Showing posts with label Freedom of Will. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Freedom of Will. Show all posts

Sunday, January 14, 2024

The Problem of the Will

The problem of the human will is not that of wills that are free but must somehow be persuaded to choose God and the good. Rather, the problem is that of the human will bound in darkness and the fear of death — until the love of God penetrates and sets it free.

Freedom of will is not the ability to choose between good and evil, based on nothing inherent in the chooser. Otherwise, there would be nothing to differentiate the exercise of the will from random events.

Rather, freedom of will is the ability to act according to one’s true inherent nature. The true and inherent nature of humans is that of persons created in the image of God and to be like God. Being thus created, our true and inherent will is to seek God and the good — that is when the will is competent. A will that is competent is one that is fully developed, fully informed, and not beset by hindering factors. But where one is not mature, or has been deceived, or is bound, we cannot say that their will is free.

So, for example, Lord Jesus said that whoever sins is a slave to sin (John 8:34). One who is a slave to sin does not have free will, for their will is in bondage, and not able to act according to their inherent nature. For another example, from the cross, Lord Jesus prayed for those who were crucifying him (which would include us all), “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Their will was not free because it was not fully informed.

In the case of Adam and Eve in the garden, their will was not competent because they were deceived, bound by the deception of the devil. St. Irenaeus of Lyon, one of the Church Fathers from the 2nd century, taught that Adam and Eve were deceived because they were not yet mature.

God’s plan of salvation, enacted through Christ, does not require that God ignore, override, or otherwise cancel out the free will of anyone. Quite the opposite, Christ has come to set free our human will, so that we may act according to our true nature as persons created to bear the image of God and to be like God.

In the Incarnation, God and humankind are united in Jesus Christ (this is why the Cross and the Resurrection are effective for our salvation). So, Christ himself is our true nature. The love of the Father, the life of Christ in us, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit work in us to free us — mind, heart and will — from the deceits of the devil and the fear of death, so that we may may be and act as we truly are in Christ.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Freedom of Will

So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort – for the sake of his good pleasure – is God. (Philippians 2:12-13 NET)

People usually think of freedom of will as the ability to choose, a deliberative action by which we select from among competing options. But in recent years, I have come to think of freedom of will as the ability to live according to our true, inherent nature; which is to say, according to who we really are — and who we really are is beings created in the image of God and to be like God (Genesis 1:27).

St. Maximus the Confessor, a very interesting Christian theologian from the 7th century, spoke about this distinction. There is the “gnomic” will, which is the deliberative will, choosing among the perceived options. But there is also the “natural” will, by which we act according to our inherent, created nature.

The problem has never been that human beings have free will and must deliberate between moving toward God or away from God, and therefore must somehow be persuaded to choose the former rather than the latter. The problem has been precisely the opposite: human will in bondage, leaving us incapable of acting according to our true, inherent nature, our natural selves, as God created us to be. Human will needed to be redeemed and set free.

God delivers us from that bondage of will through the Incarnation, in which Christ became one with us, not only revealing God’s faithfulness toward us but also becoming our faithful response to God. But more than that, and as the manifestation of that, Christ delivers us through the crucifixion, in which he destroyed death and all the powers that kept our human will in bondage.

Now we are in the process of the outworking of that deliverance, for it is God himself who is at work in us, bringing forth in us what he desires (Philippians 2:12-13). In other words, God’s work in us is to free our wills from bondage so that we may naturally be what God created us to be from the beginning: the image of God, created to be like God.

Another way of saying this is how the apostle Paul put it in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This is not about us deliberating among the options and choosing “good works” but about our inherent nature as beings created and redeemed in Christ Jesus being manifested through “good works.” What we receive in and through Christ’s union with us is true freedom of will, which is to say, freedom of being — for it is Christ who is ever and always the source of our being.