Can we choose God? Would we ever want to choose God? Do we have free will?
These questions have caused controversy amongst Christians throughout church history. The reformed doctrine of Total Depravity speaks to this.
Total depravity is the teaching that contends that, since the Fall of Man (Genesis 3), every area of a human beings live is fallen and scarred by sin; no area is left untouched. Sin has tainted our wills, our emotions, our minds, and even our physical beings. The result is that, as Romans 3 says, no-one is righteous before God or understands spiritual things. We naturally seek religion or seek to run our own lives or seek gods of our own making that approve of our sinful lifestyles.
Do we have free will? Martin Luther would say no. Luther would ask you, “Does a lion have free will?” You might answer that he does: the lion could choose to hunt a warthog, or an antelope, or not to hunt at all. But take that hungry lion and put a pile of meat to his one side and a pile of vegetables to the other. Which food will the lion eat? Does the lion have free will to choose either pile? The lion, you see, does not have free will. His will is in bondage to his nature. His will is in bondage to his pre-programmed disposition. You may hypothetically argue that the lion could choose the veg, but in reality he never will. Thus, Luther wrote his book: The bondage of the will.
Human beings since Adam have a prior disposition towards sin and evil, and a prior biased away from God. Our wills are not free. Our wills are in bondage to sin and our fallen state. Romans 3 also says that no-one seeks God. The truth of this doctrine should not lead to pessimistic fatalism, but rather (as God intended) it should lead to the sinner flinging him or herself onto the grace of God ultimately demonstrated at the cross; or in the words of the old hymn writer, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling”.