I’ve lamented before that I always wish that I knew what exactly those plans were. But some discussions with my friends have given me some perspective on God’s will.

My friend Justin recently made this video:

At first, I felt like this video was bordering on existentialist. If taken the wrong way, the idea that God doesn’t exactly have a great big master plan for every person makes it seem like He is indifferent. But of course, I know otherwise. God is not indifferent,

So I asked Justin some follow-up questions and here’s what he had to say:

If God doesn’t really have a grand master plan, how can you prove His omniscience?
Just like we know that the sun will rise tomorrow and can study everything about its orbit but don’t actually control the sun, so also is it with God. God knows everything we will choose, but He isn’t the one dictating our choices.
 
How would you explain divine intervention?
God intervenes when He sees fit, but other times He expects us to live according to our conscience and free will. 
Explain the Felix Culpa
The happy fault of Adam and Eve that resulted in the coming of Christ was an example of God turning something bad into something good. Of course, this is what often happens in life. When we make a terrible decision, God always gives us opportunities to alter the consequences of our actions, but that doesn’t negate the fact that the bad decision has already been made.
He already has plans on making a follow-up video which I plan to share on here as soon as it’s uploaded.
I am also reminded of a conversation I had with one of my college friends. I lamented to him about my discernment issues and he said:
Maybe he’s waiting to see what you have planned.
I think your vocation is your actualizing your own deepest desire and living it out in the world. So instead of asking God what do you want me to do? Or how are you going to lead me to my destiny? Etc. I think the silence we often experience with those sorts of prayers is really an invitation to reverse the questions. Don’t ask God anything except for the strength and purity of heart to be deeply honest with yourself and then ask yourself, What do I really want? Then you can explore that for awhile. And once you get some clarity you can start asking how you can make that dream come true. I don’t believe God makes any of these things happen for us. Don’t get me wrong I’m not denying grace or providence I just don’t think these realities work the way we often think they do. It’s much more up to us than we’re usually comfortable to accept. We have to choose and then do something about it. God gives us the strength to do it but it’s up to us. I think.

Having free will is a great power that comes with great responsibility. The temptation of existentialism is to believe that the universe is indifferent and that we have to make a choice or else life doesn’t have any meaning. God always allows us to make choices, but one wonderful part of having faith is that we can turn to Him and ask for His help in making our choices. Stanley Kubrick said that in spite of the darkness, we must create our own light. Thankfully for people who have faith, God supplies the light and we reflect and refract it into the world. 

God is the author of our lives. We have the power to choose what we want to do with our lives. What results from those choices, I think, becomes our vocation. It took me a long time for me to realize this but vocation isn’t just a lifestyle choice, but a daily process of choices we make in order to become as holy as we can be.

So even though a certain atheist/absurdist writer wrote this quote as sort of an existentialist manifesto, I look at this quote and think about how balancing our free will with our faith ultimately makes us stronger:

So here’s the part where you make a choice. What if you could have that power, now? In every generation, one Slayer is born, because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power, should be *our* power. Tomorrow, Willow will use the essence of this scythe to change our destiny. From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?

My answer is “Yes.” The choice is yours.

Firefly and Morality Part 1: Serenity (The Pilot Episode)

Although I love Joss Whedon, I’m not one of those fans who thinks he’s perfect. One major flaw in his works is that he is amazing with finales, but not as good with beginnings. The first episode of Firefly has a lot of great establishing moments and a lot of worldbuilding, but the pacing is seriously slow. Mostly because the episode itself is an hour and 30 minutes long.

The episode opens at the battle of Serenity Valley. It’s your typical “against all odds” kind of battle and it doesn’t go well. I gasped at the sight of Mal kissing his cross necklace and watches as his faith shattered before his eyes as the Alliance closed in on them. The action of the episode, however, doesn’t pick up until the crew of Serenity lands on a planet to pick up passengers. On the surface, Mal claims that they’re just gonna make a rest stop in a moon called Whitefall. In reality, they’re smuggling a crate of foodstuffs that they salvaged.

The standoff in the cargo hold leads to the major moral conflict of the episode: What to to with Simon Tam, who is a wanted fugitive on the run from the Alliance. Dobson, a passenger that the crew picked up, turns out to be a mole, going after  Simon and River for the bounty on their heads. Mal is more than willing to let Simon go if it meant getting the Alliance off his back, but when Dobson shoots Kaylee and leaves her in critical condition, Mal has no choice but to let Simon put his skills as a doctor and surgeon to work. (Kudos to Book for knocking Dobson out, by the way.) Once the bullet is extracted, Mal checks what exactly Simon brought on board with him that the Alliance wants so badly. Enter River Tam, very naked and very afraid. Once River is unboxed, Simon reveals his backstory to the crew. The crew debates about what to do with Simon, River, and Dobson. Mal wants to leave the Tams on Whitefall but Inara disagrees and threatens to leave.

Jayne gets put in charge of interrogating Dobson. While he is able to get answers out of the mole without resorting to torture,  Dobson plants the seed of doubt in Jayne’s mind: Simon and River are worth a lot of money. This becomes a major moral dilemma later.  In the infirmary, Kaylee points out to Mal that in spite of what he says, he is a nice man because he always looks out for his crew. She points out that he needs to have faith in people. He proves to need a lot of room in that department because he decides to prank Simon in a scene I dare not spoil here. Unfortunately, while Mal, Zoe, and Jayne are making a deal on a distant moon, Dobson escapes and takes River hostage.

Things finally start picking up when the ship catches the sight of Reavers, a group of monsters known for putting their victims through fates worse than death. When Mal, Zoe, and Jayne return to the ship, Mal shoots Dobson dead and they take off running, escaping the Reavers by the skin of their teeth. Shepherd suffers a minor crisis of faith about the fact that he has no moral qualms about Mal shooting Dobson. Stuff between Mal and Jayne gets foreshadowed for a future episode and Mal makes Simon an offer: stay on the ship and work as a medic and they’ll keep them on the run and away from the Alliance.

The moral dilemma stems on the conflict of what is legal vs what is morally right. This conflict of ethics gets brought up a lot. In this verse, Inara’s job (a high class call girl) is considered legal while Mal and his crew trying to salvage a ship is considered illegal. While Simon getting his sister out of the Academy was morally right, it came at the cost of him and his sister becoming fugitives. Mal comes off as hardened and morally ambiguous, just wanting to survive, but the members of his crew, especially Inara, keep him accountable. He needs them just as much as they all need him. Ut still comes as a sigh of relief that Mal decided to keep Simon and River on board. But his prank on Simon was psychotic.

A theory that analyzes Mal’s change of heart in this episode explains that River embodies someone who was royally screwed and abused by the Alliance like Mal was and, in his own strange way, Mal wants to give River the help he never got. I’m actually one to vouch that it was actually morally right for Mal to shoot Dobson in the hostage situation. As much as I wished that someone wrestled River free from Dobson and that Dobson could’ve been thrown off the ship to starve on Whitefall, it wasn’t likely to happen. Mal’s friendship with River is hinted at throughout the series, but is best seen at the end of Serenity (the film). We have a long way to go until then, though. Stay shiny because tomorrow, I look at “The Train Job.”