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.

Jonathan Edwards was a heretic

I have two words to say about Jonathan Edwards’ theology: Bull. Shit.

Apparently Edwards hadn’t read 1 John: “…let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He that does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

And, he must have missed what God said in the New Testament:

  • Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Love your enemies, and bless those who curse you.
  • Who here condemns you? … Neither do I condemn you.
  • Learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
  • Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.

Uh… something doesn’t add up

Okay, so–we are to love sinners and show them mercy and kindness, just like Jesus did. All so apparently God can torture them forever after they die.

Just gives you the warm fuzzies, doesn’t it?

Or, is Jesus of a different mind than God the Father? That is, is God schizophrenic?

Think about this angry God teaching for a bit. I’m pretty sure we’ve all encountered it at some point. Many of us were raised with it. Is there any way you can reconcile the “angry god” with Jesus God?

I don’t know why me

(Is that proper English?)

I have a distinct memory was walking around our property (somewhere between the square building in the photo and the larger rectangular building), acutely aware that God loved me unconditionally, and that He was the only one who could love me like that. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that no matter what, God would always love me, even if I did something so bad that my friends and even my parents couldn’t. And that was a stretch, as I came from a very loving home.

This does not mean that I believed that I would be rich or that nothing bad would ever happen to me. I wasn’t stupid. And when bad things did happen, I would wonder why and even get angry, but I knew that God loved me, no matter what.

Fear God?

When I hear other people talk of their issues being raised in church, I realize that mine is not a typical story. I have never, ever been afraid of God. Never. I have never had a fear of hell, or of not measuring up to God’s standards. I’ve often been afraid of not measuring up to man’s standards, or even my own, but I’ve always known that I’m OK with God. I’ve never, ever doubted that. He has always been my failsafe.

As you’d expect, many people throughout my life have tried to “put the fear of God in me.” I’ve heard my share of holy roller, hellfire, end-times, holiness and guilt preachers. I was not raised in that kind of environment, but I have been surrounded by evangelicals and fundamentalists since my teens. First it was “The Late Great Planet Earth” then came the Jesus Movement. Growing up Christian in the 60’s And 70’s was a weird time. I had my share of fear and trembling, but it was never the fear of God. I knew that God loved me, and would accept me no matter what.

Why me?

I am aware–perhaps now than ever–that my seemingly innate knowledge of God is not typical, and like Kris Kristofferson, I don’t know “why me?”

I’m not complaining, and definitely not boasting the way some do when they talk about how “blessed” they are. Perhaps I just needed that innate sense of God to survive. What I know is, I didn’t “accept” Jesus or decide to believe in God. I just always did. It was God who accepted me. And as Jesus is quoted as saying in John 10, no one is going to snatch me out of God’s hand. I’m apparently here to stay, because it’s not up to me to persevere (sorry, Calvin). And, of course, I’m not complaining at all. 

So here I am, nearly 64 years old, and my faith in God is essentially the same as when I was 4. Certainly I know more theology (for better or for worse), but what theology has done is to allow me to threw away all of the trash that popular Christianity has tried to dump on me–I have walked through the maze of pop religion (my initial draft said “bullshit” but I toned it down), and found I was still standing in my front yard knowing that God loves me, no matter what.

This I know too

But I know something else: God loves all of you, too, even if you don’t believe it’s possible. He loves you “just the way you are” (was that Billy Joel, or Mr. Rogers?). God loves you even if you can’t love yourself. You may be filled with guilt and shame, just wanting to keep hidden from view. But, I know that God’s love isn’t affected by your feelings, or your actions. Love is God’s essence; it’s impossible for him not to love. 

God has never said, “Love me or go to hell.” It’s just bad preachers who say that. There’s no one dangling over the pit of hell. The Bible doesn’t teach that “God is wrath.” It teaches that God is love.

Many Christians will be very upset that I say such things, as they’ve been motivated their whole lives by a fear of hell and judgments and they think it’s somehow dangerous to believe that God is not one part love and one part wrath. Or, they think it’s at least unfortunate that those people we don’t love won’t be torched by God in the afterlife.

The thing is… 

The think about believing in a loving God is that it means that God actually does love Muslims, and LGBTQ+ people, and all of those refugee people. And, he loves them just as much as he loves us.

Whoa.

So, I guess we’ll need to talk some more about this.

Foreword

It is coincidental that here, in mid-Lent, I have just finished reading my fourth book in a row on the atonement, besides listening to various sermons and lectures online.

If I were to write another book, it could be another, even clearer, presentation of the gospel.

If I were to write another book, it would be because my wife told me I should, because the good news is way better than even I thought it was a couple of years ago.

If I were to write another book, this could be the Forward.

Foreword

It is coincidental that here, in mid-Lent, I have just finished reading my fourth book in a row on the atonement, besides listening to various sermons and lectures online. It’s not that unusual for me to lock onto a subject, but I don’t think I’ve ever locked on to something this meaningful and relevant, for it relates to everything (if you happen to be a spiritually-minded person). For that matter, it’s relevant even if you’re not, but that’s a topic for another time. It’s relevant to everything because at the heart of the atonement issue—and the larger issues of life, death and everything—is the nature and character of God.

At this point in my studies, I am more than ever convinced that a majority of evangelicals around the world have been taught things about the atonement—and subsequently the nature of God—which are heretical. In this, I am in line with most of the church throughout history. It is unfortunate that so many church attendees will have to listen to sermons about justice and wrath and how God abandoned Jesus on the cross because He couldn’t look on sin, about how we are all worms saved only because God poured his wrath on Jesus instead of us.

This kind of thinking not only portrays God as being not at all like Jesus (and somewhat schizoid), but pits God against Jesus, antagonist versus victim, dividing the Godhead. This thinking, by the way, came from Calvin, who was forced to this conclusion to make sense of his other heretical ideas.

This is not good news. If anything, this should cause us all to wind up on Easter with a case of PTSD. Even after being saved by the skin of our teeth, we still have to deal with the fact that our God would have crucified us, and will still go on to throw most of the world into hell for all eternity. This is supposed to make us happy? Rejoice! We’re saved, but the rest of the world will burn forever!

With this kind of thinking, it’s no wonder that some of evangelical Christianity (if it can be called that) has turned into a kind of war-mongering hate group, fostering various “us against them” mindsets and acting not at all like Jesus (who, by the way, is not coming back on a white horse to smite anybody).

Thankfully, none of this wrath-based thinking is true. It doesn’t even make sense. (Part of the problem is that words like wrath, ransom, and hell have been mistranslated and the English words mis-defined.) If God was paid off by Jesus, that’s not really forgiveness, is it? If someone else pays off my mortgage, the bank hasn’t forgiven the loan; it was paid in full. Calling it forgiveness is not being very honest. Plus, it makes God into someone other than who Jesus said he was.

The Good News is so much better! Here’s a basic outline of the true story, which (with various nuances) has been believed since the early Church (if I were to write another book, these are topics that I would explore in depth):

• God is exactly like Jesus (the Bible tells us so).

• God is love. Period. (It’s all about the love, ‘bout the love, no wrath…). The wrathful God is a myth.

• There is no original sin/guilt as invented by Augustine/Calvin. Mankind is not totally depraved. Sin is a plague, and we are victims.

• God never wanted sacrifices. (This was news to me, but a couple of later OT writers—and Jesus—make this point.)

• Jesus was born (incarnated) to join man back to God.

• Jesus is in the Father, and the Father is in Jesus (they are not like Legos that can be pulled apart).

• God forgave us apart from Jesus’ death. He forgave us without payment or incentive. (There’s no forgiveness if payment was required.)

• God did not turn away from Jesus because of sin; God looks at sin all the time. The verses in Habakkuk need to be read in context, which actually is making the point that God does indeed tolerate sin. 

• Jesus died to save us from sin (the plague) and death. He basically blew death up from the inside when he rose on Easter.

• Jesus died “for the sins of the world.” Yeah, that’s everyone.

• We don’t become saved to get into heaven or escape hell; we are saved from sin and death so that we can become one with God (at-one-ment is an English word made up by translators to try to capture this meaning).

• God is not sending anyone to hell (which is nothing like Dante described it). 

• Jesus is not coming back to destroy anything (forgiveness and wrath don’t mix). Revelation is not meant to be read literally. And those looking forward to future violence are more apt to tolerate it on Earth now.  

• God is good. Always.

• God is love. Always. No qualifiers.

Now isn’t that so much better? It should be, because this is what the Bible actually teaches, if we really look at it apart from those screwy notions we’ve accepted as truth.

The Good News is that God loves [all of] us and forgives [all of] us because that’s who God is; exactly like Jesus showed us.