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Ephesians 2:10

David Cowles

Jun 1, 2023

“In this one verse…St. Paul proposes a radically new model of what it means to be a human being.”

Who needs Freud, Jung, or Adler when we have Paul? In this one verse (above), albeit dense and enigmatic, St. Paul proposes a radically new model of what it means to be a human being. Of course, Paul’s verse could be interpreted as merely another expression of some sort of divine determinism, but that would directly contradict the overall Biblical consensus that we are ‘intentional creatures’, endowed with ‘free will’ and ‘responsible for our actions’. 

Opposing determinism, divine or otherwise, is the view that we create our own lives out of whole cloth. We are blank slates with freedom to make decisions and with responsibility for the outcome of those decisions. Meet Jean-Paul Sartre! Beats determinism, but it’s still not the whole story.

Either way, our interaction with the world takes the form of a unidirectional vector. Determinism points that vector toward us; freedom points that same vector toward the world. According to this later model, everything begins with me and radiates outward. The world is my canvass, and I am surrounded by brushes and tubes of color; so start painting! 

But “(what) if someone should say, that is not what I meant, that is not what I meant at all?” (Eliot) What if neither of these vector models is how it all works? St. Paul affirms that we are free agents, responsible for our own choices. But he also suggests that we are not the sole authors of our destinies. There’s something new going on in Paul’s cosmology!

The essence of God is the Good, and in our world, we experience the Good as Beauty, Truth, and Justice. I call these the divine virtues, and God is all about divine virtues! So Being presents us with a paradox. The world (us) is radically free to do as it will, while God is hyper-focused on bringing that world in line with his values and merging it with him in the Kingdom of Heaven

The history of religion is the record of our attempts, tortured at best, to resolve this conflict. What if Paul gave us a solution two millennia ago, even though few of us have so far recognized it as such?

A precocious 12-year-old wants to go to Harvard. There are many ways she can make that happen. She can become the valedictorian of her high school class; or she can grow into a sought after athlete; or she can write a play, prove a theorem, found a company, start a charity, etc.

Of course, nothing is in stone. She could do any, or all, of these things and still not get into the college of her choice. Conversely, she could do none of them and rely on a killer interview, essay, or test score. Bottom line: she can do as she pleases and let whatever happens happen. Society, however, has provided our 12-year-old with a number of high probability pathways to success. According to Paul, this is how the whole world works!

It’s 8AM, and you and I have only the vaguest notion of how things will be at 4PM. Not so God! God sees the world (us) as it is now, and God knows the world as it will be at the end of time (Eschaton); in fact, God is the Eschaton! The terrain between now and Eschaton is our domain but, as history has amply demonstrated, human beings are sub-cretinous. 

So, what’s a good God to do? It is not in God’s nature to direct the course of events in our world. Such intervention would violate his Covenant with us, and it would vitiate the radical independence of the world he created. Is there a way around this impasse?

I am tempted to credit Paul with the ‘discovery’ of a solution, but that solution was already present embryonically in the opening verses of Genesis. Paul just recognized it…and brought it forward. Consider the role of God in the creation story:

  • God sees the world as it is: “without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters…”

  • God says, “Let there be…” and “there was…”

  • “God saw that it was good…”

  • “Then God separated…”

  • “God…rested…” 

Hardly an active voice, indicative mood description! This is not Deus Magus! God is not some want-to-be ‘Merlin’, pointing a wand and creating a frog. God is AAA; he provides us with a map that offers multiple routes to a single destination.

I am in New York, and I need to be in LA. There are innumerable routes and modes of transportation available to me, some fast, some scenic, some frantic, some relaxed, some costly, some budget friendly, etc. Of course, not all roads from New York lead to LA; in fact, most don’t. More than once, I’ve found myself on a train out of Penn Station…headed to Boston! (Perhaps I was ‘over served’.)

God’s ways are not our ways. We rigidly distinguish the map from the territory. Not God! God’s map is the territory. But God’s task is a lot easier than I’ve made it sound. All good works lead to God. Assessing the gap between where the world is and where it must get to, God prepares a catalog of good works for me to choose from.

When I was accepted into college (tuition was $2,000/year), the first thing I received was a catalog of courses…hundreds of courses. I don’t doubt that every single one of those courses was educational, but I was only required/allowed to pick four. 

I didn’t need to take every course my college offered. Likewise, I don’t need to perform all the good works that God has prepared for me. Just one! Doesn’t matter which one. I can try to do more than one, but to do that I would have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, and experience tells me that’s not likely to happen.

Single task complete, God now prepares a new catalog of good works for me to evaluate. God’s world is an interactive novel; everything I do is a choice, and every choice I make triggers an avalanche of new options. Divine Intelligence (DI) is the precursor of Artificial Intelligence (AI); GPS-like, God is forever re-calculating my route. 

I am the frog (above) and my world is a network of disconnected lily pads (being) floating on the surface of a pond (the abyss). My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to hop my way from pad to pad until I reach the opposite shore. Of course, I may not accept my mission. I may think I know better than God: “Who needs all these pads? I’ll just swim across the pond on my own.”

So I’ve made my decision. I’ve decided to ignore all the options God has placed before me. I’m choosing a different path instead – something I am perfectly free to do, BTW. Am I damned? Don’t be daft! I’ve just moved to Philadelphia, that’s all, and, gossip notwithstanding, God lives in Philly too! 

After I visit the Liberty Bell and frequent the bars and restaurants around Rittenhouse Square, God will present me with a new map with new good works for me to choose from. All I have to do is step into one of these works, and I am back on track, my Philly detour forgotten. I can always jump onto the nearest available lily pad and make things right with God.

On the other hand, I could choose to board a train for DC. Rinse and repeat! Life is long and anywhere along the way I can choose to step into a good work that God has prepared for me to live in…or I can decide to fend for myself. 

Whenever I am on a pad, I’m on track, and my past indiscretions are forgotten. God has no reason to harbor a grudge. God is concerned with one thing only: the divine virtues and, what amounts to the same thing, the redemption of the world. 

So, the road to Heaven is not nearly as narrow as we’ve been led to believe. God is not a tough negotiator. He’s prepared at any time to accept anyone and everyone onto his team. All I need do is look around, find a good work that God has prepared for me that I should live in it…and then just do it! 


David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at


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