Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Free Will

During our last meeting together the question of free will in light of God's omnipotence came up.  This particular topic does, I believe, come loaded with high levels of emotional attachment with differing view points.  Much of it, again in my opinion, comes as a result of semantics and people meaning different things by free will.  Example:  one person says that, "I can do whatever I want," as their definition of free will.  Another person says, "I can choose between the best options available," as their definition.  Before I go launching off into what I believe to be true, let me work on some definitions and the context within which I believe my will operates.

I want to start with two assumptions:  1.  "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." - 2 Tim 3:16.  "He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change His mind." - 1 Sam 15:29a.  Conclusion - His word is absolutely true and we don't have to be concerned about being deceived by a lie or that He's going to change His mind on the ground rules by which we play.  2.  "Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against His Anointed One.  The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them." - Ps 2:1-2,4.  "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My word that goes out from My mouth:  It will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." - Isa 55:10,11. "Then Job replied to the Lord: 'I know that You can do all things; no plan of Yours can be thwarted.'" - Job 42:1.  Conclusion - it is His purpose that will be accomplished, not mine.

Why start here?  First of all I commit to you that I will do my best to stay away from opinion and stick with His word.  It is the final and only authority, period.  Secondly, the entire discussion of "free will" can only be had in the context that of the two wills, His and mine, if mine is at odds with His, He "wins."  His will trumps mine at all times.  There is not one example of a purpose at odds with Him that ever stood.  I guarantee you that you can find absolutely nothing in His word to the contrary.

Let me give an example in the physical world that may not be so emotionally charged.  Do you  have a choice about whether or not to operate outside the law of gravity?  You have free will, don't you?  You get to choose what you do, right?  Okay:  fly.  Go ahead, quit reading, and fly.  Some will say, "Okay, I'll got get in a plane and fly."  Yes, but you're still operating within the bounds of gravity.  There are four forces interacting on the aircraft:  thrust, drag, lift, and (you guessed it) the force of gravity acting on the mass of the plane.  Your choice does not supersede the context within which it is made.

Another example for those who don't like flying:  how about swimming?  Go swim like a fish.  Go underwater, open your eyes, then open your mouth and breathe.  My guess is that this will be a short lived trip as either your lungs fill with water or, due to a strong tendency towards self preservation, you simply come to the surface.  Again, your choice is superseded by the context within which it is made.

Okay, now lets go back to our "free will."  Back to the garden of Eden we go.  Adam and Eve chose to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  They wanted to eat because they thought they would be like God, at least that is what they had been told and what they chose to pursue.  Who won that one?  (Genesis 3)  I would argue that they had the "free-est" will of anyone in all humanity, and yet the exercise of their free will, when in opposition to Him, gave rise to consequences for their actions that were punitive in nature.  At the same time their decision to sin did not in anyway put the Lord off the path of His plan for me.  Their free will was only free within the framework of God's plan.

Another example:  Moses kills the Egyptian, flees Egypt and winds up in Midian for 40 years.  Did his decision to murder stop the Lord's plan for Israel?  Pharaoh exercises free will that set him and the nation of Egypt at odds with the Lord's will; 10 plagues later Israel is released.  Pharaoh decides that one more attempt at wiping out the Jews is the best choice and sends his army after Israel.  The Lord wipes out the army in the flood waters of the Dead Sea.  Did Pharaoh have free will, the freedom to choose?  Absolutely.  Did his will put the Lord out in the slightest as He executed His will?  Absolutely not. (Exodus 2:11 - 14:31)

Even before the exodus you'll recall the tower of Babel.  When man decided to make a name for himself the Lord opposed him and scattered us across "the face of the whole earth." (Gen 11:1-9)  In direct contrast to this use of free will we have Abraham who was willing to sacrifice Isaac because the Lord told him to do so.  What was the Lord's response to Abraham's obedience?  "I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.  your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed Me." - Gen 22:17, 18.

Does this mean then that if there is disobedience His purpose can be thwarted?  Uh, no.  You'll recall that prior to Israel crossing into the promised land the Lord, Moses and Joshua had a meeting.  During that meeting the Lord said the following to them:
"Now write down for yourselves this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, so that it may be a witness for Me against them.  When I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, the land I promised on oath to their forefathers, and when they eat their fill and thrive, they will turn to other gods and worship them, rejecting Me and breaking my covenant.  And when many disasters and difficulties come upon them, this song will testify against them, because it will not be forgotten by their descendants.  I know what they are disposed to do, even before I bring them into the land I promised them on oath." - Dt 31:19-21
It is reassuring to me that in spite of His knowledge of my sin, past, present and future, He follows through with His promises to me.  "See now that I am He!  There is no god besides Me.  I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, an no one can deliver out of My hand." - Dt 32:39.  Friend, feel free to choose all day long, to set yourself in opposition to Him if you so choose, but I beg you to think twice before doing so.  "This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him.  For the Lord is your life, and He will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."  - Dt 30:19-20

I think that the effects of Satan's temptation of Adam and Eve are rather insidious around the whole issue of free will.  You'll recall that Satan tried to tell Adam and Eve that God was holding out on them.  Satan says you can choose for yourself outside of the will of God and it will be better for you.  Only when you exercise your free will can you be like God! that it?  Is that why this is so hard for you, for me?  Bear with me here for a second:  I can be like God if I choose.  Isn't that what Satan said would happen?  He attacked us at the very core of our being, the fact that we were made in the image of God.  HEY GET THIS...WHAT IS GOD'S CHIEF END???  TO BRING GLORY TO HIM!!!!!  So when we used our free will to bring glory to ourselves we broke with our design which was to bring glory to Him.

My dad told me about "departing" an aircraft, how you can intentionally make it quit flying.  Do you remember the flat spin that Tom Cruise got himself into in "Top Gun"?  He had one engine flame out which caused the aircraft to spin; not how the F-14 was designed to create lift and fly.  As a result the plane tumbled out of the sky.  I think much the same thing happened in the garden and continues to happen today.  Our will is most free when we choose to glorify Him by virtue of the fact that we act most like Him when we do so.  We "depart" from our "performance envelope" when we choose that which is in opposition to Him.

One last example of how we can choose to oppose Him, yet even then His will is not thwarted.  You remember my Savior, Jesus.  Was there ever anyone so confident, so assured of His standing with the Lord and with man?  I love His interactions with Pilate, especially when Pilate asks Him if He realizes that he has the power to "free You or to crucify You?"  Read Jesus' response - "You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you from above.  Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin." - John 19:11.  When He was arrested He said, "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" - Matt 26:53, 54.  He exercised His free will to execute His Father's will, not His own.

Let me ask you this question?  Did we crucify Him or did He decide that He would lay His life down for us?  Asked another way, was it the will of the Jews and Pilate that put Jesus on the cross or His Father's will?  I believe the answer to this is found in John 10 verse 18.  "No one takes [My life] from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord.  I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.  This command I received from My Father."  Jesus chose the cross.  In doing so He freed our wills, wills that were slaved to sin and an inability to glorify Him.  We are closer to the garden today because He chose to execute God's will.  Can I do any less?

Father, please forgive me if I've in any way misrepresented You or Your word.  Our "free will" is only free as we use it to glorify You.  Please, by the Holy Spirit, speak to us and either confirm what was written today is in fact true based on Your word, or if I have missed the mark that You will point out in Your word where the truth lies.  Thank You for loving us and meeting with us to reveal more of who You are.  In Jesus' name, amen.

1 comment:

  1. Good word! Well put. Their is a children's book entitled "Little Tootle". He learns that he is only "free" to be what he was meant to be, a train, if he stays on the tracks. It's amazing that Paul talks so much about freedom (Galatians) and slavery to Christ (his greeting to most letters). I am either a slave to sin, which causes death, or a slave to Christ, which brings freedom. The greater the slavery, to Christ, the greater the freedom.
    God bless,