“When God, in the beginning, created man, he made him subject to his own free choice. If you choose you can keep the commandments; it is loyalty to do his will. There are set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, whichever he chooses shall be given him” (Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 15:14-17).
In the Book of Genesis we are told that when God made man he made him in his own image. (Genesis 1:27) We have also heard it put this way, that he made us in his own image and likeness. What does that mean? We are given a sense of what that means here in today’s passage from the book of Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus. The image of God that we are made in is represented by our free will.
God made us in his image, that is, in the image of his own free will. Before the Fall, Adam enjoyed three freedoms: the freedom to choose, which is the very essence of free will; the freedom to choose aright, that is, to avoid sin; and, finally, the freedom to carry out his choices, and thus enjoy the friendship of God. After the Fall, Adam, and all his progeny, still enjoyed this freedom of choice. With the Fall, though, our freedom to always choose aright, that is, to always avoid sin, and our freedom to carry out our choices always and perfectly in the way that allows us to enjoy the friendship of God, was damaged.
The righteous and the unrighteous alike remain perfectly free in their freedom to choose. That freedom remains permanent, infinite and incapable of being lost. It is when we use our free will to choose rightly that we remain loyal to the image of God that we are made in. When we use that same infinite freedom of choice to do evil, we are in rebellion from the image of God in which we were made. In other words, we rebel against our own God-given nature. There are countless things, great and small, that demand the use of our freedom of choice every day. As today’s passage says: There are set before [us] fire and water, life and death, to whichever [we] reach out our hands, whichever [we] choose will be given us. In countless situations, we come up against the choice between doing what is right in the eyes of God, or not. And in every case, we remain absolutely free to make either choice, but only when we choose rightly do we remain loyal to God and to our God-given nature. If, in our freedom, we choose to do evil, we choose to damage or to destroy our friendship with God, and we endanger our eternal souls. We are absolutely free. In this knowledge we are to remember this: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). Before us is fire and water, life and death; let us choose rightly.
Lord, We are weak and in need of your generous and loving grace. We know that you made us in your own image, in your own freedom. Our deepest desire is to remain loyal to you in that freedom, but we are often overwhelmed with fear, or by inordinate desires, and sometimes we fall short. By your grace, increase our knowledge of the good and our courage to choose the good in all circumstances, especially in the most difficult of times. Increase, too, our faith, our hope, and our love, so that we may, more and more often, stretch out our hands to the “water” and to the “life” that you place before us at all times. Help us to remain loyal to your will in all that we think, say, and do. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen!
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