Saturday, February 11, 2006

My Thoughts on Free Will

My plan tonight was to write about something totally different. However, I am entrusting God and letting go of my planned writing.

About fifteen years ago when I was younger, more arrogant and knew everything I needed to know about life, I reasoned out that free will doesn't exist. Man is guided by his decisions using the pleasure principle. In other words, a person will make his decisions based on whatever derives the most pleasure. To do otherwise was illogical. Why would anyone do something that would derive more pain than pleasure?

This argument worked for everything. Every decision that is made is based on an outcome and as such, a person can reasonably deduce what decision will be made. Therefore, how can there be free will?

An example of this would be as follows:

1. Somebody you know loses $100 and asks you if you've seen it.
2. The next day, you find the $100. Do you return it?

Person A may return it because if he kept the money, it would be stealing and thus a sin and he didn't want to go to Hell. Thus, his keeping the $100 wasn't worth eternal damnation.

Person B may not return it because he doesn't think about Heaven/Hell and he could use that new DVD player he's been wanting and there was no way that the guy who lost it would figure out that he found it.

Either way, each person really doesn't choose freely, they are letting the perceived rewards guide their actions. My above argument makes a whole lot of sense and I couldn't see around it.

Well, around 9 years ago, I underwent a conversion experience that shook me to my foundation (another post for another time.) It came like a bolt of lightning for which I was truly not prepared. I could see so clearly how misguided I was regarding my theology, my understanding of the Catholic Church and my understanding of God.

At that time, I started to grasp the whole idea of free will. Our gift of free will has nothing to do with every day decisions for in a large part, our decisions are (or can be) determined by what derives the most pleasure.

Our gift of free will comes in our ability to choose to love God with all our hearts, all our mind and with all our strength.

Why should we choose to love God?

Because.

And for no other reason. Not for salvation. Not out of fear. Just because. It's in that choice that God gives us free will. To choose Him above all things. As a result, we choose to follow His commandments. Why? Because. This is where Adam failed. He actively chose to not love God. If Adam knew the consequences of his actions, he probably would have thought twice about eating that fruit.

So, regarding my dillemma, I guess I would fall under "Person C" who returns the $100 because God commanded me not to steal and I love Him and choose to follow His commandments for no other reason than because I love Him.

And loving Him is the only real free choice I have.

6 comments:

Mike Garner said...

I'm just curious about something: Do you see your definition of Free Will (ability to choose to love God with all of our heart/sould/mind/strength) in the bible? I mean, several verses seem to teach exactly the opposite so I was hoping you saw this clearly taught in the Scriptures.

As a side note:
"Our gift of free will comes in our ability to choose to love God with all our hearts, all our mind and with all our strength. "

And what if you just don't? What if you just don't Love God. What if you love anything and everything above God. What if you Love the pleasures of this world more? Why doesn't your Pleasure theory (which is right on track) apply here?

TheDen said...

Hi Mike,

Thanks for stopping by and reading my post.

Regarding my thoughts on Free Will. There are aspects that are taken from scripture. The part about the Pleasure Principle is Freudian and not Scriptural. I derived that long before I was very active in studying Scripture. (Which is why I titled it "My thoughts...")

In regards to the rest of it, yes it's Scriptural:

1. Genesis 1:26: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness."

The only thing that distinguishes us from every other animal on earth is our intellect and our free will. Animals, by God's design, are instinctual and follow God's plan instictively. Thus, they always follow God's will and cannot sin. Furthermore, they don't have the ability to know God as they don't have the intellect. We are created in His image and likeness through our intellect and free will.

2. Genesis 3 - Fall of Man

Discussed in my post. It shows that man freely chose to disobey/sin against God.

3. Romans 6

"Our gift of free will comes in our ability to choose to love God with all our hearts, all our mind and with all our strength. "

Paul makes it pretty clear. We have a choice. We can be slaves of sin or slaves of God.

If we love God with all our hearts, etc...we are His slaves and we will follow His commandments obediently as slaves do.

"And what if you just don't? What if you just don't Love God. What if you love anything and everything above God. What if you Love the pleasures of this world more? Why doesn't your Pleasure theory (which is right on track) apply here?"

In answer to your question, if we don't choose to love God, then we are slaves to sin (Romans 6: 16) and we are doomed to die.

Why would anyone love anything and everything above God? Because God is not their #1 priority. God is not in the center of their life. Perhaps money is more important like the rich man who is told that it's not enough to just follow the commandments to gain eternal life. (Matthew 19: 16-23) He loved his money more than he loved Jesus as evidenced by the fact that when Jesus told him to sell all of his things and give it to the poor and follow Him, he went away sad. This man derived more pleasure from his earthly possessions than he did from God and could not let go of them. Hopefully after the Gospel, he was able to relinquish his goods and give them to the poor.

Sadly, there are many people like that today. For me it's a daily struggle to keep God in the center of my life. Often times, I want to put me in the center and I need to remind myself that I must be a "Slave to God."

Ironically, if we willfully choose against God, then we are slaves to sin and doomed to die. But if we are slaves to God and remain in His word, we will be free. (John 8:32)

Thanks again for reading and commenting. I hope that clarifies my post.

Mike Garner said...

Thanks again for reading and commenting. I hope that clarifies my post.

Thanks for discussing this. I have responded and it is rather lengthy. I hope you will take the time to read through it and consider some of the points that we have made. As iron sharpens Iron, so to does one man sharpen another. Let us look through this matter together as we use one another to become more and more like the Image of Christ.



The only thing that distinguishes us from every other animal on earth is our intellect and our free will

Okay I am going to try to follow your argument. I asked if the Free-Will concept was found in Scripture as you defined it. You stated that we are created in the image of God but then define that as meaning that we have Free-Will (in the sense that you used it). In order for this to be a valid argument, you would have to show me where the Scriptures say this. Also, clearly this is not the only way that we are different than animals. One example, we are the only creatures who can think about thinking. If you are thinking about that sentence, then you are atually thinking about thinking about thinking. Quite different than any other creature.

We are created in His image and likeness through our intellect and free will.

Again, I see the point you are making but Genesis 1:26 does not spell any of this out for us. Just allow for the possiblity that you are reading your free-will view into this text.


2. Genesis 3 - Fall of Man

Discussed in my post. It shows that man freely chose to disobey/sin against God.


Yes - I would agree that Adam freely chose to sin against God. The question becomes if the rest of mankind has this same freedom. The question can be asked differently: Does the corruption of the Fall affect Man's free will?

3. Romans 6

"Our gift of free will comes in our ability to choose to love God with all our hearts, all our mind and with all our strength. "


I have read Romans 6 quite a bit of times and I do not remember this verse. Can you tell me what verse says this?


Paul makes it pretty clear. We have a choice. We can be slaves of sin or slaves of God.

Interesting conclusion. Can you tell me what verse that says that we have Freedom (in the way you define the word) to choose one or the other? The only time that we get Freed from our chains to sin is when someone else does that act for us (see verse 18 and notice the Passive verb). Before being freed from sin by Jesus, I do not see how one could possible use this text to argue for Freedom to choose God or not.

The same idea is used in Ephesians 2. We are dead in our sins and were by nature Children of Wrath. What does the next sentence say: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ."

Clearly the person is not choosing to be made alive but God has made us alive with Christ. We simply cannot choose to become alive. We cannnot choose to be set free of our bonds of sin until God first makes us free and gives us life. This is not about the free will of Man but on the Free will of God.

In answer to your question, if we don't choose to love God, then we are slaves to sin (Romans 6: 16) and we are doomed to die.

Well, you are correct here but your assumption doesn't seem biblical. Simply because we must choose to love God or else we are slaves to sin does not mean we are ABLE to choose to love God. That, ultimately, is where the Free will question must hinge.

Why would anyone love anything and everything above God? Because God is not their #1 priority. God is not in the center of their life. Perhaps money is more important like the rich man who is told that it's not enough to just follow the commandments to gain eternal life. (Matthew 19: 16-23) He loved his money more than he loved Jesus as evidenced by the fact that when Jesus told him to sell all of his things and give it to the poor and follow Him, he went away sad. This man derived more pleasure from his earthly possessions than he did from God and could not let go of them. Hopefully after the Gospel, he was able to relinquish his goods and give them to the poor.

Yes you are correct. There are many reasons that people do not love God. But here is the thing, are we able to Force ourselves to Love God? I think not. I would say that we are only able to Love God once God shines his light into our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2Cor 4:13).

The real question is whether we are Able to Love God without him first enabling in us the ability to Love him. The second question is whether God gives everyone this ability at some point. The third question becomes Why do You and I then "choose" to Love God while our neighbors do not? Is it because we are more Spiritual? Because we have greater intellect? Is it because we weighed the alternatives better? Or is it by the Grace of God alone? If it is by the Grace of God alone, then it is no longer based on the man who wills but upon the God who shows mercy (Romans 9:16). Therefore, it is not the free will of man, but the free will of God. This is the doctrine we must cherish. The other is pride trying to get a stranglehold on our lives.

In Christ alone,
mike

TheDen said...

Hey Mike,

Thanks for the comments. Unfortunately, I'm on the road and don't have access to my Bible (although I am smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt so it shouldn't be hard for me to find one) or any other reference material so I will have to wait.

With regards to the Romans 6 quote, I apologize for the confusion. I was referring to Romans 6 and then quoting from my post. Of course what I wrote is not in Romans 6. Sorry about the confusion.

Give me a couple days and I will respond. Thanks for the patience and for the post.

Dennis

Mike Garner said...

Oh! I should have remembered that this was from your post. I saw the Romans 6 citation and then a quotation and my mind wrongly put the two together. At least we are on the same page there!

LOL to the bible belt reference.

I look forward to discussing this in the future provided we can maintain some sort of maturity and respect in the posts. Often a discussion over something emotional like Free-Will can turn really ugly really quickly. Let us strive to avoid that in this case.

In Christ alone,
mike

TheDen said...

Mike,

We are also on the same page regarding the maturity and respect thing too. I was just thinking about that earlier today. At the point that this should become heated (which I honestly don't expect it to) we should stop because that is not what God wants.

In regards to my response, you touch on a lot of areas and I'm already thinking about my response. I think it may be best to respond to you in a series of posts as I think what you have to write is important enough to cover through posts instead of comments plus it will be easier for me to organize my thoughts and the length of my response may be too broad/big to be in the response section.

I'm returning home tonight but will need to spend some good family time with my wife and daughter so it may have to wait until tomorrow.

Thanks for understanding.

Dennis