Friday, March 1, 2013

Choosing Your Own Adventure Ain't What It Used to Be

In his AV Club "Memory Wipe" article on "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, Jason Heller makes an interesting observation about the human response to choice:
As hooked as I was when I was 8, I didn’t stick with CYOA for long. By the time I was 10, I was getting into videogames and Dungeons & Dragons. Maybe CYOA helped prepare me for those pastimes, in which the choices were usually far more subtle and complex, even in those early days of gaming. The funny thing is, the older I get, the less enamored I am of choice. It’s no longer a novelty or a rite of passage to pick what I want to eat or watch or read or buy or vote for. Often it’s a chore—or, at worst, a source of mild anxiety. What once seemed like agency is now just another thing to worry about. The thought of going on some daring escapade across the globe doesn’t make my pulse pound. It makes my head hurt.
Choice, as such, is often held to be the Holy Grail of human possibility. It's the be-all and end-all, in a "Give me liberty or give me death" sort of way. If we perceive ourselves to "have choices," we feel free and alive. If we perceive ourselves to be without choice, we feel trapped and dead. Heller's best line, at least to my ear, is when he says that, "what once seemed like agency is now just another thing to worry about." Why should this be? Shouldn't "agency" (the ability to choose our adventure) be the everyone's most precious desire?

What Heller's claim belies is a startling fact: we don't use our agency very well! Luther is said to have responded to someone's claim that their will was free by quipping something along the lines of, "Sure, you're free to make any bad decision you like." That's the reason that agency turns into a headache as we age. As our agency is used for more important things (the transition, say, from deciding what kind of juice to drink to deciding what job to take) we realize all the more how bound we are to mess up.

This, ultimately, is why a reduced view of human agency (free will) is good news. It posits a God that intervenes in our affairs, not waiting for us to make good decisions (e.g. choosing to follow and serve him), but making good and saving decisions on our behalf. In the drama of real life, God is the actor, we are the audience. Christ is the savior, we are the saved. Our agency works itself out in action that is bound in one way or another: the attempt to please someone, to achieve something, to get somewhere. More often than not, we don't make it. God’s agency cuts through our bondage, carrying us over the wreckage of our bound decision-making by his un-bound, free love in Christ. Choosing our own adventure seems like the way life ought to be, but it leads inevitably (as anyone who has read those books knows) to cataclysm, fear, and despair. It is only God's finished adventure in Christ that leads to relief, rest, and restoration.

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