Posted tagged ‘Free Will’

Self-Sufficiency Sufficient to Love God

July 2, 2018


“They [Adam and Eve] wanted, as we say, to ‘call their souls their own.’ But that means to live a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own. They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, ‘This is our business, not yours.’ But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were, and eternally must be, mere adjectives.”

The quotation is by CS Lewis in the Problem of Pain. As he notes, tt’s axiomatic that, if God exists, we are not God, and this isn’t our universe.

By “God” (capital G), what is meant is a “maximal being” – that is a Being having maximal qualities. Thus, we say of God that He would have to be all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good, all-just, all-merciful, etc. All characteristics of which God is the standard find their greatest expression in God.

We are not talking about flying spaghetti monsters or Zeus-like personalities when we refer to God, capital G.

If such a God exists, and I believe this is more or less self-evident, than anything we call our own, including our own self-sufficiency, is mere illusion.

I find it interesting that many naturalists, like the late, great Stephen Hawking, agree that self-sufficiency is nothing but an illusion. We are all merely dancing to the tune of our DNA, says Richard Dawkins. Ravi Zacharias describes a lecture given by Stephen Hawking many years ago in which he eloquently laid out the evidence that we are determined (by natural influences) in everything we do. Hawking ended with the uplifting thought that, even though we have no control over anything that we think or do, we still feel as if we do – to which Ravi Zacharias says the audience audibly groaned.

For the naturalist, the conclusion, some say (like Hawking and Dawkins), is inescapable. We aren’t the captains of our own souls as we suppose, and our end is “predetermined” by naturalistic causes as our beginning and everything in between. Such a fatalistic view might be sufficient to undo us completely, but for our ability to imagine otherwise – even if it isn’t true – according to these naturalists. Some very small consolation!

For the Christian, however, we find our consolation in the very God whose existence belies our illusion of self-sufficiency and self-control. We find that this God made us in His image, which suggests we are made with some capacity for free will and self determination – even if it subsists within the sphere of God’s ultimate providence.

We find that God is loving and desires us to reflect Him and His love without coercion from Him. Even if our ability to govern ourselves is ultimately illusory, the fact that we believe we have this ability, is all that matters because believing it to be so, believing that we can choose other than we can, even if we can’t truly exercise this choice freely as God does, means that we can, nevertheless, reflect God’s love back to Him without coercion.

Love, after all, is not coerced. Love is the complete absence of coercion.

Though we may not be self-sufficient or self-controlling as we suppose, we can still reflect God’s love back to Him by virtue of the appearance (the illusion if you will) that we are or can be self-sufficient and self-controlling. Feeling as if we can deny God and go our own way, we freely exercise our will to submit to Him and to choose His way, and this act of love is genuine to the extent that we genuinely believe it and mean it.

The Sun Shines On Everyone

April 12, 2018

Depositphotos Image ID: 39362765 Copyright: elenathewise

The sun shines on both the evil and the good; the he rain falls on the just and the unjust. (Matthew 5:45) People often ask, “Why bad things happen to good people?” Maybe a better question is why do we live in a world that is so beautifully sustaining for life.

Why do we live in a world that is filled with beauty and blessing and good things? Yes bad things happen, but there is much good.

I think about this in the context of the revelation of Scripture. The thrust of scripture is the story of God creating us to have fellowship with us and a reciprocating loving relationship.

God made us in his own image, having a will – the ability to choose. This will God gave to us was displayed in the story of the garden of Eden and is a central theme to the story. Having the ability to choose is essential to a reciprocal, loving relationship.

How do we know that God loves us? Look at the fine tuning of the universe. The universe sits atop a razor edge of cosmic factors that are all finely tuned down to the smallest of parameters, right from the first nanosecond of the Big Bang, so that a planet like the Earth exists to support life like us.

We find nowhere else in the universe a place in which life like ours is able to flourish. (This is doesn’t man that we will never find such life, but it is safe to say that life such as what we experience on Earth is exceedingly rare in the universe, and the whole cosmos seems to be designed just so this one small planet hurtling around a small sun in a smallish solar system can sustain us.)

God created a habitation for us, a place in which we can play out our Eternal choices. A place where we can choose to love Him and, so, to enter into the purpose that was planned for us from the beginning.

Suffering Eternal Decisions

February 21, 2018

Depositphotos Image ID: 31692361 Copyright: DesignPicsInc

I often listen to podcasts in the morning as I shave, shower, brush my teeth and get ready for work. Today I was listening to Dr. William Lane Craig respond to some questions about free will and suffering, and his comments prompt this blog piece.

He made the following statement

“Natural suffering forms the arena in which the drama is played out of people being freely called to come into the kingdom of God and find an eternal relationship with God. It is not at all improbable that only in a world infused with natural suffering would an optimal number of people freely respond to God’s gracious and initiatives and come to enjoy a relationship with God and eternal salvation.”

Dr. Craig represents the Molinist view of the tension between God’s sovereignty, knowledge and power and man’s free will. On the Molinist view, God knows the future, but he does not determine it. Knowing the future, God chose to set the universe in motion, but he does not determine every aspect of it, including the choices that people make. Knowing the future, God chose to set the universe in motion, and to that extent, He determines the outcome, because He knows the outcome. He does not determine it, however, to the extent of interfering with the free will He gave humans who are created in His image. The fact that he knows the outcome, does not mean that He determine the choices each person makes. Each person is free to choose as they will, but God knows how they will choose from the beginning, and so He wills it.

This is (my simple version of) the Molinist view. It respects God’s sovereignty, while acknowledging the clear implication of free will and moral responsibility to which God holds us that is reflected from beginning to end in the Bible.

I tend to like the Molinist view, but I am always somewhat cautioned in my own thinking not to be overly concerned with doctrinal nuances. I don’t want to die on a Molinist hill other than the Gospel. The Calvinist resurgence in the church today stands in contrast to a more Armenian view of inviolate free will. Many have been the discussions and debates between these two views, and I fear we spend too much time and energy on debating when we should spend more time living out the Gospel. I think Paul might lump these debates in the category of vain discussions.

Still, I think it is good to chew on these things as they may be beneficial to our knowledge and understanding of God. As I thought about Dr. Craig’s comment above, I could not help think that this is a kind of divine utilitarianism – what is optimal for generating the most free will responses of love for, relationship with God and eternal life with God.

Dr. Craig’s thesis is an attempt to explain why suffering exists in the world when God is supposed to be good, all-powerful and sovereign. Why doesn’t God stop suffering if He is all those things? Why does he allow suffering at all?

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God’s Invitation

November 13, 2017

 

Depositphotos Image ID: 81395940 Copyright: Photocreo

The question, “How can a loving God send people to hell?” reveals a misunderstanding of at least three things: 1) what love is, 2) what hell is and 3) how people end up in hell. What we are talking about are the words Jesus spoke to these points, to which this question is directed. The question packs assumptions that load the question in the wrong way.

Let me explain.

I previously wrote a piece making the point that God Doesn’t Send People to Hell. In that piece, I addressed the question, but I addressed it primarily from a philosophical view. Below we will examine where these philosophical points come from.

The philosophical view is pretty simple, and flows from the proposition that God is Love.[1] Love doesn’t coerce people against their wills. Therefore, God will not compel anyone to be with Him who chooses not to be with Him because love doesn’t coerce people against their wills.

If heaven is eternal life with God, hell is eternal life without God. If God doesn’t coerce us, He leaves the determination up to us. God doesn’t send people to hell; people choose to go there because they don’t want to be with God.

God invites us to choose Him, but he doesn’t require, coerce or compel us to choose him against our wills.

This proof holds together well philosophically, but does it line up with the teachings of Jesus?

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God Chooses Us So We Can Choose Him

May 10, 2017

depositphotos Image ID: 438054 Copyright: ingridhs

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide….” (John 15:16)

That seems to settle it. We did not choose Jesus. Jesus chose us. He also appointed us that we should go and bear much fruit and determined that our fruit should “abide”. There doesn’t seem much for us to do. God, the vinedresser, will do His work and cause us to beat fruit.  Right?

But then, why did Jesus direct his followers, “Abide in me”? That is a command, and a command requires a response. A response requires volition. Volition requires the exercise of the will, and that suggests we have a choice to make.

So whose choice is it?

So let’s be clear about this. We didn’t choose Jesus. He chose us, and he chose us to bear fruit… but then He asks us to do something.  He says that we must abide. We don’t bear fruit if we don’t abide:

“As the branch cannot bear fruit but itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)

We can’t bear fruit apart from Jesus; we can only bear fruit if we abide in him.

But lest we think that we are left to our own devices, now that Jesus has chosen us, He makes it clear our abiding in Him isn’t enough! He must abide also in us.

Clearly, the relationship is reciprocal.

This is all well and good, but how do we abide in Jesus?

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Fathers commandments….” (John 15:10)

Taking it a step further, Jesus adds:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12-13)

After God chooses us and appoints us to bear fruit, we must abide in Him and allow Him and His word to abide in us. This requires doing on our part. We are not passive in this process. We must keep God’s commands, and that means loving others by laying down (laying aside) our own lives.

We must do all of this to beat fruit, which is what God appointed us to do.

And here is the kicker: if we don’t abide in Jesus, we die because a branch can’t live apart from the vine. It withers and dies when it is disconnected from the vine. It’s good for nothing but to be burned. (John 15:6)

So – Jesus chooses us out of the world, but we have to engage Him in that choice by exercising our own choice to abide in Him, by exercising our own choice of letting His word abide in us, by exercising our own choice to abide in love, which means following His example of laying down our lives for others.

Yes, Jesus chooses us … so that we can choose Him.

God Chooses Those Who Choose Him

May 2, 2017

depositphotos Image ID: 146437381 Copyright: SergeyNivens

A fellow blogger has written on Paul’s writing in Romans 11:1-6 and The Remnant of Israel where Paul says that “God did not reject His people, whom he foreknew”. Rather, God “reserved” for Himself “seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal” in the time of Elijah, and Paul says similarly of his time when he wrote the letter to the Romans, “there is a remnant chosen by grace”.

This “dialogue” Paul has with himself in the letter to the Romans continues the theme I have been writing on lately: God’s choosing us (before the foundation of the world) and the choices God gives us. How can they both fit into our theology? How can it be that God chooses us and we choose God at the same time?

Paul’s brief summary of God’s interaction with the nation of Israel has evidence both of God’s choice and the choices He allows men to make. God chose Abraham and His descendants who became the nation of Israel. The history of the nation of Israel is replete with virtually the entire group, but for some outliers, – some of the prophets, a few kings and other nonconformists –  continually running after other gods and failing or simply refusing to love God and His commands.

Most of them rejected God, but Paul says God did not reject them – not all of them anyway. God reserved[1] for Himself a number – a remnant.

Is this God responding to the choices made by the people of Israel? Or has God carved out (reserved for Himself) a number of the people who would not turn from Him because He reserved them for Himself? Were the remnant chosen by God? Or did God choose the remnant who chose Him?

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The Choices God Gives Us

April 28, 2017

Depositphotos Image ID: 7103912 Copyright: kohy81

“But to all[1] who did receive[2] Him, to those who believed[3] in His name, He gave the right[4] to become[5] children[6] of God— children born[7] not of blood, nor of the will[8] of the flesh[9], nor of the will of man, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)

Johns packs a lot into these short verses, tucked into the first chapter of his Gospel that is profoundly full of other significant meaning:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. All things were made through him….In him was life, and the life was the light of men…. The true light…. was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him… he gave the right to become children of God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us….”[10]

These are some of the most profound and remarkable verses in all of Scripture. God became flesh, and He lived among the people He chose as His own, but they didn’t even recognize who He was. But those who received – who believed Him – He gave the right to become children of God.

I see two choices here: the choice of receiving Christ and the choice God gives us after receiving Christ – the right to become children of God. My Reformed friends might be tempted to overlook the import of this power-packed passage.  I am little unnerved by it myself, truth be told. I don’t trust my own heart to make the right choices!

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Malcolm Guite

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