Catholics believe that God gave us free will. We also believe that God gave us the Ten Commandments.
But, if we have one, why do we need the other? Are they even mutually compatible?
The Question of Free Will
The question of free will has long challenged Christianity. Some Christian groups believe in it and others don’t.
Those who reject free will believe that if God is all-powerful, humans will not be able to do things that are against the will of God. Those who believe in free will say that if humans didn’t have free will, there would be no greed, violence, etc.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Bible only uses the term “free will” one time in the too-oft-ignored Letter of Paul to Philemon. The early part of the letter refers to one “Onesimus” who has been traveling with Paul but is returning to Philemon. Paul writes,
“I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will.”Philemon, 1:14. RSV
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On the matter, the Catholic Church teaches that,
“Individuals have rights because they are persons endowed with freedom to co-operate with God’s grace in working out their immortal destiny.”Hardon, P. 106
Both of these passages point to a unified message: God gave humans free will so that we might show love not by simply doing God’s works, but by choosing to – even when other options are available.
This still leaves the question, if we have free will, why do we need the Ten Commandments?
Why God Gave Us the Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments make up all of Exodus Chapter 20. However, in the previous chapter, God explicitly explains their purpose to Moses:
“If you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be My own possession among all the peoples; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”Ex. 19:5-6
In other words, we can use free will to follow the commandments as a sign of obedience to God and God will show us a favor. We can also use our free will not to follow God’s commandments – but there will be consequences to those actions.
In this way, our relationship with God is similar to our relationships with other people. God will always care for us but that doesn’t mean that we can’t show that we care for God as well. We do that by choosing to follow the Ten Commandments.
How Commandments and Free Will Go Together
It may seem like God giving humans free will and the Ten Commandments doesn’t make sense. However, it makes perfect sense.
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If God didn’t give us free will, we wouldn’t need the Ten Commandments – or any of God’s other commandments.
Choosing to follow the Ten Commandments is one of the ways in which we can build a relationship with God beyond just that of creator and creation.