Wednesday, April 7, 2010

God, Free-Will, and Sin

Why this world? Why is there evil? Why do the wicked prosper?

These questions and more abound in the modern mind and in the minds of men since time immemorial. One of the simplest, most fundamental questions that can be asked deals with the idea of the reality we live out day by day. If God—that is, the Judeo-Christian God—exists, why too does evil exist? Why is there a physical and spiritual hardship across the globe, even among those who claim to be children of God? This Post is not meant to be an exhaustive treatment on the topic of evil; far from it. I merely wish to convey to the reader something to contemplate when hardship arises, and we look for answers. For more biblical study I would suggest Psalm 73, the Book of Job, Habakkuk, and Ecclesiastes. Though Ecclesiastes does not deal with the exact question, Solomon explores the idea of “life under the sun” and how pointless such a life is.

To begin with, let us approach the concept of free-will. I know that free-will is hotly debated among Christians. Calvinists declare that free-will as mankind holds it does not apply with God. We are not free at all in choosing to believe in God, but God has already decided from eternity past who He will grant eternal life. This, in turn, is the sole reason that the Elect (those who God chose to give eternal life) believe to begin with. Therefore when someone refuses God's offer of salvation through Jesus Christ, it is because God already ordained and planned that refusal. To put it more bluntly, God predestined some people to refuse eternal life and go to Hell. Calvinists teach that the elect can never lose their salvation. There are numerous Scriptures that speak of God's foreknowledge and predestination. We read in Romans: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified,” Romans 8:28-30; also see Ephesians 1:4-5.

Yet we see that those who love God are the ones who are called according to His purpose. We see God’s purpose, followed by man’s choice to love God. Many times in the gospel Jesus implores His listeners to accept what He is saying; He pleads with them to believe and be saved. Such passionate cries would ring hollow in ears God forbids to be opened. Throughout the Bible God's foreknowledge and man’s response to His calling play a role in salvation. To confess faith in God is not a work we achieve, but humble trust in the character and worth of the One making such claims. The Calvinist would say that one "dead in sins and tresspasses" can do nothing; yet spiritual death is not physical death. True, a dead body cannot believe; neither can it sin. John 6:37 is a cardinal verse for Calvinism. Calvinism treads on grounds that turns God, "who is love" into a despot.

Then there are the Arminians. The basic teaching of the Arminian doctrine is that God's election is His response to a person's faith; that is, God looked ahead from eternity past to see who would believe on His Son for eternal life, and made them His Son's. Thus God's foreknowledge sees a person's faith in Christ and grants them His mercy. Arminians tend to teach that man's decision to believe is the condition that caused God to select them. It is likewise man's choice that can remove him; not only from fellowship with God, but from a state of salvation of abiding in Christ. This would make God reactive instead of proactive; as man’s free-will would dictate to God whom He should choose, and whom He should condemn. Exodus 33:19 states that God dispenses mercy as He pleases; no man can demand it from Him. This does not mean that God gives mercy to some and withholds it from others (as Calvinists teach); this means that if God chooses to be merciful, it is by His own prerogative and volition. Mercy isn't earned or forced, and numerous Scriptures inform us that God is generously merciful to all, Nehemiah 9:31-32; Psalm 86:13, 15; 145:8, etc.

Arminian thought, while giving heed to the obvious verses that speak in detail about man's responsibility to respond to the gospel message, oversteps this doctrine with the idea of conditional salvation. This is despite scores of clear passages which assure the believer that "once saves, always saved" is entirely Scriptural. It also clearly ignores Scripture that states God works all things out after the counsel of His own will, Ephesians 1:11. There is the providence of God's purpose and foreknowledge on the one hand; and there is the free-will of man's choice to respond and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ on the other. Man is clearly accountable; otherwise God would be unjust in condemning unbelievers. One must have the ability to believe or refuse the generous offer of salvation found in Christ. “As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?” Ezekiel 33:11. 1st John 2:2 is a cardinal verse for Arminianism. In either case, salvation's work is entirely of God. He grants pardon purely by grace. Yet our free-will does exist in God’s plan of salvation—which is what I hope to address in this post.

When man was made in the image of God, he was made a moral being, with intelligence, emotion, and a will capable of making choices. The very idea that we are made in God's image suggests that mankind possesses many of the attributes and qualities of our God, though not in perfection or any manner of inexhaustible or limitless degree. Perhaps this is holiness: the possession of attributes in perfection. God loves and acts in perfection; He is the only being who can. Since God is the only being who has complete authority and control over His own person, He alone is holy, set apart, self-sustaining and utterly complete in Himself. Christians are made holy when we are born again, but this is a reflection or image of the holiness that belongs to our God. As we progress in the Christian life, as we mature in faith we pray that He is seen more clearly through us. When others perceive Christ in us, it is only because our fellowship with Him has conformed us more to His image, and we are in communion with the One who possesses genuine holiness. God’s holiness is glorious to truly behold, and it was available for all to see in Jesus Christ, John 1:14. It still is.

God made us to be head of the earth in His image, to represent Him. Though we are given free will, the simple and obvious fact is that we are not God. It was inevitable that our parents (and us) would make choices unworthy of God. A will that seeks its own choices rather than relying on God is in rebellion to Him; sin has occurred. When we choose to exalt our own will over that of God's, it is also inevitable that we will come into conflict with like-minded people, who desire to have their will done instead. In essence, when we decide to perform our will over God's revealed will, we are stating that we want to be God. Every time someone blames God for disaster or calamity, or personal tragedy we are insinuating that we would be a better God given the opportunity. We're passing moral judgment on our Lord. In truth we are only angry that God is not acting as we expect or demand Him to; He isn’t jumping through the hoops we’ve assigned Him, therefore He has failed, or doesn’t exist. God did not construct a world out of His control. I postulate instead that He made a world out of our control. This reveals our utter lack of control, and our daily need of God for all things. This present world is still governed by God Almighty; His authority reigns in the realm of science as much as in the realm of morality. We, as human beings, were made by God to fulfill His will, and when we begin to live under our Lord’s authority we likewise begin to live in accordance with life as God intended it to be.
To be continued.

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