So, You Think You Have a Free Will?
This will be my last post on the problem of evil. I think I’m ready to go back to less boring, less mysterious and less dark topics … topics more warm and fuzzy and enjoyable … topics like death and funerals and caskets and stuff.
The philosophical-ish answer that most Christians have to the problem of evil is this: in order for love to be possible, God had to give us freedom of the will (cause love has to be in freedom); instead of using our freedom to love God, we abused that freedom in rebellion against God and so all the evil in the world is a result of our collective sin.
And, I, for the most part, agree with that logic. But, I don’t buy it entirely because I think it gives us too much credit. And here’s why I don’t fully buy it:
Part of the fear among Reformed Theologians is that once we say humans are absolutely free, we can say that humanity can do nearly anything without God … and we therefore begin to develop a humanistic approach to life, instead of a Christ centered approach.
The basic fear of Reformed Theologians is Pelagianism … the belief that humanity can reach salvation by our own choice, by our own power … that we’re all basically good. On the other end (which has been adopted by Reformed theologians) is the Augustinian version … that humanity is entirely sinful … in fact, we’re sinful by nature, unable to move in the right direction save by the irresistible grace of God.
I used to say that I believe in a semi-Pelagianism … meaning that I don’t necessarily see the two positions as diametrically opposed … that we don’t have a sinful nature that causes us to do evil all the time, but we still need the Lord’s grace to be saved. In fact, I believe that God himself is salvation so that it’s simply impossible to say we can be what we’re supposed to be without Him.
But I’ve refined that position. I still hold to a semi view, and I still deny that our nature is inherently sinful, but I simply see free will as very limited. I now believe more so in a semi-Augustianism.
My move to semi-Augustianism isn’t because I’ve lost faith in humanity, but because I’ve seen over and over again how desperately humanity needs God’s practical, empowering love coupled with the discipline of the Holy Spirit and the accountability of His Church.
And I’ve matured. I’ve realized that the will is limited and/or less restricted by:
Access to technology \ science
So we aren’t just free to respond, there’s levels of respond-ability, so that the “free” part of will is often relative.
It’s too easy for us to assert that free will means that we can just somehow do what we want. And, especially as white, middle to upper class Americans, that assertion is somewhat true.
I like calling that “I can do what I want”, semi-Pelagianism type of free will a strong volitionalism. Where as the view I’m leaning towards is a weak volitionalism.
And I do believe that God’s grace enables us in such a way that “nothing is impossible”, but those possible and impossible things we do are somehow related to the practical grace/love/power of God in our lives . . . even if we don’t recognize his presence in our lives.
With a weakened view of the will, I simply don’t see the whole problem of evil as simply a product of humanity’s rebellion. The majority of the problem may be due to our rebellion … but it’s more complex than that. There are other forces at play than simply man’s sin. To say that the whole problem of evil is simply because of a misuse of man’s will is to giving us a little too much credit … a little too much power … a little too much will.
It’s simply a complex issue, one that hopefully makes us look inward, makes us look at the cross, makes us look outward and then makes us repeat the whole process again.
And, honestly, when the rubber meets the road, and a newly young widow is weeping over the tramatic loss of her husband, I think its too simplistic and cold for pastors to resond to her “why”s with the nice, easy, pat answer: “its all because of sin.”