Meditation on magnolias and free-will

Every day, and numerous times each day, I pass between the two buildings where I work - the gallery and administration buildings - and receive a gorgeous view of the west lawn and row of eight or so magnolias the arboretum has. This week I noticed that the blooms of each of the trees were all beginning to unfold on their south sides. This was only a mystery for a few seconds, since anyone remotely familiar with natural science will know that the south is the warmest point of the compass, especially in the late winter and early spring. In fact, as I found out years ago, the house I grew up in, built circa 1895, was built on the south side of the valley specifically so that the snow would melt more quickly in the fields, orchard and pastures surrounding the house. For all farmers not close to the equator, it makes economic sense to be able to work one's soil sooner.

For the magnolias too, economy isn't entirely out of consideration. Like any other growing thing, the sooner you can get flowering and propagate yourself in every way possible, the better. What made my "theological mind" as my friend Dayton would call it, begin musing though, was how naturally (instinctively) the buds began reacting physiologically on the warmer, southerly side of the tree. In fact, the buds on the north side were barely unfurling one petal, let alone ready to saucer out into magnificence.

What a delight it is to see humans respond in a similar way to the Lord's timing; in this decidedly "instinctual" way. Instead of struggling to force open buds on our north sides (perhaps the place where God's will is not presently shining on us - or "permissive" will as opposed to "perfect" will), we instead acquiesce and respond to the sunlight and warming skies on our south sides, where budding will be so much easier. This takes much practice and discipline (discipleship) for us: we do not have submission written into our gene sequence.

To me, this is a proof for the concept of free-will. For trees this is not an issue, but for us, it makes all the difference, really. And I'm not necessarily talking about pure Arminianism, but rather a more flexible concept involving all concievable strength and omniscience - and grace - of Jehovah in our lives. What more proof is needed than to contemplate our (and everyone else's) countless mistakes and struggles in the face of what later is revealed as futility and disobedience? Even though people and circumstances around us may be prophesying to us the perfect will of God the entire time, we can be so closed off to those rays of light at our back that are telling us to turn around, so as to bloom more easily. Free will from God is what allows us to keep making those mistakes, and subsequently still be allowed to turn around and face the sun. If free will didn't exist, why even allow the possibility of us making myriad mistakes, when God could simply reach down, box our ears, and turn us around to face him? Wouldn't that be a much more "economical" way - such as what the magnolias are concerned with?

But, we know full well that God is not concerned with economics, at least not in the human societal sense. Economy is concerned with self-preservation and advancement: these characteristics are unnecessary and antithetical to God. Paul Miller, in his book Love Walked Among Us, said succinctly and profoundly, "Love is not economical." Free will is love. But let's learn whatever we can from the magnolias, in their gene-bound ways. Face the sun of God's will - search; yearn; stretch; become etiolated for the face of God - and blooming into his perfection waiting for us will be that much easier.

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