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.

On the differences between Luther and Calvin

Why do Calvinists and particularly Arminians (and for that matter, Roman Catholics) reject the paradox?  Is it because they cannot understand that words of Scripture?  Is it because they are less astute than Lutherans?  The answer to both questions is no.  The reason they reject Scripture’s emphasis on “by grace alone” is that their initial focus prior to their “conversion”, their conversion itself, and there subsequent Christian focus lead them away from grace and ultimately from the gospel.  How and why does it do this?  Simply put, whenever anyone shifts his focus of Christianity, as the Evangelical/Reformed do, his “faith” is no longer a miracle the Holy Spirit works through the gospel.  We must realize that there is in man a natural desire to want to keep the law.  While most consider this desire to be an example of the innate goodness of man, or the “prevenient grace” of the Holy Spirit, the Bible tells us that in the true spiritual sense, no one yearns for the law or for the true spiritual sense, no one yearns for the law or for the true spiritual means of fulfilling it in their lives (Rom. 3:10,11; 8:6,7).  What, then, is this yearning that so many experience?  Lutherans have called this the opinion legis, or the natural (and sinful) desire of a person to gain something for himself by keeping the law, whether that happens to be heaven or God’s temporal blessings on earth.  We hold that even the desire to be moral is a sin-unless that morality is fostered by a love for the Lord.  But such love can only come when a person first knows that God has loved and forgiven him. – Robert Koester, Law and Gospel – Foundation of Lutheran Ministry

Thanks to Larry at The Sacrament is the Gospel for this quote.  His post and the comments that follow are worth reading.  I find it interesting that in this analysis, Calvinists and Arminians (along with Catholics) are missing the point by insisting that grace is the power to do something as opposed to grace simply being the assurance of salvation.

I don’t pretend to really grasp the fine points, but I’m starting to sort it out, I think.