Free Will in the Multiverse (CSFF Day 3)

Warning: this post may give a little bit of plot away. But I’ve done my best not to make it too spoilery.

Bone HouseIn one of BRIGHT EMPIRES’ most mysterious scenes, Kit Livingstone sat inside a hut made of neolithic bones, watching an ancient man named En Ul “dream time.” What exactly En Ul was doing remains one of the central mysteries of the series. All Kit knows is that it mattered, not only to the Old One and his Stone Age tribe, but to everyone.

In THE FATAL TREE, with the fate of the multiverse in the hands of Kit and his ley-leaping companions, it at last becomes clear: En Ul was willing, and the creative power of his free will was in some way shaping the future–just as the creative power of Kit’s will, and Cass’s, and Mina’s, and even Burleigh’s must continue to shape it.

Stephen Lawhead is a “Christian writer” in the sense that his worldview informs his stories, but he does not technically write “Christian fiction,” and I’m grateful for that. Nevertheless, his exploration of reality through fiction often yields profound insights, maybe never more than in this last book of the BRIGHT EMPIRES series.

Man is not God, the story of Arthur Flinders-Petrie clearly tells us. As the Etruscan priest-king Turms recognizes (in one of the story’s most unexpected and poignant scenes), some things truly should not be, and Heaven decrees fate in a wisdom that is beyond ours. And yet, man’s will is a gift granted by an omnipresent, all-wise Creator who is himself creation’s life force, and it is right that man’s will should create, and influence, and shape.18853210

Many mysteries in BRIGHT EMPIRES do not come clear until this last book, and one of those mysteries is the series’ central theme: After all, this has been a journey not only through the multiverse, across times and places and dimensions, but through the will of mankind to learn and to teach, to change and to be changed, to save and to kill, to surrender and to convert. Hearkening back to the first “Fatal Tree,” that tree in the garden of Eden where Adam chose a future for all his descendants, THE FATAL TREE takes us back to the great mystery of our lives: the mystery of free will in fight or in surrender to a Higher Power that gives life to us all.







8 responses to “Free Will in the Multiverse (CSFF Day 3)”

  1. Jeff Chapman Avatar

    Great points, Rachel. if there was ever a reason not to mess with something you don’t understand, Lawhead’s series is it. But I’m sad to see the series end.

  2. Robert Treskillard Avatar

    Interesting thoughts! Free will vs. predestination really is a mystery that Lawhead portrays well. Arthur’s exercise of free will was like Adam’s and had fatal consequences, yet as Becky said, there are no coincidences and all seems like it was meant to be. My only wish was that the Skin Map, the Green Book, and the symbols on the map (as well as poor Dr. Young) had more direct parts to play in getting our heroes to the Spirit Well at the end.

  3. […] The fact that the universes in this story did, in fact, remain intact shows that a sovereign God is in control after all. Rachel Starr Thomson does a great job shedding more light on this here. […]

  4. Rachel Avatar

    Becky, that’s a great thought. The series really does juxtapose free will and sovereignty, I think (coming up with an answer–or the suggestion of one–which is very close to how I understand the question myself: that man’s will is truly free, but God’s omniscience and foreknowledge means he’ll always outwit us and is thus fully and always sovereign).

    Thanks for your comment!

  5. Rebecca LuElla Miller Avatar

    What a great post! This is the kind of article I love coming out of the blog tour. Really makes me think. I hadn’t set the free will beside the “man is not God” statement. But here’s another one to consider–one of the themes of the book: there is no such thing as coincidence. So how does man’s free will play into the idea that if there’s no coincidence, an all-knowing Creator is bringing things together intentionally. Ah, the great question of the Christian faith. Well, one of them!


  6. Rebekah Loper Avatar

    I hadn’t done a lot of thinking yet about how free will is dealt with in Bright Empires, but it will definitely be something I ponder more! But I did like the little twist about what En Ul was doing. It was a nice little touch to the climax of the novel.

  7. Rachel Avatar

    Thanks, Phyllis! Great to hear from you!

  8. Phyllis Wheeler Avatar

    You go right to the heart of the matter! I love your insights.

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