by Robert Brow (, Kingston, Ontario, October 2006

Manx Shearwater gulls live on the Isle of Man. This is a little island in the Irish Sea half way between England and Ireland. They fly south to lay their eggs on an even smaller island off the east coast of South America. When the chicks are born the parent gulls teach them to feed themselves, and then they take off north back to the Isle of Man. The young gulls are left behind to fend for themselves.

When they are strong enough, they take off and fly up the coast of South America, cross the Atlantic to Africa and Spain, go across England and land within a few feet of their parents in the Isle of Man. The navigational feat of the adult birds is impressive enough. But the young birds make the unknown journey entirely by instinct, never having been to the family home in the Isle of Man.

Like the Manx Shearwater gulls, each species of animal has a built in set of instincts and drives. These are transmitted through their genes from generation to generation. Spiders of each species make exactly the same pattern of web as their ancestors several million years ago.

We humans also have a set of instincts built into our genes. These include the basics for self-protection, eating, drinking, sleep and procreation. But we also share with other animals the instincts of curiosity, pecking order, and play. It seems probable that the hominids that roamed our world for two million years lived by the same instincts as we have to this day.

But a huge change took place when comparatively recently God made humans in his image (Genesis 1:26 -27, see the commentary on Genesis on this site). Part of this image is the freedom for humans to move out of instinctive behavior to engage in hundreds of new skills. Some have offered a philosophy in which the way to live is by giving free rein to our instincts and drives. This sounds plausible until we find the instincts of others clashing with ours.

To manage our new freedom, Genesis Man was given access to the Holy Spirit. He is there to help and guide us. "If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will given you" (James 1:5). In some cases he will ask us to go against our normal instincts and drives. Instead of self-protection, Jesus said we could turn the other cheek. We do not have to fight for our rights and territory. Humility is better than self-importance. Many kinds of service require us to go against our natural preference to drift into the easy way.

The young Shearwater gulls take off, not knowing where they are going, and their instincts take them to exactly the right destination. Each of us has a different way to go, and the Holy Spirit can lead us gently to find "the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2). As opposed to the instinctive perfection of the birds, we are called to the perfection of exercising our freedom as children of God.

Does this take us back into salvation by good works? This website is based on the assumption that God is not in the business of evaluating who can be his children. All who would be happy in heaven are welcome there. But some of us are a joy to God, and others cause him grief. Finding that we can do what is worth doing, in our own way by the power of the Holy Spirit, is the purpose of freedom. Blessed are those who walk that narrow way.

Robert Brow

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