Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Free Will Revisited

My buddy Joshua Claybourn has rekindled the question of the ages: what is this whole free will thing about? I have posted about this a few times, and have nothing really new to add. Nevertheless, I’ll write without referring to my previous posts, in hopes of putting a new spin on the argument.

The argument is not really my own, it can be traced back to Jonathan Edwards and ultimately back to Augustine.

The dilemma, stated many ways, always boils down to this: If we don’t have a free will, then we are naught but robots following a deterministic path. This is made especially vivid when coupled with the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination.

God has chosen some for salvation from before the foundations of the world. They receive mercy and eternal life. Others he passes over. They receive justice and its due consequence: eternal damnation. And there is not a blasted thing anybody can do about it.

Granted, that is a fairly blunt way to present Unconditional Election, but no matter how you pretty-it-up, in a nutshell, that is precisely what the doctrine (and in my opinion the bible) teaches.

Sure sounds like a denial of free will. Sure sounds as if we are robots. And in a way it is, and in a way we are. But not because we do not have free will, but because what we usually mean by free will is in fact a logical impossibility. We usually take free will to mean something like:

Free Will: The ability to choose whatever we want, for no particular reason.

This, as I stated, is impossible. There is no such thing as choosing for no particular reason. Void of a reason, however subtle or even undetectable, we will stand in place, frozen by our indecision. We always choose for a reason. The accurate definition of free will is:

Free Will: The trait in humans whereby we always choose according to our strongest inclinations.

Whatever we want most at a given moment, that is what we choose. We are indeed puppets. But not to a God pulling our strings; we are controlled utterly by our own desires. God has nothing to do with it. Nothing.

Why then aren’t we all hedonists? Because for most, the desire for respect, or to be liked, or to follow some code of ethics, or just to live in a relatively civilized manner is (sometimes) stronger than the desire for instant gratification. For others, who "live for the moment", it often isn’t. But in either case, a choice will be made that is nothing better than a slave to that person’s desires.

Where does this leave us in relationship to God? In big trouble, that’s where. Because before God chooses us, we have no desire to seek Him or choose Him:
10As it is written:
"There is no one righteous, not even one;
11there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God. (Rom 3:10-11, NIV)

The fall has left mankind with a heart that never seeks God. Left on our own, our free will is not good for anything except taking us straight to hell.

This is not God is forcing us to be sinners, or preventing us from choosing Him because we are not in the special club known as the "elect". We jumped in the pit, and we can’t blame God for our condition. We can’t blame Him, yet only God can rescue us from this tragedy of our own making.

God can regenerate you. Not because you choose Him; your beloved free will precludes it. Rather because He chooses you. Through the Spirit, he changes your desires. Now your free will, previously your worst enemy, becomes your best friend. Because the Spirit has changed your inclinations, you now freely seek God and accept Christ as your Savior.

If you have accepted Christ, it is because God first did a work on you. He violated you. He changed your heart. Before, you sought Him not. Afterwards, you long to be in His fellowship. Praise Him for not placing your salvation at the mercy of your fatally flawed unregenerated “free will”.

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