Friday, October 3, 2008

Is Moral Freedom Necessary For People to be Held Responsible?

Many people say that in order for a person to be accountable for their actions, they must be totally free to do or not do an action. We say things about our love for God cannot be real unless we are free to do otherwise. It is quite natural to think this way and in many ways it seems that this must be so. There are many passages imploring us to choose life or Christ or to make some kind of decision about an issue of concern. Passages like these lean us towards the understanding that because there is a choice presented to us, we have to be free to choose either way.

I too have felt this way and have felt immense anger at people who presented me with Biblical support to show God's sovereignty over everything that happens, including human choices. One of the reasons I was confused by God being sovereign even over our choices was that it did not seem to fit with how I viewed God and the world; I also could not understand in an intellectual level how this worked either. I knew that God was in control but I did not understand how God could both be in control and how we could be totally free to do as I wanted. This thought reeked havoc on me for several years. The LORD opened my eyes to see that He is sovereign over all things that happen and that people are still responsible for what they do. Maybe not free how we think we are, but still responsible. I have been able to accept this but have prayed and asked God to show me some of the depths of this. There is a place where mystery must be mystery and to not go beyond what is written in the Word, but we cannot simply have a faith based on pure emotion and psychology when it may not be in line with the truth of who God is. God is who He is and we cannot change who He is to fit with how we are comfortable or want Him to be. Our notion of God has to be based on the Word revealed to us from Spirit to spirit but God uses our minds as the means for us to understand who He is. Faith is not purely an intellectual pursuit but our whole person has to be engaged to understand who God is. Usually the soul (mind/emotional aspect) is the last thing to be changed before we are able to act on something. Psychology even shows this over and over and it should not surprise us that God moves from our spirit to our intellect to our soul and then to our actions.

In praying over how or why man is held responsible for his actions even when God is somehow directing everything that happens, I came across a book called Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards. Many people associate him with things relating only to hell but this is a very misleading thing done by many people. Edwards is probably the greatest American theologian ever and is in the top for Biblical understanding in the world as well. He studied the Bible for 11 hours a day 6 days a week for many years and was consumed with the Word for nearly all of his life. He wrote about every possible subject in the Bible so if you find that he has hundreds of writings on hell, he also has hundreds or writings about any other subject too. In this book I am reading, Jonathan Edwards has a quote where he states that a thing can be before it actually is and that a man is still held worthy of blame or praise for his actions. It is basically about the foreknowledge of God effecting how things will be and God's sovereignty over all things. Let me give an example of this.

In the Old Testament, God says that Jesus was coming to die for the people and would establish a new covenant on earth. God speaks in these Bible passages in such a way that it is definite that Jesus will die for our sins. It is not yet happening on the earth when He spoke it, but it is a reality that it will be done. So when Jesus came to the earth, could Jesus not have gone to the cross? There are some things like the temptation of Christ and the garden that seem like he did not have to do it. But if Jesus sinned or did not go to the cross, it would cause God to have lied and God cannot lie. So even though the temptation and struggle for Jesus was real on earth, it was impossible for Him not to complete the work. It could not have been otherwise or it would have made God a liar. And even though it was (in what I would call) necessary or impossible that it could have gone any other way than what God spoke that it would be, we still hold Jesus as worthy of our praise. No one who is a Christian would say that even though it was impossible for Jesus not to do what He did that He is less glorious or worthy to be praised.

In giving this example, it shows that having "free will" or moral freedom in the sense a lot of Christians understand it is not necessary for us to be held accountable for what we do. So we can say that EVERYTHING that happens on earth, including every act of evil, is a part of God's plan to glorify Christ and that although God has ordained that it come to pass as it will, we are still held responsible because being totally free to obey or disobey is not something God requires of us for us to still be responsible for what we do.

This is a very backwards truth and it takes the Holy Spirit to reveal it to us to understand it. It is simply how it works in God's economy. If we are convinced that being totally free to obey or disobey is the only way for us to be responsible, we will have to stop praising Christ for dying on the cross. I pray that we may always praise Him for the cross and ALL that He does in His wisdom as well.

As an aside, God also never forces us to do anything but we do it because we have the desire to do it. It is not determinism because we are not forced to do it. God is not pulling strings behind a curtain to make "the puppet show of life" happen. There is much that I do find probable in how this works, but I do not feel that I have an understanding of how Scripture lays it out or even if it does go into it at all.

I pray that God may open our eyes to all of the obstacles and assumptions we have about Him that are not based on Truth and point us to the greater reality of Himself and who He truly is. If we know that He is Good and perfect, we can hold on to that truth and let the Word define how He is good and perfect. I pray that this strange truth will open our eyes to see God and transform our lives. As Augustine once said: "He who does not believe well concerning the things of God will live ill concerning the things of this world and the next."

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