Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Freedom, Pt.2 - You're Will

I've had some trouble trying to keep my focus in writing the chapter "Freedom." This is because wrestling with the doctrine of the bondage of the will (and it's counterpart teaching about where and how humans might have a "free will") is always a struggle. That's part of the point. The doctrine of election, which is one which is given in order to comfort us, often ends up giving us a great deal of duress. This is because it takes the power out of our hands and puts it back into God's hands.

Trying to fit a book's worth of theology into a chapter of a few pages is then a significant challenge. I keep having to ask, "What questions will the reader have?" and "What objections with the skeptic bring?" This weeks section of the serial is almost entirely given over to one such question. Before we can learn the value of believing in the bondage of the human will, first we must set the foundation of the claim.

In order to strike as many birds with one stone as I can, I've settled on the argument which seems (to me) to some up all the arguments against the Biblical teaching of predestination: "But we aren't robots, are we?" Even so, this week's section is very much the set up for what will follow. Last week "Deep Raving" introduced the relative nature of the words "freedom" and "slavery," that is, how these words can have different meanings in different contexts.

This week, that same train of thought continues. Does not being a robot mean that we have a "free" will in all things? Does having freedom mean that we are never slaves? And, most importantly, is our tendency to resist the Bible's teaching that we do not have a fully "free" will bound up in our misunderstanding of what a "will" actually is? These questions and more are at the heart of the next section, "
You're Will."


As soon as one begins talking about the Biblical teaching that humans do not have a “free will,” the devil will launch an immediate counter-attack. Like any good politician, he does not tell his lies outright, but he will mask every deception with a strong kernel of truth.1 “But...people are not robots,” he entices us to say. It is true. We are not robots.2 But this is not really an argument against what the Bible has to say about the problem of our wills. It is a classic tactic of deception: misdirection.

It is a misdirection because it pretends that we live in a reality in which everything is always, purely “either”...“or.” Either we have complete, autonomous, free wills, capable of choosing all things for ourselves, both good and evil, life and death, right and wrong...or we have no wills at all, but are only robotic creations of fatalism, every one of our thoughts, words and deeds prescribed for us before time and taking place, as it were, against our wills. In the Bible, God draws a line through the heart of our either/or syndrome. Are we free? Are we bound? Free from what? Bound to what?

This morning, I got up, I put on clothes, and I headed out to do my reading over a cup of coffee.3 And, this morning, God Almighty breathed life into my flesh, protected my every step, sent his Spirit to enliven me through his Word, and providentially compels my works into the working of all things for the good of those who are in Christ.4 Was God Almighty? Yes.5 Am I still responsible for my actions? Yes.6 Am I a robot? No.7 Does that mean I have an absolutely “free” will in all things? Not exactly.8 Is there forgiveness? Of course.9 Does that forgiveness give me the freedom to choose evil? May it never be!10

But all of this talk makes it much more complicated than it really is. The simple revelation is that God is an all-powerful, saving, predestining God,11 and I am one of his creatures who has unwittingly come to believe that there is nothing more threatening to my freedom than that simple answer.12 This makes things something of a mess. But my own discomfort with a God who chooses to save me even though I have chosen to rebel against him is also part of his revealed answer.13 Scripture teaches that the reason we struggle to believe what Scripture teaches is because it is the natural inclination of our wills to hate God's answers, because God's answer is that our wills have gotten themselves stuck looking for freedom in all the wrong places. like in ourselves.14

God created humans to have wills. Jesus also had a will.15 The problem is that, in one sense, our wills have made an idol out of considering themselves free. Of course, the real question is, “Free from what?” When we ask that question in order to see what is lurking behind that voice of dispute, “But we're not robots!” what we find that we're defending is our right to be free from God.16

In any revolution, “freedom fighters” are not robots. They are rebels. Rebels, by definition, oppose being slaves to the established authority. They are free. But they are not free. They are slaves to the rebellion.17 The reason Jesus teaches us that we cannot have two masters is not because having masters is evil. It is because, at the end of the day, you can only have one. Humans do not have cosmically free wills because we must serve either God or mammon. This time, there is no both/and.

1. 2 Corinthians 11:14 “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”

2. Genesis 2:7 “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”

3. Genesis 1:28“God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion.”

4. Romans 8:28 “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

5. Genesis 17:1 “The LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.”

6. Genesis 17:1 “The LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.”

7. Matthew 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”

8. Romans 9:16 “It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”

9. Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

10. Romans 6:1-2 “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

11. Ephesians 1:11 “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”

12. Romans 1:22-23 “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”

13. Romans 9:20 “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?”

14. 1 Corinthians 2:14 “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

15. John 6:38 “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.”

16. Romans 2:21-23 “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”

17. 2 Peter 2:19 “They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.”

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