So you think you have free will?

I’ve been thinking again, this time about the nature of free will as it applies to salvation (following up on my last post)–specifically, the concept of universal salvation. The basic Christian concept of universal salvation, that is, the concept of universal salvation in the context of Christianity, is that Christ died for all. There are a number of Bible passages that would support this, including:

This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…

1 Timothy 2:3-6

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son…

John 3:16

and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

2 Corinthians 5:15

To name a few.

back to free will

The fact that not all agree with the concept is pretty obvious, and there are reasons for those disagreements. My personal assessment is that the “ayes” outweigh the “nays,” but that’s beside the point (for now).

Believing that God will “save” everyone, whether they like it or not, logically means that free will when it comes to salvation is illusory. I should mention that Calvinists also teach that whether you are saved or not is solely up to God’s will, but that He only chooses to save some. (This ugly teaching is, I believe, based on some very evil theology, but that, too, is an issue for another time.)

It is natural for us, especially those born into the Cartesian, Western world, to have a viscerally negative response to this concept. What do you mean, we don’t control our own destiny? How can God be so presumptuous? We are not puppets!

Now, both philosophers and scientists have been dealing with this issue of free will on secular levels, which is interesting, but not necessarily relevant to this discussion, as we’re dealing specifically with God’s will versus man’s will. (Clue, I think God has the advantage here.) So, let’s set aside the question of whether what we have for breakfast is a choice or scripted by either God or genetics.

The issue of whether or not we have the freedom to choose to be “saved” or not needs to be viewed in the context of a few undeniable truths:

  • We had absolutely no say in our own birth. None. We all were incepted, and about 9 months later, hello world.
  • We did not choose our parents. Seriously. Totally out of our hands.
  • We didn’t have any say on when we were born. You could have been a cave dweller, but instead, you have iPhones.
  • We had no input into where we were born. Proud to be an American? You had nothing to do with it.
  • Ditto with race. Proud to be white? You should be thankful.

And the list goes on. Who you are, whether due to God’s specific input or genetics based on a totally random sperm making it first to an egg (I mean, think of the odds), was handed to you at birth.

So, already free will not in the race. Later on, we start being faced with choices. And now, the philosophical and scientific questions arise–what part of our choices are still tied to genetics?

Free what?

I personally (or impersonally) believe that we have a great deal of free will (and the philosopher in me asks, “is this belief programmed?”). And what about universal salvation? What if I don’t want to go to Heaven (for lack of a better term)?

I think of it this way: We are told that we live in an imperfect world, because mankind chose to exercise free will. So, God allows that, because it was our choice. He also allows the natural consequences of our choices to exist (war, hunger, etc.). But God has promised to put things right, by saving not only all of mankind, but creation itself. Why shouldn’t we all benefit from that?

The word for salvation, or saving, essentially means rescue. What would you think of a God who says he will only rescue a few that He picks? Or only those who ask the right way? Food for thought.

I think of salvation as healing. Jesus once asked a lame man, “Do you want to be healed?” The man may not have been sure; presumably, he made his living by begging, and laying near a spring that supposedly had healing powers. It was a good question… did he want to be healed, or did he really want to continue as he was? Maybe he didn’t know, or didn’t even have the capacity to choose at that point.

It’s something to think about. Do we want rescue/saving/healing? Do we even know, without being healed first?

When it comes right down to it, I think free will is highly over-rated.

Book Review: The Promise of Despair

The Promise of Despair may not be the best title.  It probably won’t attract the same crowd that bought any of those “stories my kid made up about heaven” books, and some will assume it’s another “you’re not suffering enough for the Kingdom” teaching.

Then, there’s the “emergent village” logo on the back, which is another red flag for many people (including me).

I probably wouldn’t have given the book a second look if it weren’t for the fact that it was so highly recommended.

A Life-Changer

Contrary to any preconceptions I could have formed, The Promise of Despair has the potential to be the most life-changing book I’ve read in a long, long time.  I say potentially because I’ve only just finished it—a year or 2 down the road, and I can better assess what impact it is having. But, there are strong indications that it has that kind of potential, at least for me.  And, it’s a great book to read during Lent, as a primary focus is Luther’s theology of the Cross.

Death

One of the reasons this book is a potential life-changer for me is that this is a book about death.  Not about dealing with death, or grief, necessarily, but about death itself.  I have had a life-long fear of death, and have developed a pretty decent hatred of it.  I’ve seen it too many times as family and friends have been taken through disease, accidents, suicides, and simply oldness, and I live with death on a day to day basis.  So, it’s a subject close to my heart.

Root begins by discussing Nietzche’s assessment that modernism has essentially declared that God is dead, and the despair that results from our faith in progress and hope for the wrong future. It’s a brilliant assessment of modern culture, postmodern modern culture (postmodernism is just a branch of modernism),  and what has resulted to the church as it has attempted to cover over the reality of death and despair instead of dealing with it.  This is not your typical cultural critique; this is an analysis of a society’s failure to deal with death and it’s impact on Christian theology and practice.

Luther

The second reason for me is that I finally think I grasp Luther’s theology of the cross. I was raised in a Lutheran church that was not really all that Lutheran. I went through Confirmation classes and all, but I don’t think I ever saw a Book of Concord until I bought one a couple of years ago, and I had never heard the phrase “Law and Gospel” that I can recall.  But, I watched “Here I Stand” several times.

So, over the last few years I have tried to get a grasp on the basics of Lutheran theology that other Lutherans all seem to know, and this book clarified a number of things. Now I am more sure than ever that the Lutheran understanding of man and God is far superior (i.e. Biblical, or perhaps “correct”) to the Calvinism that permeates most evangelical theology.  In other words, the book is not a Lutheran book, but it uses some of Luther’s language to express Biblical truth about what death really is, and that—as the author puts it—”we do not suck,” but that we are all victims, as it were, of sin and death, which were defeated at the Cross.  Only by coming to grips with “the monster” do we get to see the true victory of the resurrection; if we don’t embrace death, we don’t get to embrace life.

As I read through this I thought of a fitting quote that I heard years ago that was attributed to Camus (though I have not been able to track it down): “Life begins when you come face to face with death and realize that anything is possible.”  I have understood this, but didn’t realize that this in fact was a kind of restatement of Luther’s doctrine of the Cross. Kind of.  Resurrection life is only possible through Christ taking on death head-on.

 The Problem with the book

The big problem I had with the last portion of the book was that the author seemed to lose his way a bit, trying to create practical applications.  He starts using questions his son asks as chapter themes, which is kind of cute, but didn’t really help make his point, causing him to stretch a bit too much to keep the analogy going.  This was especially true with the last chapter, “The Christian faith is a secret that must be kept.”  Here, he completely lost me. I never figured out why it was supposed to be a secret.  I don’t think he really knew how to end the book.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that the essence of the book is life-changing. As he explains in the book, all of Western culture has issues with death that keep us from really grasping the essence of the Cross and the power of the Gospel.

Conclusion

Buy the book, read the book. It’s that simple. Skip the intro if you want, and skim where you need to.  It’s short but powerful.

 

 

 

Whatever became of sin?

In 1973 Dr. Karl Menninger wrote a little book with the provocative title, Whatever Became of Sin?, in which he questioned the disappearance of right and wrong from psychiatry. It was a good question in 1973, and it’s a good question today.

Coincidentally, after I had begun to write this post, I ran across this from Michael Hyatt:

In recent years, I have noticed an increasing tendency for people to admit to mistakes rather than sins. It happens at every level, whether someone is caught cheating on their spouse, filing false insurance claims, or shoplifting from a clothing store.

Today, also coincidentally, we have Rep. Anthony Weiner’s confession of mistakes. I won’t go into details, Weiner already being the butt of too many weiner jokes. The point is, he didn’t confess to anything really sinful; he merely made a mistake.

The problem with mistakes

Mistakes are unfortunate situations, like forgetting to wear pants when you take a picture of yourself, or accidentally tweeting the photo to some girl who is not the one you are married to. Oops!

Mistakes could even be your fault—but mistakes don’t make you a sinner, they only make you a mistaker. Which is fine, until you find that you need forgiveness.

Jesus didn’t come to take away the mistakes of the world.

 

I couldn’t resist.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer on certainty

What is certain is that we are always allowed to live in the nearness of and under the presence of God. What is certain is that this life God has made available for us is a completely new life. For us nothing is impossible anymore, because for God nothing is impossible. No earthly power can touch us without God’s will. Danger and trouble only drive us nearer to God. What is certain is that we do not have to demand and yet we are allowed to ask for everything. It is certain is that our joy is hidden in suffering—in death is our life hidden. Certain is that in all those things we are in fellowship, and this fellowship sustains us. ~Deitrich Bonhoeffer, “Our Meaning is in Jesus”

(Thanks to Near Emmaus)