Free Will, Free Choice, and the Abundant Life

By Rob Blezard, June 26, 2013

The Alzheimer’s expert on the radio had excellent advice for anyone who fears getting the disease (and who doesn’t?):

“Stay active, maintain a healthy diet, stay socially involved with  your interests and hobbies with your family and other members of your  community,” Dr. Paul Eslinger said Tuesday on WITF Radio’s Smart Talk program, an informative discussion show worthy of an NPR affiliate. He continued the litany of good counsel:

“Exercise every day, manage your metabolic parameters, such as your  obesity, your tendency towards diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol,”  said Eslinger, who is director of the Memory and Cognitive Disorders  Clinic at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. “These are risk factors  that will increase the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”

Does this advice sound familiar? It should. The same basic “healthy  living” steps will also help prevent, delay or lessen the severity of a  long and growing list of chronic, debilitating and life-diminishing  conditions. In addition to Alzheimer’s you can add cancer, stress, heart  disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, osteoporosis, and  on and on.

The steps are: -Good, healthy diet. -Daily exercise. -Enriching activities and relationships. -Good, adequate sleep.

The question is, with the prospect of gaining more years of life AND  much better quality of life (to say nothing of reduced medical bills),  why doesn’t everybody strive to eat more healthfully and exercise  regularly? By contrast, our nation’s obesity rates continue to rise, and  our general health continues to nosedive.

Instead of mustering the self-discipline that would give us longer  and healthier lives, we’d rather rest on the sofa watching TV and eating  the fatty foods that give us momentary pleasure.

The situation raises again Martin Luther’s basic insight that when it  comes to free will, we sure don’t have any. Free choice? Certainly! But  free will?
Not a chance. Our will is enslaved to our desires, our needs, our hurts, our ambitions and our comforts. Lutherans acknowledge this in our weekly confession: “We  are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.”

Paul admits as much in his mea culpa of Romans 7:15: “I do not  understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the  very thing I hate.”
But lest we fall into the valley of despair, we remember that  Christians are people of hope. Elsewhere in the Epistles, Paul writes, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”  (Philippians 4:13).

Certainly that includes eating healthier, exercising regularly,  getting better sleep – all things that will add years to our lives and  life to our years. Maybe that’s what Jesus meant (John 10:10) that he  came to give us life, and life abundantly.


(Photo © Sebastian Duda –

About the Author

Rob Blezard is the website content editor for the Stewardship of Life Institute and serves as an assistant to the Bishop of the Lower Susquehanna Synod, ELCA, in central Pennsylvania. See more posts by .

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