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Posts Tagged ‘free will’

Why would God make a world that He knew would be corrupted by sin?  If God truly created people, as evangelicals are so fond of saying, so that He could be in a love relationship with them, and if that is why He gave them free will, so they could choose Him or reject Him… then why didn’t God destroy mankind immediately after they rejected Him, and start again?  Why not keep flipping the coin until it turns up heads?

Ok.  Love isn’t like that, you say.  God already loved mankind, and so devised a way to rescue them from the consequences of their rebellion.  He planned to demonstrate His love to them.  Unpersuaded by creation, perhaps people would choose to love God because of His merciful sacrifice of His Son.  So.  Why did God let any more people come into the world?  Why, knowing that there would be millions of men and women who still reject His grace and refuse to love Him, would He allow those men and women to exist – or if free will is still a possibility with the sin nature, why not eliminate them immediately after their first devastating choice (thereby preserving the rest of the world from much of the wickedness it has actually suffered)?

People are quite often posing God-impugning questions to Calvinists.  They see our God as a cruel puppeteer, causing suffering for no good reason.  Such a God cannot be loved, for He forces those who love Him to love Him, and those who hate Him to hate Him.  Then He judges the haters by sending them to hell for His choice.  And He judges His Son for God’s choice in causing the redeemed to sin in the first place and need redemption.

Calvinists, because they believe in a God who is above their judgment, rarely pose to Arminians what are equally troublesome questions – questions that, to the created vessel accustomed to think the world was created so that God could shower love on him, also indict their God.  I wish for the Arminians to realize their contradiction not because it defeats them, but because it directs them to a view of God that brings Him worship, and a view of self that creates humility.

Another complaint leveled against the God of the sovereignists (tired of using “Calvinist” so I coined a new word) is the question of whether, when a person gets sick, it is an intentional act of God.  Is God so cruel as to cause pain and death and tragedy just because He likes some of the outcomes, somewhere down the line (it brings people closer to Him, teaches people patience or compassion…)?  But is it not more cruel to imagine a God who has the power to prevent pain, but doesn’t use it?

The God of the Arminian “sovereignly” chose to exalt man’s will above His intervention.  In the beginning, He stood back and let man choose to eat the forbidden fruit.  As a result, there is death and pain and toil, sadness and continued wickedness.  But, we know, because it has been recorded in the Bible, that God still sometimes uses His power to intervene, to prevent or alleviate suffering.  He heals the blind and the lame.  Jesus brought dead children back to life so that their parents would weep no more.  If God can and sometimes does stop the natural, deserved suffering – why not do it all the time?  God lets a child be born with AIDS, knowing only that, being all-powerful, He will work everything for good for those who love Him.  That is a God who has no better motive than that He wants us to experience the consequences of our free will.  He is the God who is still waiting for men to love Him.  He isn’t even continuing to try to buy their love.  He made His final offer: Jesus on a cross.  If God was really trying to persuade us to love Him, wouldn’t He be more successful if He held back more of this pain and death stuff that makes life so hard?

Look.  You may not like my God’s motives for causing suffering.  You may not like that the damnation of millions brings God glory.  That’s a position I can understand.  But stop pretending that some invented God can escape those same accusations or worse.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

PS: I really like the Wikipedia article on Arminianism.  It’s well-written, concise, interesting, and seems fair.

PPS: See also my Tough Questions for Calvinists

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Passive.  Active.  Force.  Manipulation.  Choice.  Fate.  Death.  Freedom. 

Does God mean for something to be?  Is the only way to tell God’s will through hindsight?  “Whatever will be, will be”? 

For perfect free will, one must be not only all-powerful, but completely omniscient: to know all possible actions and outcomes and to be able to cause any one of those. 

Humans tend towards arrogance, assuming that their knowledge comprises available knowledge of the world, and that if we seem to ourselves to be in control, we must truly be. 

Though “love changes everything,” knowledge certainly helps. 

Faith is not dependent on what we can comprehend with our own minds, but on the love of God. 

If prayer influences God, does that make prayer powerful? 

Can those who “love their neighbor” kill them?  How much animosity, and how much humility, is required of Christians dealing with Muslims? 

Read Blink of an Eye by Ted Dekker, the story of Seth the surfer-genius who receives a form of clairvoyance that enables him to see possible futures, when he meets a fugitive Saudi princess named Miriam.  What do they learn about the world, each other, themselves, and God?  If there’s a way to happily ever after, they will find it.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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In the few years I’ve been studying Calvinism, I’ve come across four major questions that are the hard ones for Calvinism to answer:

1. Did God create sin?

2. Does God choose some men to be damned? (or the reverse: Is unconditional election for salvation true?)

3. Does God ordain each moment, thought, and action (not just “big” things, “sacred” things, or salvation)?

4. Am I responsible to seek God’s one will for my life, instead of just seeking and choosing ‘good’ options?

Here are some of my response questions:

1. What is goodness, and where does it come from?

2. What is life, and where does it come from?

3. What is love, and where does it come from?
To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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It’s an interesting question.  In the book it makes a vivid point.  The Christian and the other man are driving together.  The other man believes in a God, rather because it was undeniable.  But he hasn’t trusted Jesus for salvation because he’s not sure he likes God.  After all, there is suffering in the world, and God could have stopped it. 

 

“The time is now…” says the Christian, referring to accepting God’s grace through Jesus’ death on the cross. 

 

“I know, I know.” 

 

“So what’s the problem?” 

 

“I can’t; I just can’t.” 

 

The Christian uses one of those pushy phrases, “Can’t or won’t?” 

 

And the conversation concludes with the non-Christian asking, “Is there a difference?” 

 

(adapted from a book by Joel Rosenberg, but I really don’t want to give anything away, so I did leave out a lot.  You should read his books.  Latest review coming later this week.) 

 

That question sums up the thoughts I’ve been thinking for weeks now.  Can’t or won’t; is there a difference?  Christians have been debating this for centuries.  I believe there is much more biblical evidence for an answer of “No, there is no practical difference.”  If you won’t trust Jesus, it’s because you can’t.  We humans are born completely without strength (Romans 5:6), utterly without righteousness.  Calvinists call this Total Depravity.  So how does anyone choose Christ?  He chooses them first, and gifts them with faith.  That’s what I believe, and it’s a topic pretty rampant in the New Testament. 

 

But there are those verses that don’t seem to fit, and I’ve been wondering if interpreting them away is fair.  Sometimes I believe the verses that initially seem contrary, in context and the original languages, actually say just the opposite of the meaning we get by just reading them.  Take James.  If you pull any one verse out of that book of the Bible, and try to build a doctrine on it, you’ve got a mess on your hands.  But if you read the book as a whole, one long argument with both sides of a balance, you get the idea that James knew exactly what he was saying.  He just didn’t have to go over all the doctrines of justification by faith alone, because they were already there, already “givens” in his proof.  I had an experience like that on Sunday as I taught our ladies Sunday school class.  We’re in the middle of a series, and I cannot possibly re-teach the four previous lessons just to build one more point.  I have to summarize the lessons before and move from there.  This is a point made in the ever-fascinating Hebrews 6.  We can’t keep reviewing the basic doctrines. 

 

Can’t or won’t?  Some people say it’s the other way, that because we won’t, we can’t.  God’s foreknowledge saw that we wouldn’t, so He left us helpless so we couldn’t.  I think this is rather illogical.  There’s no cause.  The question abides: if some won’t, why do some will? 

 

Can or will?  When people talk about free will, what do they mean?  Is there a different kind of will, one that isn’t free?  What does will mean?  I see it as the ability to choose.  If you have a will, you can make a decision.  Is it possible there are wills that will always make the right decision?  Are we saying that Jesus didn’t have free will here on earth?  Is it possible that there are wills always making wrong decisions?  Or could we explain human nature as will-enslavement to sin and evil?  “There is none righteous, no, not one.”  I believe this is taught in Ephesians 2.  (Read it in Greek; it’s ten times better!) 

 

In that chapter, we are told that before salvation, we humans were incapable of doing anything without the empowerment of the devil.  After salvation we were made alive through the empowerment of God.  But we now seem to have the ability (can) to move on our own.  This movement and will and choice can lead us into service of the devil again (Romans 6 and 7) though not empowered by him, or into submission to God, whose power through us produces good works.  Why did God leave us with that choice?  And are those choices, as quickened spirits, matters of true free will?  Doesn’t God still have control?  Is it true that we could have chosen the right thing when we as Christians chose the wrong?  If so, why didn’t we?  If not, why can’t we? 

 

What I’m coming to is a place where there are questions either way.  Right now I don’t have answers.  I still believe that God is sovereign, that predestination is true, and that God chose (elected) those whom He would save.  The details?  Why did God let the first humans sin and how did they decide to sin and is God responsible for allowing sin and death into the world?  Is God in control of our choices now?  Does God ordain my sin and rebellion?  Does He ordain the rebellion of nations?  Does He want to have rebels so He can punish them?  Does He want to have rebels so that His forgiveness can be demonstrated?  I don’t have answers to these.  Some days I think that I know.  Other days I’m in doubt.  Most days I’ll argue strongly for complete sovereignty and predestination of every event, choice, and inclination – whether I believe it or not. 

 

And all these things are difficult to express, to write down or even to talk about.  I run circles around the main questions, hoping to stab in and pierce through to the core truth.  Almost any question in life can be brought back to the issue of predestination.  Just now I can’t say what I believe. 

 

Can’t or won’t?  I’m pretty sure it’s can’t.  I can’t tell you facts I haven’t discovered, or conclusions I haven’t reached.  At least that’s settled. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I watched the Matrix for the second time last night.  Actually I sped it up a bit, skipping the scenes with interminable punching, kicking, and creepy stuff (like the bug).  This movie was the constant topic of conversation for a few months when I was in high school.  Friends said they had to see it several times just to get it. 

 

Many years removed from its debut, the Matrix is not difficult for me to understand.  Maybe our concept of computers has changed, or the plot has been so absorbed into common philosophy that it is no longer shocking and new.  Either way, watching it the second time was pleasant.  I got to enjoy the exceptional writing, the whole thrust of the story being set up by small comments early in the movie. 

 

The Matrix is about fate and choice.  For example, near the beginning of the movie, Neo asks, “Why is this happening to me?  What did I do?”  The answer is nothing.  Things happen to us outside of our control or choices, and quite often whether we deserve them or not. 

 

In the story, there is an Oracle.  She predicts the future: that a special human will be found; who will find him; how the people will know.  This special human is supposed to rescue humanity from the Matrix.  There is a strong idea of fate in this.  Even if it were naturally possible to predict the future, she was predicting a supernatural event, the appearance of a human being with super-human mind power. 

 

The mind is important in the story.  Almost everything that happens is mental, through the Matrix.  And the epic conflict is the irrepressible human mind (or spirit) that is not bound by a programmed response as machines are.  Humanity can survive and once again prevail because the mind is creative and adaptive. 

 

Yet the mind is not the ultimate reality in the story.  (Spoilers of a ten year old movie coming up.)  At the very end of the movie, Neo dies in the Matrix.  Anyone else who dies in the Matrix dies in reality, too.  The body cannot live without the mind.  And the mind inside the Matrix cannot keep so much a hold on reality that the death blows cannot reach it.  Nevertheless, the physically and mentally dead Neo responds and revives as a matter of will.  There is something else in him that will not die, that will not submit to what the mind senses.  Ultimately it is that will, informing the mind, which enables him to overcome the Matrix. 

 

That’s the framework.  But inside the story, as events unfold (a beautiful word image for an idea of fate), these various perspectives on the will, the mind, the feelings, all interact.  One character would rather live based on what makes him feel good.  All of the questions represent a belief about truth.  How do you know truth if what you’ve experienced and believed your whole life is a lie?  How can you tell you’re not suffering a lie again?  What is your definition of truth, and does it matter to you? 

 

The Oracle tells Neo not to worry about a vase, which he curiously turns to see, and knocks it off.  Is this pure prophecy, or manipulation based on possible futures?  The Oracle also gives Neo the impression that he is not the One (special human able to defeat the Matrix), but tells him that he will have to make a choice between his life and the life of his mentor, Morpheus.  The mentor is trying to give his life for Neo.  Whose will wins? Why?  While Neo believes he isn’t the One, he’s actually proving that he is.  His motivation, his will, is stronger than what he believes in his mind. 

 

Neo makes decisions based on what is right.  He goes to save Morpheus because it is the loving thing to do.  We can never let a sense of destiny interfere with what we know is right.  He lets Trinity escape the Matrix first out of love as well.  And these are the decisions that define his fate, that empower his will. 

 

Machines may be the epic enemy in this movie, but they aren’t the bad guy.  However much they try to convince you that they care about something, that they feel emotion and make choices, it’s all a façade, an intimidation tactic.  No, the real bad guy in the story is the man who wants to live by his feelings instead of by truth and justice.  It is he who is willing to betray his companions, even to kill them and sacrifice the human race. 

 

What defeats him is the justice and sacrificial love and determination of two brothers.  The bad guy shoots at one, whose brother jumps between him and the next shot.  The second brother dies.  Greater love has no man than this…  Brother number one survives to defend the lives of his friends by necessary force.  Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man… 

 

The story isn’t all that new.  A pure heart sacrifices itself for love.  The will is superior to the feelings.  Love conquers all.  Truth and love are inseparably connected.  It’s this very fact, that the story isn’t new, that it is filled with eternal truths, which make The Matrix such a good movie. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Two Spaniards took a break from the sauna-like heat of the borderlands between Arabic-influenced Moorlands, and fiercely Roman Catholic Spain, to play a game of chess on the shaded veranda.  Both men were enthusiasts for the game that by this time was popular on three continents and most of the classical “known world.”  Time was short this afternoon, with demands of the plantation promising interruption of the historically slow-paced, strategic game.  Rather than pausing their game, both were interested in options to shorten their match. 
 
In other parts of Europe, more liberal rules were proposed as solutions to the same problem.  However, these serious players, comfortable with the legal moves of the present game, had a different idea.  They could introduce dice to the first game in history that was played entirely without chance. 
 
Philosophers and aficionados of the game appreciated the raw intellect of chess.  Human minds and wills warred with each other, ignoring fate, defying the existence of fate, and asserting a freedom.  Unlike other popular games in each country prior to the introduction of chess, there was no element of chance.  The game always began the same way, with the same rules to each player.  Then it proceeded matching man to man, mind to mind. 
 
So why would any serious chess players submit their glorification of the human mind to dice?  The answer may have been that they were not creative enough to try modifying rules to shorten their game.  They may have liked the challenge afforded by the limitation on their control of the game (dice were used to regulate which piece had to be moved each turn).  Or, the first answer that occurred to me, it’s fair.  
 
A skilled player might approve the challenge of thriving under such constraint.  The common man would submit to his lot in the game, as he seemed to do in life.  Do you see the distinction?  We all have the choice between being dominated by the circumstances of our life, and responding to the circumstances in a strategic way.  Profoundly connected to this option is our decision to endure all of life in the sinful nature bestowed upon us as heirs of Adam, and God’s offer to be saved.  God offers the power we were without, to live and to resist sin.  This is relational, the mystery of the Holy Spirit indwelling a disciple of Christ in a way that affects his choices. 
 
But that isn’t what made me stop to write.  A simple solution to a fundamental question about the story The Immortal Game’s historian told of Europe provides an apt illustration of the very God whose sovereign rule of fate has drawn so much attack.  Why would two competitors of chess introduce dice into the game of sublime skill?  I for one hate games that are entirely chance, and am immensely frustrated by those games which are mostly chance.  Take Yahtzee.  The substance of the game is five dice.  I cannot control the outcome of each roll, but I am required to choose after each roll which dice to set aside, for what purpose.  At the end of each turn I make a decision where to fill in points.  With hindsight one sees that any number of decisions could have been wrong.  I had nothing, so I zeroed the coveted 50 point Yahtzee, only to roll five of a kind my succeeding turn.  This is too frustrating for me. 
 
For me, chess is humiliating.  I’m not good at it, and unless my challenger is an amateur, I lose.  But I would rather, if a loss is to be credited to my name, have earned it entirely myself.  So what strange Spaniard (it was a Spaniard quoted explaining the use of dice with chess) pair sat at their board and decided to inflict chance upon themselves?  Even if one man suggested it, why would the other agree? 
 
The answer that struck me was fairness.  Neither player was controlling the dice.  Each submitted equally to the fate of the roll.  Were there other fair rule changes that could have sped up the game?  Yes.  So my answer doesn’t entirely explain the emergence of dice with chess. 
 
However, think about the fairness of dice.  If any of you have played Yahtzee, or some other dice- or card- dependent game, no doubt you sensed at some point that the fair chance of the dice had dealt you an unjust blow.  The outcome of a game did not rest on your choices or your merits.  Winning by chance was occasionally unjust.  The better player could lose.  Do we really want fair?  The same fate to everyone?  Each person equally born, equally bred, equally fed?  Storms of the same number, death at the same age?  
 
See, God isn’t about fairness.  He is about justice.  And justice means when something is earned, it is granted.  The marvel of Christianity is that Jesus became the propitiation, complete substitution, for our sins so that He might be just toward Himself and justifier toward us.  What we earned, death, was executed. 
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:  Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;  To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” – Romans 3:24-26
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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I just watched The Matrix for the first time last night. When I was in high school, I remember, a couple friends were crazy about The Matrix and would sit apart from the group talking about it. And my friends said that everyone had to see it at least a couple times to “get it.” The concept just blew their minds. Well now I’m twenty-three, which is a lot older than the friends I had in high school, but I can’t figure out what is so hard to get. Are there any questions I should be asking, but didn’t think of?

Over all, I guess I liked it. The story was well-thought. There were warring philosophies, which the movie choreographed into one cooperative plot. This philosophical war fit well with what God’s been teaching me of late: something about our plans and His plans. Also in reading The Immortal Game, I’ve been contemplating the ideas presented by chess: does fate govern your life, or are your choices supreme? Can you win by intellect, or is there something to be said for brute force? Is it every man for himself, or every man for the collective goal? Should life be lived tactically (moment to moment, choice by choice) or strategically (long term)? How well can any one person’s decisions manipulate another’s? These were the various positions and questions dealt with in The Matrix as well.

Of course trench coats, leather, and machine guns were rather glamorized. There was violence, and I didn’t watch some parts (not because anyone warned me or they were getting too gruesome, but I had been multi-tasking, and felt the long violence/chase series were missable). In fact, I asked my brother what the point of the long fight scenes was, as everyone knew what would be the outcome (of some parts). He told me that the movie makers got their awards and notoriety for the filmography of the sequences and the special effects. I still protest that they did not add to the movie.

Anyway, at one point I was also curious whether anyone spoke regular English, or if all the humans used bad language to express themselves. So I’m not really endorsing The Matrix, but it didn’t bother me enough to make me dislike the movie.

If I were to identify the central theme of the movie, after this first viewing, I would eschew the philosophical questions and say it was about the power of the mind over the body (and delving back deeply into philosophy, over destiny).

One thing I noticed: it didn’t end. The sequel is probably at the library right now waiting for me to watch it, and I might have to get the last one on hold. Do the next two get better or worse?

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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