Friday, September 23, 2016

The Freedom of the Will

Anyone who knows of Jonathan Edwards will know that he wrote the definitive work, The Freedom of the Will. I am not writing any such thing. I just want to examine, for a moment, what we know about the human will and its freedom and lack thereof.

Free will is important. We know that because if there is no free will, there is no free choice, and if no free choice, no accountability. That is, if humans do not have free will, they can't be held responsible for their sin or credited with their successes and Christianity falls apart. But what exactly is this so-called "free will"?

Some would like us to believe that it is the ability to choose what we want free from determination or constraints of human nature. It is ultimate self-determination. Others argue that the will merely needs to be able to make choices without coercion to be classified as "free". There is, of course, a continuum of definitions between these two from various points of view.

Now, I always contend that we must get our reality from God's Word (rather than asking God's Word to conform to our version of reality), so that's what we ought to do here. Unfortunately, you can't turn to the back of the Inspired Word for God's definitions on this one. Nowhere do we find a suggestion that "Free will means ..." So we can only figure out what it means biblically by biblical implication. For instance, we know that Scripture is plain about God holding us responsible for our choices to sin. We know that there are rewards for those who do right. Thus, there must be some form of free will. Those who deny it must necessarily remove our culpability for sin and credit for obedience. At a minimum, then, we can say that humans have the ability to make some choices without coercion.

What about all choices? What about all influences? This is the Libertarian Free Will, the notion that humans have the capacity to choice whatever they want without God's determinism or limitations of human nature. This requires, necessarily, the view that God cannot be actually Omniscient. He can be really, really knowledgeable and all, but He cannot know the actual selections that any one person will make before they make it. If the classical, traditional, long-held understanding of Omniscient is true, then God knows all things in advance and knows them perfectly. If this is so, then He knows what choices you and I will make. The problem with this is a conflict with the Libertarian Free Will. You see, if He knows in advance what choices you will make, then you cannot decide otherwise ... and your will is not free. Thus spake the Libertarian Free Will. This idea holds God's will in check, requiring that human will supersedes God's will leaving God with the task to "clean up" after us to accomplish His plans. Now, I'd suggest that all of this is impossible to believe, but what does Scripture say?

The Bible has examples of God intervening in human choices. In Genesis, Abraham told Abimelech that his wife was his sister (Gen 20). As a result, Abimelech took Sarah into his harem. Shortly thereafter, God visited Abimelech with a warning. He had taken Abraham's wife, and for that he would suffer. But Abimelech assured God he was innocent. God answered, "Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against Me. Therefore I did not let you touch her." (Gen 20:6) Abimelech believed what Abraham and Sarah told him and, therefore, was not culpable for taking Abraham's wife, but notice that God prevented Abimelech from carrying through to the logical conclusion of having sex with Abraham's wife. God interrupted Abimelech's choice ... according to God.

The Bible also lists areas of inability in human choice. Now, logically, it would stand to reason that free will cannot mean that people are able to choose anything at all that they desire. They cannot choose, for instance, to flap their arms and fly away. It is not in their nature to fly unaided. In this sense, then, it is reasonable to say that people cannot choose to fly unaided. And instantly we have a limitation to free will, a limitation of nature. We cannot choose to do that which is not in our nature to do. The Bible has other things that we cannot choose. For instance, "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor 2:14) This says that Natural Man lacks the ability to simply choose to understand the things of the Spirit. It is outside of his nature. Conversely, "No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God." (1 John 3:9) Again, because of the new nature of the one born of God, it is outside of the realm of possibility to choose to keep on sinning. Another example is faith. We are often told to "choose to believe" in Christ. But Jesus, explaining why it was that some people not believe in Him, said this. "This is why (because some did not believe - John 6:64) I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father." (John 6:65) The language is clear. "No one can." Humans lack the capacity to come to Christ -- believe -- without the express gift of that coming given by the Father.

These are a few examples. It is not a comprehensive list. Still, it demonstrates that Libertarian Free Will cannot exist in a biblical framework. Humans do not have the ability to make choices without influence of God or human nature. Human nature prescribes our choices. God's Sovereignty prescribes our choices. Within the realms of these two arenas, we have the freedom to make choices without coercion, but this concept of ultimate self-determinism cannot fit into a biblical worldview. So, you decide. Is Libertarian Free Will -- the ability to choose in all cases apart from God's determination and Man's nature -- the only possible definition of free will? If so, you'll need to discard biblical texts. If you let Scripture apply its input to your definition of free will, I think you'll find a different version that 1) keeps culpability and uncoerced choices available yet 2) limits our choices to the framework of God's Omniscience and ultimate Sovereignty. If that's not satisfactory, you're always free to come up with another version. Just be sure that it can align with Scripture rather than vice versa -- twisting Scripture to align with your view.

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