“Mankind has a free will; but it is free to milk cows and to build houses, nothing more.” ~Martin Luther
Contrary to Luther, I believe in free will. I always have. It’s possible, I guess, that I was designed to believe in free will, but I don’t think so. When Peter says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness (2 Peter 1:3),” I believe him. I believe this means that God has given us what we need to make good choices, and the free will to make really stupid choices. For the most part, the quality of our lives are dependent upon our choices (and, of course, the choices of others).
Obviously, there are those who God has chosen for specific purposes, like Abraham, Jacob, John the Baptist, Paul, and so on. Oh, and the Jews. And, for that matter, us. But, within that destiny, we have a certain amount of choice (not that it did Jonah any good). While I believe (perhaps in vain) in free will, it is clear that the Bible also teaches that we are predestined. This tension has never bothered me; it merely indicates that either I don’t know enough, or that I actually do know enough [to recognize the tension].
Saved by what?
The question of free will becomes more important as we discuss salvation. Are we predestined to be saved, or does our salvation completely depend upon the rhetorical skills of an evangelist (with the help of the Holy Spirit, of course) and our decision to believe or not to believe?
Our reaction to this question often seems to come down to our inability to acknowledge that God might not have to ask us whether to save us or not—it’s not so much a theological issue so much as an emotional one. The mere concept of not having free will is offensive to our modern Western sensibilities.
Face it—no one asked you.
Last week I started thinking about this and realized something very key: no one ever asked me if I wanted to be born in the first place. This is my birth I’m talking about, and I had no input into it whatsoever. Nada. Not just where I’d be born or into what conditions I’d be born, but just being born. I didn’t even have a say about whether I was a boy or a girl. So, considering how little I had to say about my existence so far, how can I build any sort of argument at all that God should ask for my opinion concerning what happens next? (As Paul said, “what right does the clay have to talk back to the potter?”)
The Bible—Jesus himself, for that matter—says a lot of things about those who believe being saved. But then we also have Jesus statement in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.” Our belief, it seems, is at best a response to what God is already doing; our free will—when it comes to salvation—may merely be “going along for the ride.”
I guess the logical conclusion is that when all is said and done, it doesn’t really matter whether I believe in free will or not; so far, God hasn’t asked my opinions about too many things.