Harmless mischief, the little white lie, the throwaway hurtful comment… such little things really. Really?
Iago certainly thought so.
“An old black ram is tupping your white ewe.” Crass? Yes. But boys will be boys, right?
That is where it started. Later in Shakespeare’s play Othello, through a chain of choices that each represent only small increments of movement away from respectability, we see that that Iago has been drawn into something over which he no longer has full control. His agency has been compromised. His mischief has escalated beyond the category of harmless prank and entered the realms of the sinister… and as one watches the play unfold, one very much gets the impression that Iago is less and less free to choose a way out of his pattern of increasingly destructive behaviour – through circumstances that he himself orchestrated. The consequences of his earlier choices limit his options in later choices. Whilst his evil was not originally intended, it was still originally chosen.
Jumping back into the ancient text of Exodus, we see a similar scenario. Have you ever read or listened to the passage about the famous showdown between Moses and Pharaoh, where God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and thought that something didn’t quite add up?
After all, if God was hardening Pharaoh’s heart, wasn’t He forcing his hand, limiting his freedom? Perhaps, had not Pharaoh’s heart been hardened by forces beyond his control, he would have made a more merciful and reasonable choice and allowed the Israelites to go free without the need for all of those firstborn sons to die?
Ah… but look at the passage again. God did not “interfere” by hardening Pharaoh’s heart until he had already stubbornly refused to let the Israelites go on several occasions. Each time Pharaoh chose against the good, the just, the merciful – he influenced his own future and limited his own agency. God, in hardening the heart of the Pharaoh, was simply allowing the consequences of Pharaoh’s own earlier choices to come to fruition.
WE CHANGE WHO WE ARE with EVERY choice that we make, however small.
In our choices we could be constructing for ourselves a prison of our own making, or we could be slowly getting better at identifying and selecting the good.
Never give up the struggle to choose the good in the decision you have before you in the present moment. There is ALWAYS grace in the present moment, that precious help from God, to do as He would have you do.
Be encouraged! You may have made choices you regret in the past – no matter! By consistently responding to God’s grace – fighting against the attraction to the easy-to-attain compromises and by persevering in the struggle to choose good, you will slowly but surely develop a predisposition, a habit in choosing good – virtue! Over time, doing good becomes more a reflex action – muscle memory of the will, so to speak. Now THAT is freedom!