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Do We Have Free Choice or is Life Predetermined?

April 8, 2011

Do We Have Free Choice or is Life Predetermined?

I have always been drawn to books and films that have to do with spirit and religion. I have read all of Chaim Potok’s books and seen those made into films. I ate up the Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. Even though they represent a different faith than mine, I find myself looking for the germs of spirit that transcend religion; nuggets that anyone could take away.

And so it was that I went to see The Adjustment Bureau. From the previews I sensed that the men in the hats weren’t a special group of government spies, but entities – that we might call angels – who were operating in this world.

The film brings up the age old questions: Do we have choice? Is everything predestined in the world? As the film unreels, it seems to be the view of the author is the latter. Yet our main character, played by Matt Damon, resists. He is committed to finding a way to break what appears to be this control over his destiny. Time and time again he pushes the boundary, always ending up in the proverbial corner wearing the dunce cap. When will you learn, the men imply, until finally, upon seeing the consequences that will occur if he doesn’t follow “plan,” he decides that playing by the rules of the guys in the hats will be best for all. He chooses to go on with the plan in place for his life, which will also permit another to live out her “plan” for the best.

And yet he is haunted. Not a second goes by in three years on his plan that he doesn’t think of the woman he has come to love, whose path is “not supposed to be” connected with his. And then one day, there is a turn of events that is strong enough to impel him to one more push. What ensues is a series of very unexpected occurrences leading to an even more unexpected resolution. I am being careful here not to spoil the film for you if you haven’t seen it – it is worth seeing. That having been said, the upshot of the film may or may not answer your question about whether or not we have choice, whether or not things are predetermined. But it will have you walking away rethinking how you deal with obstacles.

How many times do we turn away from our commitments because it seems that they require too much work or they simply seem impossible to achieve? There may be lack of funding, a rejection letter, a failure in business, people that don’t support – or worse, who sneer at – your vision. There may be an internal voice that tells you you will never succeed, or you don’t have what it takes to achieve that goal. Life is filled with setbacks. They may come from within you or from outside of you. Either way, it is a sure thing that they will crop up at some point or other. The issue is what you choose to do with them. You can meet a setback and make a decision to give up, or you can meet it and recognize it for exactly what it is: a bump in the road. Figure out a way to go over it, get around it or remove it, and get back on your path.

We may never have the answer to whether or not our path in life is predetermined. I, for one, believe that we have choice. It is what my faith teaches me, and I am grateful for that. It keeps me plugging against all odds. But perhaps that is not even the question at all. Perhaps the real question is what we will do with the choices in our lives, and how much perseverance we are willing to maintain in the face of challenges, even when it seems that nothing is going our way. A movie such as The Adjustment Bureau can uncover the recognition that heartfelt commitment to anyone or anything can trump whatever obstacles may occur in your life.

Robin Damsky

Our book, Find Fulfill Flourish, is now available! Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times calls it “an inspirational tour de force” Click here to purchase it. Click here for an overviewand here for a free sample chapter. Book readers also receive FREE access to all premium exercises and content on our website.

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