I have enjoyed and benefited from working through the classics of Christian literature over the past few years, reading such great authors as Augustine of Hippp, Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, John Woolman, Brother Lawrence and others. My next to work through is The Rule of St. Benedict.
Benedict of Nursia lived from about the year 480 until 547 in Italy. His Rule is a book of teachings for monks living in a monastery under an abbot (a father). The book has been incredibly influential in the Christian world, primarily for those living together in community as monks. Though it has been primarily used in this way, it has powerful things to say to all sorts of Christians. Each chapter is fairly short so it is easy to use as a devotional book.
Benedict writes in the prologue
“Our hearts and our bodies must, therefore, be ready to do battle under the biddings of holy obedience; and let us ask the Lord that He supply by the help of His grace what is impossible to us by nature. And if, flying from the pains of hell, we desire to reach life everlasting, then, while there is yet time, and we are still in the flesh, and are able during the present life to fulfil all these things, we must make haste to do now what will profit us forever” (St. Benedict (2011-04-30). The Rule of St. Benedict (Kindle Locations 149-152). PlanetMonk Books. Kindle Edition).
A lot of time and energy has been spent by philosophers, theologians, pastors and many others trying to figure out how God’s sovereignty relates to human freedom. I first encountered this challenge while working at a summer camp in college. The camp was Presbyterian (and amazing, one of the best experiences of my life, but that’s another story) so during training we were taught Calvinism, TULIP. Since then Calvinism has had a renaissance with the “young, restless and reformed.” Of course, these questions were around long before then and will probably be around into the future.
After spending my own time trying to figure out what I think, reading books and articles and scripture, I have come to more and more appreciate the sort of thing St. Benedict says. In other words, I appreciate not dwelling on it, embracing the mystery, and moving on. Truly, we must be “ready to do battle.” Humans must take action. Make a decision. Do something. Yet the Lord will “supply by the help of His grace.” We can’t do it alone. We need help.
How does that work? What is the balance?
Does it matter on a day to day basis? As I think about this, I am challenged to put down the next book discussing God’s sovereignty and human free will and instead to go out into the world and help my neighbor, friend or enemy in whatever way is needed.
I have come to think this is what the Bible teaches too. We don’t get philosophical treatises on these mysterious subjects. Instead we are left in mystery and pointed to people doing great work. This work is clearly empowered by God’s Holy Spirit, but is also happening because real life humans are making choices.
God’s strength? Human freedom? Why not both?
Now let’s go do some good in the world…