Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Thinking Through Free Will

I had a recent exchange with one of my students based on a class teaching, and some conversations in the area of God, creation of humans, free will, and the Fall.  I wrote a response back, and thought it might be good to post the whole exchange on the blog here we go.

Hi DeeDee,

I'm answering this, and posting it on the class web site because it highlights some really good tensions that pertain to understanding free will and our sin nature.

FIRST though, let me answer your inquiry about Dallas Willard by pointing you back to the book and Chapter 2, which is entitled "The Gospel of Sin Management".  I think I used the word "problem" when I was referring to the issue that Willard brings up in that chapter - namely, that if we teach that the gospel is nothing more than our sins being forgiven, and leaves out the possibilities of transformation, growth, discipleship in Christ, then all we have is a gospel of sin management...keep our sins in check with repeated confession, repentance and forgiveness, but don't ever really change.  Don't mistake the idea of transformation as excluding confession, repentance and forgiveness - those will always be necessary elements of growth, but growth is meant to lead us towards Christ and His character as a part of our own character growth.

NOW, as to the questions on free will you stated:

Also I wanted to ask you a theology question. Based on our discussion last night on sin and free will I wanted to ask you what your opinion might be on this question: If our ability to sin is based on our free will (our choice) then what if we removed any "causal agents" (ie: things that tempt us into sin or sinning, like the serpent) that would start the thought process and/or plant the seed to sin/deception? 
If we were born without sin but with the ability to choose sin then might there be someone out there that has never chosen sin? I guess I'm wondering if we are born without sin don't we have the potential to never sin--given the choice (free will)? If not, then are we born with sin and just continue to chose to make the wrong choices which grows our "sin nature"? 

The short, brief answer (from my humbled, often need to re-think my own answers) point of view is:  Our picture of God is crucial to how we understand human nature and freedom.  In the answers to the atheist questions that Dr. Craig responds to, I totally agree that the starting point in terms of defining "goodness", "evil", "sin", "righteousness", God.  He is the one who defines all of those things, and it is our "mental picture" of God that is crucial to understanding His Character.  In other words, I know many Christians who think God is omniscient, omnipresent, all-powerful, loving, but entertain mental pictures of God as limiting, striking people dead, causing suffering for His own purposes, etc...

The fundamental lie of the Serpent in the garden was "You can't trust the character of God".  Some see in God's command a test for Adam and Eve...let's see if they'll obey?  But God was placing them in a place of both loving provisions, as well as loving prohibitions as free moral agents who were "made in His image".  What he wanted them to do was choose to allow God to be God over them; what the enemy did was challenge them to break free of that place of submission.

The Sin of Adam is now passed through the Human line.  We see it in children as soon as they are able to start making choices.  Our experiences, our perceptions, and our choices are tainted by this "nature" that still allows us the freedom to choose, even if our choices are Not to Trust God, or experience His fullness of love and communion and walk in humble obedience.

Still, we choose.

There are all sorts of ranges of evil and sin.  Certainly Adolf Hitler cannot be compared as a sinner with Mother Teresa.  They both are sinners in that they "miss the mark" and sin.  But Adolf Hitlers sins are much more visible, easier to spot than someone like Mother Teresa.

But let me add by going back to the theme of "free will".

I think it should be said, my commitment to Freedom of the Will is NOT the highest value or first principle for my Theology, and doctrinal construction.  My first principle in terms of theology (what I believe about God) is His I read it comprehensively (and contextually) in scripture - but as primarily revealed in Jesus Christ.  The author of Hebrews said it best:
Hebrews 1:3 - The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 

I don't struggle with God's sovereignty in relation to Human choices.  What I do object to is the notion that God controls human choices.  The garden narrative is the perfect picture of God directing, but allowing Human free will.  
What I also object to is the idea of God's sovereignty controlling human choices so that they are really/ultimately God's choices, since that then makes God the author of evil, as well as good.  
Besides it makes God quite ambiguous when it comes to morality.  
God gave to the man and the woman the freedom to choose God...that is why free will is such a risk.  
NOW, every parent knows that is true...but you do it, because to not do it is worse in outcome.  

God is the author of the biggest risk ever taken...that the human creation, tainted by the sin-nature, will still choose to love and obey.  This goes back to God's character.  

I believe the Scripture starts with God's goodness - "he saw it all as good" - and affirms the free will, with or without causal agents.  From this goodness comes all that describes love, justice, righteousness, moral perfection, etc..., and the willingness, and ability, to work through the risk to see a creation come back to him as God.

Hope this helps,


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Making A Place For God

I was reading this morning in a new journal and the author referred to the latter part of Ephesians 3, and I was struck by the words Paul:

Ephesians 3:16-17 (NIV)
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,
17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 

There is in these beautiful words something that struck me.  The first part is clear - we need the power of the Holy Spirit in our day to day life.  We need to be strengthened - growing stronger in terms of the work of the Spirit in our inner soul.  Our heart, motives, attitudes; Our will, desires, passions; all fall under the domain of our inner being.  It is Our Soul that Paul is saying needs this empowering.

It is in vs 17 that I am struck:  "that Christ may dwell in (y)our hearts through faith".

Linda and I have lots of different ways of hosting people.  We've had multiple friends, guests who've come into our home to talk with us, pray with us, listen to us, eat with us, celebrate with us.  It is our "dwelling"..."katoikeo" - where we live, the place we settle, reside in.

Read it again:  "that Christ may dwell - live, settle in, reside in - (y)our hearts through faith."

The deep desire of God's Spirit is to be comfortable in us.  That every day, wherever we are, we carry in our soul - that place of our motives, our attitudes, our desires, our passions, our heart, and our will - a place of dwelling for God's Spirit.

What would it be like if you were invited into someone's home and they offered you coffee..."thanks"...and then proceeded to yell at each other, break out into an argument, screaming vulgarities, etc...?
I think I would shrink back and hope to get out of there as soon as possible.

God comes to us just as we are...make no mistake about it, this is not a matter of perfection.  The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy a personal letter of encouragement to say "let your progress be evident".  It's never about perfection, it is about progress.
We may not feel worthy of God's Spirit dwelling in us, but His desire is to live within us and teach how to live in the fruit of His Spirit.

As you go to school, your work place - whether in an office or a field - remember that we carry God's Spirit with us and He desires to work within us - to "dwell" - within us...I think that is pretty awesome, don't you?