While watching the Olympics we’re often given a glimpse into the daily routines of the athletes – the hours of practice, special diets, and focused training they receive. I’m always interested in the spots that focus on the training camps of the Communist countries. They appear successful in producing the constructed, the designed, the model competitors we often see on the winners’ stand. And I wonder could we accomplish more if we were more focused on producing winners? Could we reach greater achievements if we gave our children fewer choices?

In many cases, the answer is yes.

If children who demonstrate a propensity toward athleticism were taken from their parents while still malleable and placed in training camps we might produce more star performers. If distractions like relationships, education and social contact were withheld they might feel a greater desire to succeed in the only avenue presented to them. If their diet, their psychology, even sometimes their hormones were altered they could be more competitive.

And yet, the products of these systems don’t win every time.

For all the engineering, all the interference and manipulation it still comes down to a person performing at the moment the buzzer sounds. And many times they don’t.

Despite the program’s attempts to control every variable and remove any alternative outcome, they can fail. Despite their omnipresent and omnipotent control over their subjects, they still aren’t guaranteed the results that come from a free individual’s voluntary pursuit of a goal.

These systems seem to set themselves up as god over their subjects, and it begs the comparison between how they control those in their power and the freedoms God allows His children. How does God train us? How does He control our lives? Does He remove every distraction? No. Believe me, I’ve begged Him to, but they’re still here. Does He provide swift and consistent punishment every time we stray, forcing us on the narrow path. No again. But why not? Why doesn’t God rule us with a heavier hand? Why doesn’t He force the results He’d like to see? After all, it’s for our own good.

Trusting Us When We are Untrustworthy

I have to believe that there are many failures of freedom. Repeatedly we are given choices and repeatedly we choose wrongly. Just like our athletes, there are days we nap when we should be vigilant. We lose focus on our goal. We don’t obey the coach’s orders. We fail and fail again. But our failures are our responsibility. We see how we have fallen short and because of our love for the prize – whether it be the blessings of a godly life or a gold medal – we determine to try again, and try harder this time.

No oppressive force can produce the results that individual devotion can. We are propelled, not by an ever-present threat, but by the fact that God has trusted us with daily choices, countless opportunities to do better and walk with Him. The knowledge that we alone are accountable for our actions – not an oppressive government, not a controlling God – makes those moments of obedience meaningful.

Without freedom we can offer no willing sacrifices. Without choice the dignity of our struggle is lost and our service isn’t the product of love. Take away freedom and there would be less failure, but take away freedom and our victories would be stripped of their significance.


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