His Achievement Are We
FREE WILL is a hallmark of orthodoxy. It is believed not only that it is true, but that it is essential, upright, and noble. Many even claim that it is the chief capacity distinguishing man from beast. Consequently, its proponents often become filled with “righteous indignation” at the least suggestion of its untenability. They earnestly desire the concept to be true; and, that the scriptures might be fulfilled, it has long been certain that they will defer to their own desires, instead of the word of God (2 Tim.3:1-8; 4:3,4). They seek to discover this idea in the Scriptures and are confident that they have done so in many places. But their sedulous efforts are in vain, for, as with the Trinity, it is nowhere expressed, frequently disproved, and only falsely inferred.
Like every good thing, the great and foundational truth that all is out of, through, and for God (Rom.11:36), can be abused. Its liberty can be misused by the foolish as an incentive to the flesh (cp Gal.5:13). Yet the wise must learn the truth on this theme so that they might make good use of it and be freed from the evil imposed upon them through its denial. God’s truth is not only true; it is also vital and beneficial. Even those believers whose consciences are generally sensitive as to the need for sound words, seem to have no compunction when it comes to the misuse of volitional terms. They regularly employ words such as “choice,” “decision” or “responsibility,” in quite the same sense as is common in the world. Much of this is the result of peer pressure and the influence of popular ethics.
Good and glorious as it is, like the teaching of eventual universal reconciliation, the teaching of God’s deity seems both false and wicked to those who cannot receive it. And even if we should receive it, it may be that we will do so only faintheartedly, and so fail to “herald the word” concerning it or live our lives in accord with it. Yet if this should be the case, this too will be the wisdom of God.
THE NECESSITY OF ACTION
In light of Romans 11:36, I freely agree (in essence if not in semantics) with the renowned physicist Albert Einstein, who said, “I do not at all believe in human freedom in the [popular] philosophical sense. Everybody acts not only from external compulsion but also in accordance with inner necessity. . . . A man’s actions are determined by necessity, external and internal, so that in God’s eyes he cannot be responsible [i.e., able to act otherwise], any more than an inanimate object is responsible for the motion it undergoes. . . . [This realization] mercifully mitigates the easily paralyzing sense of responsibility [i.e., in the sense of contrary choice] and prevents us from taking ourselves and other people all too seriously; it is conducive to a view of life which, in particular, gives humor its due”*1
“If men had not this false refuge of human responsibility, many more would be forced to reconsider the fiendish doctrines of human destiny which they hold. As it is, if their hearts are not utterly hard, they will not believe in the damnation of infants and are led into many non-scriptural notions as to the age of accountability, the appointment of sponsors at baptism, confirmation, and what not, seeing that eternal torture or annihilation can never be justified in the case of those who are not fully answerable. If they could only see that God holds none responsible, they would find everlasting suffering or death utterly repugnant and impossible. ‘Responsibility’ is a twin heresy with eternal doom. . .”*2
MISUSE OF VOLITIONAL TERMS
At the outset, advocates of free will commandeer the word “choice” (and its synonyms) and boldly incorporate the thought of avoidability into the term itself, even though this is actually no part of the meaning of any volitional synonym. Instead, it is merely what most believe to be true concerning human choice. This extremely common practice is completely unwarranted and leads to much error. For a choice is simply that which is chosen or selected; man’s opinion as to whether or not choices are avoidable forms no part of the meaning of the word itself and should not be forced into it.
It is most unwise to impose the idea of “avoidability” onto the word “choice,” as if this somehow validated the concept of freewill choice. To do so is both linguistically incorrect and logically fallacious. It is also unfair and exposes its own prejudice. Worse still, it is deceptive, for to those who are unable to think clearly, it seems to give much credence to the idea of free will.
Reading the idea of avoidability into the word choice is the equivalent of reading the word “flat” into the word “earth,” or the word “endless” into the word “eons”: (1) “The only earth fit to be called such is a flat one.” (2) “The only number of eons worthy of the saint’s life and the sinner’s punishment is an infinite number.” (3) “The only choice worthy of the name is an avoidable one.”
The problem is only compounded by those who otherwise speak plainly, who may not fully realize that clarity of expression is needed on this theme as well. We are not at all suggesting any undue or gratuitous strictness, but only that we avoid being ambiguous or evasive. We must define our terms and speak clearly in order to be clearly understood, so as not to be sadly misunderstood.
Due to common misconception, one might well suppose that only the proponent of free will believes that men do whatever they want, according to their own choice or voluntarily. Yet these are our convictions as well and are concepts which are fully in accord with our teaching. The fact that we act according to our own choice, and, had we chosen to do so, could have acted differently than we did, is not at issue and is acknowledged by all.
THE VAUNTED “POWER OF CONTRARY CHOICE”
No one can be what he is not, or, at present, act contrary to his present character. “How can Satan be casting out Satan?” (Luke 11:15). Even God cannot deny Himself (2 Tim.2:13). “From their fruits, you shall be recognizing them. . . . A good tree can not bear noxious fruit, neither is a rotten tree producing ideal fruit” (Matt.7:16,18).
Due to influences from within and without, a man may well change in the next moment from what he is in the present moment, but in any certain moment his deeds are simply the outflowings of his heart (Prov.4:23b). They reflect what is presently choice to him; that is, they constitute his true preferences, however excellent, or awful, they may be.
Though we do what we want, according to our own choice, and therefore act voluntarily, we cannot always want what we want. That is, we cannot truly want, in a decisive sense, what we want, simply in an abstract sense, so long as there are other things that we want more, in a decisive sense, than we want the ideals for which we abstractly long. Even if, abstractly speaking, we love righteousness, often, decisively speaking, we prefer the “temporary enjoyment of sin” (Heb.11:25). This is the very message of Romans 7:15-23, as well as that of all perceptive personal observation. It is vital for us to be clear as to these two distinct senses in which the word “want” (or, “will”) is used.
Of course, what those who advocate “free will” actually mean to stand for by means of this expression is the notion that men have the power of contrary choice: Even though, in fact, we chose as we did, we could have chosen otherwise. That is, we could have done so at that time. It is not contended (nor is it disputed) that, hypothetically and by itself, we might have chosen otherwise. That is not the idea at all. Instead, it is claimed that, notwithstanding the fact that we did choose as we chose, we nonetheless could have chosen otherwise. This, and this alone, is the question to be resolved.
Due to our self-reliance, pride, impatience, and anger, as well as our self-assured ethical notions about praise, blame, and judgment, this idea of contrary choice is an extremely attractive one. Then there is the matter of our strong desire, whether acknowledged or not, for independent personal glory. Thus the wish becomes the father to the claim, and, consequently, the very foundation of human ethics.
Advocates of this position, which should be called, “the power of contrary choice,” prefer to perpetuate it instead under the innocuous and advantageously ambiguous title “free will.” At once, this gives it the advantage of a respectable-sounding name and makes those few who are constrained to reject the actual doctrine appear as strange extremists, inasmuch as they reject such a well-accepted, desirable, and seemingly reasonable concept.
The advocate of free will actually stands for the position which asserts that man’s choices are uncaused—absolutely devoid of all necessity. And yet he does not realize, or at least he refuses to admit the fact, that the denial of causality will not bring him any closer to what he wants than its advocacy.
Essentially this matter is a simple one: It is impossible to prevent anything that is the product of a cause from coming into existence; and, it is also impossible to prevent anything that is not the product of a cause from coming into existence. If a truly uncaused event were ever to occur (were such a thing even possible), being the product of nothing, uninfluenced and uninfluenceable, it would simply “show up,” appearing “out of nowhere.” While it would not be brought in, neither could it be kept out.
Whether “determinism” (i.e., causality), divine or otherwise, is true or false, we cannot possibly be free either way—that is, in a freewill or contrary-choice sense. If we are caused to choose as we do, we cannot help choosing as we do. And, if we are not caused to choose as we do, we still cannot help choosing as we do.
“Surely we cannot be free agents, in the ordinary, strong, true-responsibility-entailing sense, if determinism is true and we and our actions are ultimately wholly determined by causes which existed anterior to our own personal existence. And surely we can no more be free if determinism is false and it is, ultimately, either wholly or partly a matter of chance or random outcome that we and our actions are as they are.”*3
Neither determined nor random will afford any place for free will. Neither determinedness nor randomness (nor any mixture of the two) can give or allow what is wanted, even though between these two the field of possibilities is exhausted. Therefore, contrary choice or “free will” not only does not exist but cannot exist.
OUR NEED OF ENLIGHTENMENT
Perhaps an illustration would be helpful. Whether an object falls to the ground because of the law of gravity or by sheer chance, in either case, it is not responsible for what it does. It could not help falling. The principle is the same concerning man’s chosen deeds. For either, they are caused to be as they are or they are not. Whether a man behaves as he does due to some cause or entirely apart from any cause at all, in any case, he is not responsible for (able to avoid) what he does.
Therefore, man is never responsible and cannot ever become responsible for any of his actions at any time. The recognition of this fact depends solely upon one’s ability to think sensibly and fairly. It does not depend upon a personal conviction that the Scriptures are the Word of God, much less upon any judgment that our exegesis thereof is correct. Indeed, even if both of these were to be rejected, it would still remain true that man is not responsible and that free will is a foolish myth. Unless we have a secret fondness for myths (at least when it comes to this subject), we will be grateful to see them exposed and disproved.
Whether causality should be affirmed or denied, either way, free will is false. Thus we possess conclusive evidence that free will is not only a mistaken position, but is logically impossible, and consequently, inconceivable. The acceptance of this fact, however, requires not only intellectual honesty but genuine understanding.
This issue is far from complex, and where understanding is granted, is easy to comprehend. We cannot expect assurance, however, apart from understanding, for true assurance is impossible apart from genuine understanding. May we be growing into maturity (Col.1:28), “into all the riches of the assurance of understanding, unto a realization of the secret of the God and Father, of Christ, in Whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are concealed” (Col.2:2,3).
Otherwise, even where simple and sufficient evidence is given—perhaps we should say, especially where this is the case—it may not yet be recognized. While stubbornness is certainly a cause of the rejection of truth, so is a lack of understanding. It is the glory of God to conceal a matter (Prov.25:2), and, in His greatness, even as He is able to reveal the most complex things imaginable, He is also able to hide the simplest things conceivable.
Samuel Johnson had the perfect answer to the man who has not yet been convinced by sufficient proof: “Sir,” he said, “I have found you an argument; but I am not obliged to find you an understanding.”*4
If, however, in the case of the reader, the light is beginning to dawn, it is important that you act upon your newfound knowledge, thus being adjusted by it while rejoicing in it (cf 2 Cor.13:11). Indeed, since we are men, and, “men love the darkness rather than the light” (John 3:19), “be walking while you have the light, lest the darkness may be overtaking you” (John 12:35).
INVIGORATION BY GRACE
So many, inferring ability from duty, have claimed, “I ought, therefore I can.” This simply does not follow, and it is not true. Others have cleverly said, “Though you cannot, Christ can, and He will if you will only let Him.” If it were acknowledged that both any “letting” of our own and any action in us by our Lord were themselves entirely the work of God in His own time and way, we would gladly concur. As these are denied, we cannot do so. Apart from the truth of God’s deity, any talk of “letting the Lord have His way,” degenerates into ill-disguised religious self-help, for it gives the vital glory to man, upon whom all depends.
We are indeed entreated to put on the new humanity and to think and walk ideally in every way, according to the apostle Paul’s wise counsel which he got from the Lord. This includes our implementation of the panoply of God. But what we are not entreated to do is to create those influences which will cause us to heed these very counsels. For this, we have a God, and He will see to all our needs.
This simple point is of great significance—indeed it is revolutionary—and, as it begins to influence us more, it will remove much of our self-hatred for our failures while enabling us to obey. This is so, even though we will have to bear the proud attitudes of others who cannot understand, since they do not rely on God alone for victory but ultimately look to themselves.
Having the spirit of sonship, as those who are loving God and are fond of the Lord Jesus Christ, we long to be well pleasing. We already have a new disposition and a new walk. It is too late for us to do our part by attempting to work one up. We are invigorated in the Lord and in the might of His strength (Eph. 6:10). We are invigorated by the grace which is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim.2:1), and so do not need to have any confidence in the flesh (Phil.3:3).
In addition, we are aware that ideal acts are beneficial and that all that are otherwise are destructive, both at present and at the dais of Christ. So as Paul says, “we are ambitious . . . to be well pleasing to Him” (2 Cor.5:9). We do not reason, Since I cannot help it if I should sin, let sin be increasing. Rather, we say, Even though that is true, if we should sin, we shall suffer and God will be displeased.
We do not need any help from myths about free will and contrary choice to give us an incentive to obey. Rather, we have the word of God which is operating in us who are believing (1 Thess.2:13). Therefore, let us pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace (2 Tim.2:22), recognizing our self-control and faithfulness for what they are, the fruit of the spirit, the spirit of our dear God and Father.
*1 Albert Einstein, IDEAS AND OPINIONS, pp.8,39; New York: Crown Publishers, 1954
*2 A. E. Knoch, THE PROBLEM OF EVIL AND THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD, p.234
*3 Galen Strawson, FREEDOM AND BELIEF, p.25; London: Oxford University Press, 1986
*4 Samuel Boswell, LIFE OF JOHNSON, 6 vols., 4:313; New York: Oxford University, 1970
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