More Free Will stuff..

By jreighley - Last updated: Thursday, January 20, 2011 - Save & Share - 15 Comments

So I asked a few people on the street the free will question from the other day.

For those of you not following along the question is if the “System” of our “Free Will” receives the exact same circumstances as inputs, is it capable of  generating different outputs.

The programmer accross the hall from me provided this insight which I found to be interesting..

“The will is not a solid state system.  Every input changes the system”

For the record,  I think he is right.

Much of who we are is shaped by what we have experienced.

I am taking a foster parenting class right now, and it is amazing how neglect in the first 18 months of a child’s life can often effect their decision making for years, if not for a lifetime.  Inputs  – Or lack thereof creates a system (Will)  that fends for itself and doesn’t work well with others.  For much of their lives, inputs that would generate an output of comfort and security in most kids generates an output of fear and discomfort in these kids.

I am confident that our “free will” can be mutated  in an instant if our circumstances change drastically enough.

Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face.
(Numbers 22:31 ESV)

Balaam had one heart condition in one instant (Beating his Donkey), then he recognized the true condition, and his will was changed in a flash.

2 Kings 6 also shows how drastically our perception of the situation can change. The servant was afraid of the massive armies that where surrounding them,  then the Lord opened his eyes and he could see the armies of angels that where defending them from these armies.

Likewise, the Syrians who where invading had there perception changed in and instant when they where all struck with blindness.  Their “System” of thinking was changed in verse 23  they got their physical sight back, but had a different perception about the wisdom of raiding Israel.

Certainly Saul of Tarsus also had his “Will” changed in an instant  – in very similar circumstances.

There are many events in our life that mutate our will.  Nearly anyone who goes through a trauma says that their priorities are changed.  Things that used to seem important don’t seem as important anymore.

Anyway, there is a certain camp within Christianity that really idolizes “free will”.  Freedom is a very important western value, and the idea that someone can make you do something that you don’t want to do is pretty offensive to most people.

It is never popular to point this out, but the Kingdom of God is not a democracy.  Dieing to self does really mean that I must die to self.  If I where allowed to be totally free, I would mess it up.

But the good side of this is that when God changes our will, he does not do it with force or  manipulation and lies like a human would.  He does it by opening our eyes to the Truth.   Lies are what leads us to destruction.  Lies are the source of our fear, our angst and our cowardice.  Lies are the source our our disbelief, our unthankfulness, and our self importance.   When lies die, we are set free from the bondage of our will.

So God is not a puppeteer forcing us to do something that we would not normally do —  He shines light on the lies  that are corrupting our will and leading us astray.   When we know and understand the truth we choose correctly.   He removes us from the reality of lies that we have created to numb ourselves to the pain and injustice of this world, and places us in a reality of Truth.  When we bathe ourselves in lies, our system is going to choose wrongly.   Garbage in Garbage out.   When our system is fed with Truth, it begins to heal, and over time, it will begin to choose correctly.

People who hold the will as sacred and something that God cannot manipulate are looking at the will as being a lot more rigid than it is.   My kids can manipulate my will.  An idiot on the freeway can manipulate my will.  I don’t think God needs some special permission to rebuild my heart.   He just modifies the inputs, and the system of my will is altered.  There is not a lot anyone can our should do to stop him.

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  • Monica

    I think just about everything you just said is accurate and true, but I think you misinterpret what “free will” is. God DOES open our eyes to the Truth… as you say “When we know and understand the truth we choose correctly.” YOU use the word “choose”, and that is what most of us in the “free will” camp are talking about. That God does not COMPEL anyone. God alters our perceptions, sets up circumstances, open hearts. But He does not COMPEL. And if He does not compel, then we have a choice – even if our will is no match for His. I have recently been reading the writings of the Early Church (the first 150 to 200 years or so), those earliest Christians who were taught by the Apostles themselves and handed the information forward. I would challenge you to read some of these writings, to see how THEY interpreted such things, as they were taught by Apostles. Justin Martyr (155 AD) , Tatian the Syrian (AD 165), Theophilus of Antioch (AD181), Irenaeus of Lyons (AD 180) – to name just a few. They are UNIVERSAL in their teaching on this, which means the early Christian church was universal on this. And the reason the question even arose way back in Christianity’s infancy was the idea that, if God created everything, and man had no CHOICE, then mankind FALL was God’s doing, which means God created Evil, which is NOT TRUE. I feel like what you’re REALLY saying is that God works in people’s lives to create a change of heart, and there I absolutely agree with you 1000%. Nothing is impossible with God. It is not in God’s nature, though, to COMPEL anyone to Himself. He does not force. Although He does CHANGE and RENEW us through the work of the Holy Spirit. It is semantics, really… but the extended implications are pretty significant. I have not the slightest clue about what “Armenian” taught in the oft-mentioned Armenian/Calvin debates. I only know what CHRISTIANITY taught for the first 1600 years of it’s existence, from it’s very inception.

  • Josh Reighley

    Really when it comes down to it, It always winds up being a debate over semantics when two faithful Christians discuss this issue with an open heart.

    Really what does “Compel” mean? When Saul was on the way to Syria to persecute the church. He was choosing to do it. When he was blinded he also chose to follow directions and visit Ananias. He was also choosing to do it. Was the system (his will) the same system? I don’t think so. The input of being suddenly blind makes all of the inputs be processed with a very different perspective. Yes, Paul got to choose.. But this Paul was not the same Saul that he was a short time before. God changed him drastically and as a result he made different choices.

    If that isn’t “Compelling” then we are parsing semantics pretty tightly, but that is okay. I am glad that God changes hearts, and so are you. It really doesn’t matter much what labels we put on how he does it.

    The crux of the matter comes to his: Can I have hope for the hopelessly lost? There are some folks who are never going to buy the ridiculous story about God being born of a virgin, living a perfect life, dying, coming back to life, then floating off into the sky. I just don’t think we are going to be able to win that argument with human logic. It is a stumbling block to the wise. Yet people believe this foolishness all of the time. There really has to be another force at work here. Faith is a miracle. A very good miracle

    I am quite glad that there is a effectual force working in people’s lives.. It provides a lot of hope.

  • Monica

    Yup. The hope for the hoplessly lost is the work of the Holy Spirit. Oddly enough,though, the early Christians often converted the people through LOGIC – much as CS Lewis does in Mere Christianity. They DO get there with their minds rather than hearts – even though it’s an INCREDIBLE, hard-to-believe story. Lewis’ conversion story is powerful to me, because – after reading it and Chesterton’s “Everlasting Man” – it really made me think why someone WOULDN’T believe this message, because it makes so much sense once it’s heard with the right perspective. And part of that logic is viewing it through the lens of history – the early Christians used the lens of the Old Testament and Greek philosophy. Anyways. Interesting stuff.

    I guess what you see as COMPELLING, I believe is persuading, because of who is ultimately responsible for the decision. Your kids “manipulate your will”, but if they talk you in to taking them on a carnival ride, and you get sick… who’s responsible? Your kids? Or you? YOU made the wrong decision – not your kids. They just persuaded you (probably very well!). God persuaded Saul/Paul EXTREMELY well, just as He did Jonah. He made it abundantly clear what He wanted the outcome to be. But He didn’t COMPEL either one of them. He didn’t “take them over” or “pull their strings” so to speak. Paul fully had the opportunity to live blind for the rest of his life, if that’s what he chose to do. Of course he didn’t, because the situation was so extraordinary, that his life would never be the same. He believed, because Christ made it so plain, that the choice was obvious. The risen Christ was standing before him… that’s pretty darn persuasive ;).

    I’m glad there’s an effectual force working in people’s lives, too. Thanks for bringing up the topic!

  • Josh Reighley

    I see my decisions as being pretty arbitrary in the whole scheme of things. I decide different things different ways depending on my perspective of circumstances, but there is really little magic about it. Some things seem black and white, and I choose white.. But a lot of things look Dalmatian colored and I have to eenie meenie minie mo.. Sometimes the things that looked black and white weren’t and the Dalmatian colored stuff was quite black or quite white. In short, I choose a lot of things, but rarely am I very right. Sometimes it is blatant Sin and I choose black because I feel like choosing black.. But no matter the lot, most of the time I call it as I see it and I see it wrong.

    Anyway, I think it would be self righteous to say that it was some special “choice” that I made that made me worthy of God saving me. I chose because I saw, and I saw because he cast light on the lies that where confusing me.. It is the light that deserves the Glory, not anything in me.

    Now on earning wrath, there is no question.. At various times, I chose black, knowing it was black. I am guilty. I bet everyone is.. That is what the scripture says.

    As far as kids manipulating my will — I am more along the lines of this: Ask a young pregnant couple how they plan to parent their kids. Then come back with the oldest kids is 15 and ask the same question.. Chances that the two “Wills” expressed resemble one another are pretty small, if everyone is being honest. Our intentions are formed in the dark, and our actual philosophy is formed as we get blindsided with light time and time again.

    My discipline strategy is more dictated by how my kids respond than the brilliance of the idea before it was implemented. My will is mutated to their personality.

    In short – My Will is more of a liability than an asset. The more faith I put in it the more hardheaded I am about sticking to a path that may not lead where I think it will.

    To be sure — Our will does lead us to well deserved wrath. We are responsible for our choices.. I don’t think that our will is the effectual ingredient in getting us back in God’s good graces however. We no matter how many times we pick white, it cannot change the fact that we picked black. We need a savior. Yes, we do choose him, but that is due to his miraculous groundwork.

  • Monica

    Do you think it’s self-righteous when your son or daughter are happy that they’ve done something to make you proud? When they do their homework on their own without you having to tell them? When they are kind to someone less fortunate? Ultimately, they learned those things from YOU, and YOU gave them life. But they chose to do the right thing, under your guidance. I don’t see God as any different. We’re certainly not earning His love, just as your son doing his homework does not earn YOUR love. But it pleases you. It makes you smile. It makes you think “YEAH, SON! You did the right thing! Good for you!” And we WANT to please our Father. It’s our way of showing Him love, being obedient. Now, if he did his homework to throw you off the trail and REALLY was sneaking out of the house later that night… the homework thing would mean nothing. Because his heart wasn’t in the right place. He wasn’t doing it to please you, out of thelove and respect he has for you. He was doing it for his own selfish gains.

    The Holy Spirit is a generous helper, guide, leader. God sets circumstances in motion, changes our hearts. His will is no match for our own. But He allows us this little dignity – to take responsibility for own actions.

    I know what you’re saying, though. In school, I would always pray before tests, and when the test results came back good, I always knew… it wasn’t ME acing that test, it was from the ability God gave me to remember what I needed to know at the right moment. I was always acutely aware of that. It would almost be like I couldn’t take credit for the grade, because I knew I had “outside help”. God helps us so much, all good is from Him, to Him goes the glory. But, just as a toddler might TRY to make a birthday card for Mom, or a child make you breakfast in bed… even if the toast is burnt, the card a mess…. I have absolutely no doubt that the EFFORT TO DO RIGHT pleases Him. Because the desire to do good ultimately comes from Him. Even if we mess it up trying to do the right thing. He’ll help us, but we can certainly cooperate with Him or not.

  • Josh Reighley

    Are my kids self righteous? Yah, most of the time.. ;-)

    Effort is praiseworthy for sure.

    But we are not saved by our efforts.. There is a pretty sharp distinction there..

  • Monica

    Found a quote by Juliana of Norway, who puts it more eloquently than I…
    “God teaches us to pray, and to trust intensely that we shall receive what we ask for, for he looks at us with love and wills to make us the partner of his good deed. For this reason he stirs us to make the prayer that it delights him to grant… God shows as much pleasure and delight as if he were beholden to us for every good deed we do; yet it is he who does it, because we ask him intensely to do everything that delights him. It is as if he said, ‘What could you do to please me more than to ask me, intensely, wisely and deliberately, to do the thing I will to do?’ And thus the soul is brought into agreement with God by prayer… We should pray in such a way that our will is turned toward the will of our Lord, rejoicing.”

  • Monica

    Norwich. Julian of Norwich. Get it right, Monica ;)

  • Monica

    I just go back to the idea that there WILL be a judgement someday. And that judgement leads to our eternal destination – one way or the other. That’s pretty clear. So on what will be judged? God does not judge Himself – there’s no need. He judges us on how well we cooperated with His will… if there was NO merit, there would be no JUDGEMENT. We are all sinful, no one “earns” his way to heaven. It is the gift granted us by Christ’s sacrifice. Our job, which requires action on our part, is to accept the free gift. A gift not received is of no benefit — it sits “in the mailbox, unopened”, so to speak, unless we DO SOMETHING to receive it. The Bible is abundantly clear about a judgement. So, on what will be judged? Knowing that God does not judge Himself? Do we not have responsibility for our actions, at least some culpability one way or the other? To at least some extent? If we have no part in choosing good, then how can be judged as making a right decision or not?

    I think it is gnoticism to believe in the total depravity of man. We have the capability for good, even though we are sinful, because God created us in His image. And for that reason only. Does God create evil? How can evil come from something all good? How can hate come from pure love? Does the Holy Spirit work in those with no faith? How then, can we account for the good actions of even atheists? How do we account for the moral code we see as part of humanity – whether Christian or not? Man is not GOOD, but he is CAPABLE of being good. He is also capable of being very very very bad. I would argue, though, along with CS Lewis…. when he is being bad, he KNOWS it’s bad. And if he knows it’s bad, that’s because he has an awareness that there is a “good”.

    I have a feeling we can go on and on and on like this, never making a dent in the other’s position. We humans are a stubborn lot, aren’t we??? ;) I’m just really glad to be able to have a respectful, open discussion. That’s not always the case in such matters, and I thank you for it.

  • Josh Reighley

    There is actually more than one judgment.. The Throne room judgment (Rev. 20:11-15) is the one in which the sheep are separated from the Goats. Christians will be found innocent in the judgment because their debt has been paid by the blood of Christ. — And another where men are rewarded for their efforts on earth.. 1 Cor. 3:10-15

    I think that we all deserve to be Goats— It is only by grace that we get to be sheep. Once we are sheep however, and have the Holy Spirit, we do have a lot more choice. We can choose to follow the flesh, which is perishing, or we can choose to follow the Spirit, which gives life.

    The perishing, always choose the flesh. That is all they have.. Once we are Christians we have choice. When we choose wrongly, God disciplines us as sons (Heb 12)

    Ephesians 2 talks about how we are Dead in our trespasses and sins. Dead people don’t raise themselves. God makes us alive in Mercy. Verse 8 specifically says that Salvation is a Gift of God. It is not of works. It is not our doing. And that we have nothing to boast about.

    There is Judgment for the unsaved. They get what they have chosen to seek. But when the Christian Goes through this judgment, they will be found innocent, in spite of their guilt. It is an act of Mercy that Jesus paid our debt. We could not pay this debt ourselves.. This is what Ephesians 2 is talking about.

    That doesn’t mean that there are not rewards for obedience. 1 cor 3 certainly says that there is. Christians do have both natures while we are hear on earth. God gives us a new heart, but it takes quite a bit to kill of the old one. We have a choice.. But only because we have the new heart to choose. Without God changing our heart, we can only pursue flesh.

    So there is one judgment that primary applies to non-believers — And another one that only applies to believers. Salvation is totally an act of God. But our obedience to the Holy Spirit, the new heart — Is optional. Until we are raised again, we are going to still have the capacity to follow the flesh. We do obey and disobey, and we do have rewards for obedience. Some of us will be in heaven like a naked man escaping the flames.

    I do think that we tend to overblow hell. Without a doubt, hell is not a good place. Much of the modern understanding of it is an overblown oversimplified use of figurative language to create a literal interpretation. Hell is Just. There is a tendency to use a vision of hell that is conjured up by an evil human heart, then we judge God harshly for the idea that he would ever send anyone there.. That really isn’t fair. God is Just, Hell is Just. If hell seems like an unjust reward, it is not because God is wrong, it is because our interpretation of Hell is probably wrong.

    Hell is living in inescapable eternal truth, with no lies to hide in. We are who we are, and there is nothing we can do to change it, make excuses for it, or justify it. We are who we chose to be, in spite of our knowledge that we where pursuing our own futile path. We could fool oursleves in the flesh, but our foolishness is just that. Without the flesh, we sit as fools forever in the truth. It is painful like eternal fire… But it isn’t unjust torture. It is just the truth being the truth, in spite of all of the lies we used to tell ourselves otherwise.

    I could be wrong about that. It is just my theory. The bible is not terribly explicit. (At least with language that is not figurative) But I will tell you when I teach that idea.. I see real fear in people’s eyes. It is much scarier than the Halloween cartoon image that most people have. And it is much more believable, and much more fair.

    But in the end, God is Just.

  • Monica

    I have never heard this stated quite this way before – the idea of two separate judgements, one for Christians and one for non-Christians. It actually clarifies things in my head, looking at it this way. And actually, that seems very right. You cited the very verse that Catholics use to say there is some “purgatory” or cleansing place before entering heaven. The verse in Corinthians. The second judgement that you talk about, for Christians – is essentially what we would call “purgatory”. We are SAVED from hell, but still judged and needing “washed clean”. HMMMM. This gives me something to think about. And I think it is the CRUX of our whole conversation. There is no salvation without Jesus. PERIOD. No matter how good we are here on earth. I think we both agree with that. So why the exhortation to cooperate with God’s will for us, over and over again? Why the insistence on obedience? Because once we are children of God, we will still be judged, and need to be purified to be united with Him fully after death, as His child. And what is Heaven, but full union, full revelation of God? Catholics call it the “Beatific Vision” – being able to be in the PRESENCE of God – to truly see Him. And what is Hell, but utter separation from Him? An utter separation from love and good and light. And if we die as Christians, but are “unclean” – I know I would scream “WASH ME! PLEASE” before going to see my Father. I wouldn’t want to show up at a grand ball wearing scroungy clothes and dirt on my face, even if I unexpectedly received an invitation. HMMMM. To use my pinocchio analogy again (did you happen to read my latest blog entry?)- the strings were CUT, and we were animated from nothingness by Christ’s sacrifice. We were given the OPPORTUNITY to become “real boys” by what He did for us. We were given the ability to CHOOSE TO LOVE and OBEY our Father. To Love Him back. So Christ’s sacrifice saves us from damnation, and our “part” to accept that gift through faith, and obey God’s law, which is to LOVE. Which sanctifies us, to prepare to be in His presence. HMMMMMM.

    This also helps clarify for me the feelings of “unworthiness” that I have as a Christian. – I KNOW I am God’s child. He has worked in my life too obviously to not know that He loves me. Yet I am so unworthy of that, and make so many mistakes, I think it presumptuous to ASSUME that I will be in Heaven with Him. That I have a “free pass”. BUT, knowing that I am still judged, because God is just… this let’s me know that my choices still DO matter, and helps me strive, with His help, to always become the person He needs me to be. He’s already loved me, and I have already accepted His gift, He’s already paid the price to have my name written in the book of Life. But I am responsible for always choosing Him, cooperating with His will for me, now that I am His.

    Thank you for this. It really does clarify things for me. I guess I always assumed that those who are in the “predestination” camp always thought that they got a free ticket straight to heaven, by virtue of being “chosen” – somehow thinking that they skip a judgement. That was erroneous on my part, and I thank you for correcting that assumption.

  • Monica

    Augustine’s City of God talks about this quite a bit. I’m going to go read it again, more thoroughly now. He explains the two judgements – the initial judgement, and then the Final Judgement (The one you talk of in the Throne room). HMMMM.

  • Monicaaho

    That last bit came out wrong – it sounds like I think I need to be “good enough”. What I really mean is that I am acutely aware of my NOT BEING GOOD ENOUGH. How could I ever PRESUME otherwise? Because it’s not true. Which makes Christ’s sacrifice all that more amazing. What He did for me. I understand that – it’s not about my being good enough – I never will be. I totally get that. Even while I am still sinful, He died for me, as Paul states. Which makes the gift more amazing. I’ve just always had to try and reconcile that gift with the exhortations over and over again in the New Testament to be obedient to His law… LOVE. In Matthew 26, when Jesus talks about His judgement, He lists specific acts of love “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” So to reconcile that Judgement with the “free gift” . But this is beginning to make sense to me. “So there is one judgment that primary applies to non-believers — And another one that only applies to believers. Salvation is totally an act of God. But our obedience to the Holy Spirit, the new heart — Is optional. Until we are raised again, we are going to still have the capacity to follow the flesh. We do obey and disobey, and we do have rewards for obedience. Some of us will be in heaven like a naked man escaping the flames. ”

  • Josh Reighley

    Yes, the separation of the two judgments does go a long way to reducing confusion. It is very easy to intertwine faith and works when you think they are going through the same filter in the end.

    I love how in Matthew 25, “The sheep and the Goats” everyone is surprised at their resume. Our faith or lack of faith leads us to do works that we don’t even recognize. “When did we do that Lord?”

    But if you listen to the ‘neocalvinist’ preachers (From the Acts29 network for example) you will certainly see that they are not “free ticket” types. Yes, Salvation is a free gift of God, but if you are really saved, if you really believe — you will be disciplined towards obedience.. These preachers are more willing than most to play a part in the discipline process by exhorting and encouraging..

    I do find this encouraging, because if God is sovereign we can be assured that he will finish his work in us. We can sin, but it won’t work. – We just get to spend 3 days inside a stinky whale, only to do what God called us to do in the first place.. Our sin still destroys things, but carnal pleasure does not thrill our heart the same way it does while we where in the dark. Hebrews 12 is huge for me.. God is refining us. Our sin has consequences – but they result in discipline – not punishment. That is a source of great hope when we fall — And we all do.

    1 cor 3 is a good warning.. We can build on the foundation of Christ and savor the fruits of our labor for eternity, or we can build on another foundation, and watch our life be washed away in the flood of truth (Isaiah 28)