In Israel there are lots of volunteers. Volunteers who come to work on a kibbutz, young German volunteers who come to serve Holocaust survivors in retirement homes, and Israelis also have a very positive attitude towards community service and volunteering. At school they even have to do some compulsory volunteering! If that isn’t a contradiction in terms, I don’t know what is.
The Hebrew word for volunteering, hitnadvoot (התנדבות) also has connotations of generosity, willingness, and nobility. The word for generosity, nedivoot (נדיבות), is similar to the word for prince or noble: nediv (נדיב). All of these words come from the same three letter root – נדב. This root word appears many times in the Bible, and grasping a fuller understanding of its meaning can help us better appreciate the dynamics of a healthy relationship with God.
Although the tension between free choice and God’s sovereignty is not easily reconciled in the mind, it is clear in the Bible that the two somehow exist together. Without in any way diminishing God’s sovereignty as an unshakable reality, in giving us free will, He has essentially given us the opportunity to give freely to Him. He has put into our hands the capacity to express love in return to Him.
The first place it becomes apparent is in the Garden of Eden, where in a totally perfect environment, God gives Adam and Eve the option to obey Him or to disobey Him if they wanted. We also see the freedom given to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. God says, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19). If God asks His people to choose, then the choice is a real one.
When we think of the heights of evil in this world, we realise that God considers removing our freedom as even worse than all of that, we start to get a glimpse of how important our freedom is to God. We can also see this played out in the story of the Prodigal Son. The loving father does not even try to prevent his son from going off and making bad decisions, but is delighted when his son sees sense and comes back of his own accord.
In this world of spiritual dynamics, our choice is a highly valuable currency, for it is the language of love. When we choose for God and against ourselves or any other competing force, we are making a sacrifice, and giving God the one thing we really have to offer – our hearts, our lives, our love.
In the Song of Devorah, after she and Barak defeated Israel’s enemies, she sings praise of those who “offered themselves willingly” in battle (verses 2 and 9 – בְּהִתְנַדֵּבת ,הַמִּתְנַדְּבִים), and criticises those who held back. In Psalm 51 David asks for a “willing spirit” (verse 14 – רוּחַ נְדִיבָה) and in Psalm 110 we read of God’s people who offer themselves willingly in the day of God’s warfare (verse 13 – נְדָבֹת)… volunteers, dressed in holiness, ready to do His will.
God loves a willing spirit.
Similarly, how do we treat others and the present the good news? Do we extend real freedom to others to believe and do whatever they choose voluntarily? Of course, there are consequences for bad choices, but are we truly letting people choose for themselves, or do we apply pressure, guilt, or condemnation? Do we bring an air of compulsion in any way? Because if people feel compulsion, then they it is hard for them to respond voluntarily, as God desires that they will.
There is such a contrast between the freedom that God wants for us, and the slavery and oppression of the world. It is interesting that the first law after the Ten Commandments is about the freeing of slaves. The major story in the Hebrew Scriptures that is referred to again and again is the rescue from slavery in Egypt. God wants us to be free, and values our freedom extremely highly. He often talks about how He freed the Israelites from the yoke of slavery, and in Galatians we are urged not to fall back into slavery now that we are free.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
There is nothing more beautiful to the Lord than his precious people voluntarily offering their lives as a pleasing sacrifice to Him. God has given us this gift of free will – what will you do with it today? Are you willing to be one of the noble “volunteers” for the Lord?