Is there anything that can’t be taken away from you?
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.- Viktor Frankl in “Man’s Search for Meaning”
Viktor Frankl was an Austrian Jew and psychiatrist that survived the Nazi concentration camps and wrote about the experience in “Man’s Search for Meaning”. It is a powerful book that describes the conditions of life as a prisoner almost certainly facing death. You can read it for free here:
Among the many powerful lessons learned was that a person can endure almost anything if he has a reason to. And, people can be conditioned to accept almost anything.
But the discovery he made about always having a choice really struck me. He related how a prisoner being marched into the gas chamber- seemingly with no choices left- can still choose the manner in which they walk in: Either in denial, screaming, begging, crying or in dignity- with a “prayer on their lips”.
I have never read a more stark and elemental description of freewill. Your options- the choices you can make- are always limited, and can be taken away completely, but your freewill cannot.
This was explained remarkably and surprisingly well in one of my all-time favorite movies, Trading Places, with Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd. Two old commodities traders made a bet about nature versus nurture, and conduct a sociological experiment by “swapping the lives” of their Harvard educated manager and a street hustler.
After the euphoria and novelty of finding himself an executive with a limo and a townhouse with a butler wears off, the former hustler, Billy Ray Valentine, wonders what is up with all this. He asks his butler, Coleman, what’s the deal. Coleman, who knows the plan but can’t tell, likes Billy Ray and advises:
Just be yourself, sir. Whatever happens, they can’t take that away from you- Coleman to Billy Ray Valentine in “Trading Places”
That always stuck with me. It was a well-done comedy, but that gem was unexpected. Your circumstances- and thus your choices- can drastically alter, but your freewill can’t be taken.
Freewill and choices are intertwined and hard to separate sometimes. You exercise your freewill with the choices you make. Choices have consequences:
The Texas Blind Salamander decided long ago to live in a pitch-black cave. Because there was never any need for eyes- they eventually lost them. Choices can affect freewill. The blind salamander can still exercise his freewill and decide to live outside the cave- but it would be a deadly choice.
The salamander still has freewill- stay in the cave and live or leave the cave and die. That is why it is important we align our will with God’s will.
And that’s what it is all about. Using our freewill to choose God, to choose Godly things. The freedom to choose is a gift that cannot be taken away. Every minute of every day we make choices.
I always thought this line from the Rush song Freewill was profound:
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice- Neal Peart in “Freewill”
Your freewill cannot be taken, but it can be surrendered. Don’t let that happen. Once surrendered, it is hard to get back. Don’t give in to helplessness and hopelessness.
Choose God and be truly free. No one can take that away from you.
Luke 12:4- And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.
Matthew 10:28- And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.