Dear Co-Laborer:


The Myth of Autonomy

We discover that God created man with a desire for autonomy, as evidenced by the Garden of Eden.  You remember the only prohibi­tion God gave Adam and Eve was that they could not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan deceived Eve into thinking that if she ate of the fruit she would be able to determine what is good and evil.  This, of course, God never promised.  Nor were Adam and Eve able to make that determination; that is a decision reserved exclusively for God.

After the fall man continues his quest for autonomy.  In all of the years that have transpired between the Garden of Eden and now, his thirst has not abated.  Let us assume, for the sake of discussion, that autonomy was attainable.  What would it take for man to satisfy his appetite for autonomy?

Next, let’s assume that he has unlimited wealth.  Would that grant him his wish?  He would still be unable to control the circumstances of life.  Again, let’s assume that he was like Solomon in that he had the three things that men covet: power, wealth, and intellect.  Solomon concluded that life was vanity and futile.  Evidently, he did not satisfy his thirst for autonomy.

What would it take then for you to conclude that you are able to determine what is good and what is evil?  If you were able to have the gifts and circumstances of Solomon, what else would you need?  Solomon was not free to make his own laws.  Supposing God gave you permission to make all laws; would that satisfy you?

You say, I still cannot control other people.  Nor can I control whether there will be earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, drought, etc.  So let’s say that you are able to somehow gain control of all such things; will you now be satisfied?

You might momentarily be satisfied, but you would very quickly discover that you are still inhibited from being autonomous.  One day you discover that you have cancer.  Then your spouse dies.  You look in the mirror and discover that you’re getting old.  In truth, when you were young and looked in the mirror you found fault with the way you were made.  Your ears were too big, you did not like the color of your eyes, you were too short or too tall, etc.

Further complicating your quest is a realization that you will die.  Not only are you unable to determine whether you will die, or when you die, you are also unable to determine what will happen to you after you die.  Finally you conclude that your lust for autonomy can only be satisfied if you are God.

Realizing that you are not God, nor ever will be God, what are your options?  I suggest that they are limited.  You can spend your life seeking to realize your goal, and in the process live a self-centered, narcissistic life using people to meet your needs.  This worldview, of course, is where our culture wishes to lead us.  However, when you come to the end of your life, you will find that it is vacuous, filling you with despair.

In most of the apostle Paul’s epistles he calls himself a slave of God.   A servant is different from a slave in that the former can decide whom he will serve as well as the areas in which he is willing to serve.  Not so a slave.  He is the property of his master and like chattel can be bought, sold, or used anyway the master deems best.  He is not free to do what he wants; he must seek and do the will of his master.

It is interesting to note the Bible teaches that those who wish to follow the example of the apostle Paul must decide on their own that this is what they wish; rather than seeking autonomy, they become God’s slaves.  God illustrates this truth with the Hebrew slave in Exodus 21:5-6: “But if the slave declares, ‘I love my master, and my wife and children: I do not wish to go free,’ his master shall take him before God.  He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall then remain his slave for life.”

The only kind of slave that God accepts is the one who wants to be His slave.  This is the only other option you have: live for yourself and die having lived an empty frustrated life, or ask God for the priv­ilege of being His slave.  A man once said, “To be His slave is to be a king.”  Those whom God accepts as His slaves would not accept freedom if it were offered them.

In the 1950s a man named Jim Elliott died a martyr’s death in the jungles of Ecuador.  His life motto was: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”


His slave and your friend,