An interesting conversation has broken out on some theological blogs that I read from time to time. It began with Jolly Blogger, who posted his thoughts on God’s sovereignty and Man’s Free Will. He affirmed both. Basically Jolly Blogger concludes both are true, and must be held with a tension, but not a contradiction. He concludes,
"I am suggesting that the fact that God disclaims responsibility for evil
intentions does not negate his absolute sovereignty. Yet, even the evil of man
is controlled by the will and plan of God. Can I reconcile such things? No, I
can’t. Can I affirm that the bible affirms them? Yes."
Matt then responded with a post of his own declaring absolute free will and God’s sovereignty to be contradictions. He concludes,
"Therefore, it is not a "tension" or "polarity" to assert a sovereign God and an absolutely free will. It is a contradiction."
I would like to disagree with both. It seems to me that saying any two things appear to contradict, but they don’t and I can’t explain it is always a bad idea. Yet, denying that man’s actions are free destroys any possibility of human responsibility. Thus, the obvious point of debate is what constitutes a free will. Traditionally something is free as long as it is not bound by necessity to do something (ie. Gravity pulls to the ground always, or wood burning in a fire) or if it is not forced to do something by an outside agent. The age old question now arises, are we simply robots forced to do things by God? No. God does not force or coerce our wills. No one goes to hell against his will or to heaven against his will. God moves in such a way to allow our movement to come from us. Thus, I agree with Matt that "absolute" free will does not exist. God is indeed the first mover or first cause of all things, but that does not mean that we do not have freedom. His first move does not then coerce us. He moves move us, but our movement comes from ourselves. In other words, His work does not destroy our wills. Our wills are dependent, but not coerced. God is the first cause in all our actions, but we are second cause, and that second cause is the principle cause. God is the first cause and man the second cause, but that does not mean that man is not a true cause.
This is why James 1:13-14 tells us not to blame God when we are tempted, but instead blame yourselves. Yes, God acted first in all things, but that does not mean you can blame him because you acted on it, you were morally responsible for it because you are free.
I think it is best illustrated in the regeneration described in Ezekiel 11:19-20.
"And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I
will take the stony heart out of their flesh; and give them a heart of flesh
(20) That they may walk in my statutes; and keep my ordinances . . ."
Here we see that God will give them a whole new heart, a whole new will. That will then wills to follow God. Thus even salvation should not be talked about as being against the will, for our old sinful will is not forced to do something it does not want to do, but instead it is replaced. Replaced with a new will, a new man, one that has faith and follows after God.
In conclusion, the Bible does not talk of forcing man to do things. It always upholds his moral agency along side of his dependence. Man always does what he wants to do most, and that is freedom, doing what one wants. Even salvation is not a contortion of the will, or a moving against man’s will, it is a replacement of it, so that man does will to follow Christ. Even Calvinists such as myself should uphold a free will because without man is not responsible for anything.
P.S. Matt has since updated his post, and he has clarified that he was attacking mainly the idea of 'absolute' free will. I believe he and I are in complete agreement. Jolly Blogger is not that far behind, but I have trouble with the idea of a Scriptural Paradox that he seems to be advocating.