Wednesday, 28 July 2010

do feel free to say 'no'

I was talking to someone today about how we ask for things. Suppose I wanted to borrow your garage to store some of my stuff. I can ask in different ways. I can say "is it all right if I put my stuff in your garage?" But I have now put you under an obligation and if you say "no'" the process risks me feeling rejected. If, on the other hand, I say "please feel free to say 'no', but is it all right if I put my stuff in your garage?" I give you the genuine opportunity to say "no" and yet for our relationship to be whole. Is this just English reserve 'gone mad'? It may be... but it may be something else.

Do I really leave people free to make their own decisions or do I manoeuvre them into a corner so that the only thing they can do is provide the response that they know will please me.

Let's try another one. "Is it all right if I keep your hammer for another week?" Is that ok or would it be better to say "I have brought your hammer back, would it be all right to borrow it for another week?" In the first I have built in the presumption that you will say "yes", with the second I have given you a genuine free choice.

But this is not a lesson in English manners, I have Paul and Philemon in mind. The runaway slave Onesimus had been of great service to Paul and Paul no doubt would have continued to benefit from this service but Paul will not presume...
12 I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. 14 But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary. Philemon

It is really remarkable how Paul refuses to put Philemon, Onesimus' true owner, under any pressure. He will not presume, he will not take Philemon's answer for granted. I wonder where he got his 'manners'.

God is almighty. He is the possessor of heaven and earth. He has every right to demand that we bow the knee to him and commit to serve him forever, but he will not presume and will not take our answer for granted. He gives us genuine choices. As with the father and the prodigal son he 'empowers' us to make the 'wrong' decisions. We are genuinely 'free to say "no"'. Or like the old story of Abraham's servant who went seeking a bride for Abraham's son. He lavishes gifts on the would-be bride and tells her of the wealth of her prospective bridegroom, but in the end it comes down to a genuine free choice; will you go with this man? Gen 24:58

In creating man God has given him the most amazing power; he is free to say 'no' to God. And because this is a genuine free choice he also has the power to say 'yes'.

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