Free Will: Myth or Reality?

free willSooner or later, every thinking Christian must attempt to reconcile the dilemma — a sovereign, omnipotent Creator who governs a universe filled with free creatures. If God maintains control over the affairs of men, are we truly free? It’s a compelling question, one that is impossible to answer in a way that is fully satisfying. (It bears mentioning that free will doesn’t mean we have an unlimited array of options in front of us. We are free to make moral choices within the constraints God has sovereignly placed around us. A juggler doesn’t control gravity; he uses its force while directing the motion of the pins.) No matter how thoroughly we dissect the fabric of the universe, we are left with an apparent contradiction: free will versus divine sovereignty. How we resolve this quandary will define our theology. And while most people believe they have to choose between Calvinism or Arminianism, there is a third option.

Cosmos1-600x375Molinism holds that God, being omniscient, foresaw every possible universe he could create, with every possible structural variation and every possible array of creatures. (There is an infinite number of them.) God actually created this one because, in his divine providence, he knew this one would produce the best outcome — the greatest number of souls redeemed from the second death and shaped into the image of God.

But if God’s sovereign will is the only relevant factor, why allow any to perish? For only one reason: free will. God wanted a family of free creatures made in his own image, who would freely love and serve him. But there’s the rub: free will makes some rebellion inevitable. Would any of us have stayed the course and obeyed God in the Garden? What about our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren? Could God have designed the universe in such a way that not a single free creature would ever eat the fruit? If such a design were possible, would God not have used it?

free-will-1So some say, “Then God isn’t all-powerful.” I submit that God is all-powerful and a gentleman and a God who values the love and willing obedience of free creatures. He desires it so much that he decided to go ahead with the Creation in spite of the cataclysmic brokenness that would follow, and he had a plan of salvation prepared before he even started: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight”  (Eph. 1:4).

Molinism has its own acronym:

R      Radical Depravity (instead of total depravity): emphasizes that every aspect of our being is affected by the fall, and we are rendered incapable of saving ourselves. This view stops short of declaring that fallen humanity is as bad as it possibly can be.

O      Overcoming Grace (instead of irresistible grace): The term stresses that God’s persistent beckoning is what moves us to overcome our wicked obstinacy (instead of the old term, which seems to imply that God saves a person against his will).

S       Sovereign election (instead of unconditional election): the old term is presented in such a way as to give the impression that those who die without receiving Christ do so because God never sought to save them in the first place. None are able (or even inclined) to repent until they are drawn to Christ by the Father. God desires the salvation of all, but he leaves the choice to us.

E      Eternal life (instead of preservation of saints):  the phrase stresses that believers enjoy a transformed life and an enduring faith through the power of God. 

S      Singular Redemption (instead of limited atonement): the old term teaches that Christ died only for the elect and suggests that there is something lacking in the atonement. The new term emphasizes that Christ’s atonement is sufficient (and is actually intended) to cover the sin of every person in every time, place and circumstance, but is received only by those who believe.

As I go about finishing this article, I’m beginning to see why I have difficulty approaching the God pictured by John Calvin. I am seeking a relationship with my Creator. If God is in control all the time, is that really a relationship? We speak of a “master-slave relationship,” but that is only a relationship in the sense of juxtaposition, not an authentic, two-sided togetherness where there is free giving and receiving. Of course, I can’t give anything to God per se. He already has everything — except my willing trust and obedience.

Scripture places far too much emphasis on choice for salvation to be a unilateral act of God. If we are listening, we all hear the same divine exhortation: “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Josh. 24:15). And more entreatingly, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people” (Titus 2:11). (By their very nature, offers must be accepted before they become transactions.) Shortly before he is to lay down his life, Jesus laments the hard hearts of the people he has come to save: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Luke 13:34, emphasis mine).  

hound-of-heavenScripture presents a God who works with gentleness and patience to help people overcome their unbelief, the constant pull of the world and of their own flesh. He has been called “the Hound of Heaven.”

When Cain contemplated killing his brother Abel, God took a soft tack:

…the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” (Gen. 4:6-7).

This brief conversation shows us a man so filled with envy and rage that there was no room left for the divine perspective. The Lord tried just the same, though he did not prevent Cain from committing murder. The effort speaks of a God who waits, hoping each of his creatures will choose well — and who withholds his judgment in the meantime. This God has given priority to our need of redemption, so much so that he is often viewed as permissive: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise as some count slackness [emphasis mine], but he is patient toward you, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Strong’s Greek Lexicon explains that the English word “all” in the above verse is translated from the Greek “pas,” which means “each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything.” There is nothing in the text that indicates “some,” which goes directly against the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement. Jesus died for all, but not all have chosen to “die” in grateful response: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

jagged-rocks-on-shoreline-dusk-260nw-1258253035Although I have always been terrified of God’s judgment, my experience has taught me that he is gracious, merciful and kind. Besides all that, the creation explodes with testimony about a magnificent Artist, soulful and pure. We see towering, snow-capped mountain peaks; ocean waves crashing against jagged rocks; tall, fragrant trees occupied by musical birds; smiling children with warm, brown eyes and trusting hearts.

smilingAs the Scripture testifies, “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor” (Psalm 112:9). Condemned and redeemed alike taste the extravagance of his kindness in everyday life — in the natural world; in our families; in the joy of friendship; in the delight of raising children; in the thrill of discovery. These things are all dampened by sin, but they remain to be enjoyed as each of us is able — by both saints and sinners. Likewise, God’s principles of living are available to everyone. God doesn’t administratively blunt their impact on the lives of those who do not acknowledge him.

And what of the crucial question: saved or lost? We all get to choose. And while there is judgment for those who reject Christ, it is only meted out at the far end, after God has lost-lamb-art-lds-425852-tabletexhausted all efforts to reach us, in keeping with our God-given right to choose. As C.S. Lewis wrote: “Surely the doors to hell are locked from the inside.”

Have you opened the door to Christ? If you haven’t, let today be the day.

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Co. 6:2).

About Douglas Abbott

I am a freelance writer by trade, philosopher and comedian by accident of birth. I am an assiduous observer of humanity and endlessly fascinated with people, the common elements that make us human, what motivates people and the fingerprint of God in all of us. I enjoy exploring the universe in my search for meaning, beauty and friendship. My writing is an extension of all these things and something I did for fun long before I ever got paid. My hope is that the reader will find in this portfolio a pleasing and inspiring literary hodgepodge. Good reading!
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2 Responses to Free Will: Myth or Reality?

  1. Warren Lamb says:

    Well done! Clear, concise, articulate – and inviting trouble, no doubt 🙂

  2. Douglas Abbott says:

    Thanks, Warren! And yes, I am anticipating a bit of pushback. Lol

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