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Monday, May 02, 2005

Theology Tuesday: Free Will

Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I command you, that ye love one another. If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

The Gospel of St. John, Chapter Fifteen, Verses 16-19

A few years ago, I was the guest speaker at a church in a nearby town (my second appearance there). My message that day was “God is Pro-Choice”. No, I wasn’t advocating abortion, I was advocating free will. My theological explanation was not that God cannot interfere with our free will, but that he restricts Himself from interfering.

I used the example of Genesis – that God specifically tells Adam and Eve not to sin, but then they do. Clearly, God is all-powerful and all-knowing. Why would he tell them not to do something that He will make them do? My concept included a God who not only kept himself from interfering, but also kept himself from knowing what their decisions would be.

The old parishioners were not appreciative. They told me that “you’ll change you mind when you get older”; and so I have.

A few years later, I was struggling with one of the great theological questions – is it my choice or God’s? I went fishing with my pastor, and his answer was the one I have used since:

“I don’t know. If I have to choose, I would err to the side of God’s sovereignty. However, no matter what the answer is, every decision I make seems new, fresh, and without interference to me. Therefore, whether it is God’s choice or mine, I should live my life as if the choices are all mine.”

The fact is, there is support for both. Free will: the call of Christ to follow Him, the Genesis account, the well-known verse in Joshua to “choose this day whom you will serve, but for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”.

God’s will: The myriad OT descriptions of how a nation was “delivered into Israel’s hand” (or vice versa); the clear indications of how believers are “chosen” (2 Thessalonians 2:13 …God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:, 1 Peter 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light:)

One of the arguments I have head against the position of “God chooses” is “How can God choose for someone to do evil? If this were true, then God can’t be good. Since we know he is good, he must not choose for us to do evil.” While I am not arguing (yet) against our own free will, this argument is a fallacy. It is based upon two assumptions:

1) We know exactly what good is.

2) In order for God to be good, he must conform to our definition.

However, the Bible clearly states that For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. (Isaiah 55:8) Therefore, to assume that God must conform to our definition of good is foolhardy, because we cannot determine what good is for Him. On the contrary, he determines what good is for us!

On the other hand, Scripture also declares that we will be held accountable for our actions, Who will render to every man according to his deeds. (Romans 2:6) Does this mean that God would hold us accountable for actions He chooses for us?

I can recognize and believe that God is three in one without comprehending it. Isn’t this a logical contradiction? Similarly, I can believe that God is the author and finisher of my faith, but feel as if I have chosen to believe in Him. Therefore, I can believe in the logical coexistence of unlimited holy power and knowledge with a man’s responsibility for his own actions.

Is this a cop out? I don’t think so. I think it takes a measure of maturity to recognize that there are mysteries beyond my understanding. How so?

For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men.

The First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, Chapter One, Verses 19-25


  • I once had a theory that when God created angels he wanted them to be creatures of free will, but angels innately knew the will of God, meaning they could only choose to obey or deny, which is less than truly free.

    Then He created us. We can only, at best, vaguely feel God and have to guess what he wants, but our will is totally free. Interesting, but not quite right either.

    I figured both of the first two experiments failed and he since moved on to some other attempt, that's why we haven't heard from Him for so long.

    By Blogger Mark, at 5/03/2005 03:36:00 PM  

  • That's why He gave us the book, I would say.

    I've heard the phrase, "The Holy Spirit is a gentleman", meaning that God doesn't force us into actions, but can lead us to understand what the right choice is.

    I've heard from Him...

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 5/03/2005 04:03:00 PM  

  • Hammer, I must say (for what it’s worth) this is a very well balanced take on an extremely difficult topic. Too many of us form doctrinal positions and then gather the scriptures that support that view. I appreciate the way in which you handled it.

    I come down on the side of sovereignty. It seems more logical that God would alter my thinking to conform to his eternal plan, rather than revising His plan to accommodate my finite and fallen mental faculty. Causing me to “agree” with His choices is small potatoes compared to the creation of the universe et al. Nevertheless, Scripture is the final arbiter of Truth, regardless of what I think.

    By Blogger Robert, at 5/03/2005 10:28:00 PM  

  • Thanks for the compliment, Robert. If I lean, I also lean in the direction of God's sovereignty. Reading some of the blogs you pointed me to showed exactly what you pointed out - that we tend to pick a position, then look for justification.

    I'm comforatble not least in this case.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 5/06/2005 09:55:00 PM  

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