June 12, 2012

Ascribing Free Will to Man Does Not Fix The Problem


I was just reading this little post someone shared with me, and it made me shake my head sadly.

Election, Foreknowledge and Free Will by Vera Six

I used to believe in Free Will.  I was somewhat of a C S Lewis type, holding God's sovereignty and Man's Free Will in some sort of cognitively dissonant state, not realizing how unscriptural the latter idea is.  I am amazed at the rest and freedom from guilt and fear that came in letting go of the latter tradition for that is what it is--just a tradition, and quite an unbiblical one.  How sad it is that so many still cling to it, thinking it is what makes God worthy of worship, for them.  For if God did not allow them free will, they seem to reason, he would be a monster that they could not worship.  Very well then, worship your idol.  For that is not the God revealed in Scripture.  I pray he will have mercy on you for it, though, and will reveal the truth to you in time.

If you think that by believing in "Freedom of the Will" that it makes God more just and fair, think again. Unless you take away God's sovereignty and quite a few of his other attributes, or become a Universalist, you still cannot get around the idea that God is not exercising his saving/wooing/drawing (whatever you want to call it) power on behalf of at least SOME humans. If you say that God is willingly submitting to man's free will so as not to violate man's free will, then he is STILL by some act of his will NOT saving some.  Consider the following analogy.  Remember no analogy is perfect but hopefully it will help you see the dilemma which is not resolved:

A parent sees a group of children playing on the road, oblivious to the fact that a large semi truck is bearing down on them.  There are only seconds to save them.  The parent picks first their own child and whoever else they can grab to get out of the way before they are all crushed.  Yet no one would begrudge the parent from first grabbing their own dear child as well as the several that it could save from certain doom.  No one would even begrudge them from choosing (electing) to save their own beloved child if that was the only one they could save.

Now, you will say that the analogy falls far short because the parent is not God and is not omnipotent.  Yes, I agree.  But adding that attribute to the story only compounds your problem.  If the parent is omnipotent, as God is, then why do some not get saved and not others?  Your solution is to make the now-omnipotent parent sit and plead on the sidelines, hoping that their own child will listen to them, while allowing the other kids to perish so that their will might not be violated.  How is that MORE fair?  How is that MORE just, in the Arminian view?  Now in order to be fair, the omnipotent parent must save all of them, equally, even though one obstinately prefers to run back out in front of the semi and lashes out hatefully at the parent even as he is trying to save the child.  Really?  That's what they think of as a solution to this seeming paradox?

Further, consider this:  The omnipotent parent sees the fiery semi truck bearing down on these children.  His own dear son is playing with these children, who are openly treating the child with hostility and ridicule and abusing him while the child just stands there, not returning it in kind.   Some of the children merely stand there and let it happen, thinking to save themselves by not being involved.  Some piously think to themselves "I would never do that!  Those mean nasty other childen!" But they do not love the innocent child themselves.

The omnipotent parent rushes to the scene to save whoever he will save. Now, instead of choosing his own child, he chooses some of the worst abusers of his child and some of the self righteous ones, and some of the ignorant passive ones, and yanks them out of the way of the oncoming semi.  Further, consider this, the parent is also omnipresent and is simultaneously the one driving the truck and rightly saying the disobedient and hateful children deserve to die.

Who among would think that parent to be sane and just?   Several (Brian Mclaren, Steve Chalke) have said this sounds like cosmic child abuse.  And in a sense I can understand why they think that -- because they are still under law, because they are still looking at God through their own flawed and unbiblical understanding of man, God,  justice, and mercy.

And yet, that is exactly what God did for us, and we are the filthy hateful ungrateful children, the passive children, the cowardly children, and self righteous unloving children rescued from the oncoming truck of his just wrath.

His own child suffers under that wrath and emerges unscathed and is returned to his loving parent...That is why he can do what he did.  He and the child know this will work because the child is also omnipotent and immortal and can avert that semi truck by allowing it to crash into himself. (Yes I think I've probably completely exhausted this imperfect metaphor, so I'll leave it now.)

This is the problem we run into when we set up our understanding of 'just' and 'merciful' over God's.  God is the source and literal embodiment of these things... not us, and not some standard outside of God himself.  They flow from who God is.   How are we to argue with it without diminishing God?  God has revealed himself to be what he is....There is no other stream.

You see, no matter which way you slice it, without resorting to outright  heresy like Open Theism and Universalism, you still end up with the same problem you claim to be avoiding. In this sense, the Open Theist (like Greg Boyd) and the Universalist (like Rob Bell and McLaren) is actually in some ways more internally consistent, while the free will adherents who think that we have an omnipotent God who knows the future with certainty are not consistent at all.  Don't get me wrong, Boyd and Bell are heretics.  But Arminians are in grave error as well, by inserting ideas into Scripture that are simply not there, and by judging God according to their own man-centered understanding of justice.   Romans 9 directly addresses this.  As in the book of Job, God doesn't always explain his reasons for things and we are commanded to submit to him and adore him for who he is.  The natural man rebells against this... naturally!
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,


“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” (Romans 9:19-26)
God's election should cause us to fall on our knees in thankfulness and adoration and awe that he did not leave us up to our own devices.  It reminds us that there but for God's grace go I.  When I was an arminian that saying did not compute and it gave me even more cause to be prideful.  At least now my theology doesn't support my pride problem, but rather undermines it daily.  Romans 9 does not explain God's election, but basically is a more poetic way of saying "Because I (God) said so, that's why."  We are not given to look into the reasons why.  Just as Job wasn't given reasons why God allowed him to suffer.  He tried to figure it out and finally God came down and rebuked him and just said, essentially, in far more words, "Where were you when I created and ordered everything?  Will you judge me?  Who do you think you are, Job?  I.  AM."  and that was enough for Job.  It should be enough for us.

If you think by making God sovereign over Man's will that that means God is unfair and you will not worship a God like that, remember this: 1. You cannot escape the fact, without becoming a universalist, which you know to be heresy, that God does not save some.   2. We inept and sinful human beings are not God's judge.  But he is ours.  And with eternal thanks we confess that Jesus Christ came to mitigate that judgement and avert his wrath toward us, not based on anything good or redeemable or lovable in us, not based on seeing what we would choose down through the corridors of time, but for his own good pleasure.  So now we may rest in the assurance that there is now no condemnation for those found in Christ Jesus. Not one of these little ones who come to Jesus shall be lost... not because of their own strength and endurance, but because of Christ's all sufficient strength and endurance on their behalf.
    "If you're thirsty, you may drink."
    They were the first words she had heard since Scrubb had spoken to her on the edge of the cliff. For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, "If you are thirsty, come and drink," and of course she remembered what Scrubb had said about animals talking in that other world, and realized that it was the lion speaking. Anyway, she had seem its lips move this time, and the voice was not like a man's. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.
    "Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion.
    "I'm dying of thirst," said Jill.
    "Then drink," said the Lion.
    "May I - could I - would you mind going away while I do?" said Jill.
    The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
    "Will you promise not to - do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill.
    "I make no promise," said the Lion.
    Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
    "Do you eat girls?" she said.
    "I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
    "I daren't come and drink," said Jill.
    "Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.
    "Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."
    "There is no other stream," said the Lion.
    It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion - no one who had seen his stern face could do that - and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn't need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once. Before she tasted it she had been intending to make a dash away from the Lion the moment she had finished. Now, she realized that this would be on the whole the most dangerous thing of all.

Jill Pole upon her meeting Aslan The Silver Chair, Chapter 2 Book 6 in The Chronicles of Narnia
(Thankful that C S Lewis was an inconsistent Arminian and a rather brilliant writer.)

Related: listen to Tullian Tchividjian's excellent series on Job - the Gospel of Suffering
Related:  Free Will or the Bondage of the Will: Definitions are Critical
Very helpful and WORTH slogging through even though it may be heavy reading for some.
Related:  LUTHER'S THEOLOGY OF THE CROSS by Carl Trueman