Within the Christian Church, there has always been a vigorous controversy over the issues of free will and predestination. If you want to slog through an earlier debate between Luther and Erasmus, follow this link. It’s tough reading, though. http://wadsworth.com/history_d/special_features/ilrn_legacy/wawc1c01c/content/wciv1/readings/lutheras.html
I want to offer my own viewpoint of the discussion as neatly as I can, but it is not my intention to come down on one side or the other. I do not want to reopen this can of worms. Personally, I think that the whole argument is much ado about nothing. We have missed the real issue. What I would like to focus on is another side to the debate which is not usually heard nor seen. The results of generations opting for this third way can be seen and felt everywhere today, with catastrophic consequences, in the past, the present, and in the future unless we change our direction. With that in mind, allow me to plunge in.
Free will (as it is seen by many Christians today) teaches that we have been given the power as moral agents to make our own decisions and God will not interfere with nor override those decisions. There are positive consequences if we make the right choices, i.e. within God’s will, and there are negative consequences if we make the wrong choices, i.e., outside God’s will. The obvious question here is what is God’s will? This leads to the second question. How can a person know if he is in God’s will? It is entirely possible that a person who literally lives his life asking whether or not he is making choices within God’s will could easily become paralyzed and not able nor willing to make decisions. However, refusing to make a decision is, by default, still making a decision.
Ultimately, however, the thrust of the whole free will argument comes to one conclusion–man is the determiner of his own destiny. Man chooses life or death. Man chooses to grasp the life ring when Jesus throws it to him while he is drowning. Or not. Consequently, man is the agent of his own salvation if he so chooses. If taken to the logical end, it becomes a salvation of personal work, but has nothing to do with grace. Except, of course, for the life ring.
Predestination, on the other hand, teaches that everything, everyone, every decision, every action, every thought, is controlled by a Sovereign God and that we only follow the “script”, so to speak. We simply respond to God’s directive–“robot” is the derogatory term used by those who are not in favor of this line of reasoning. The obvious questions, though, are: Does this mean that God creates sin? Is God responsible for sinful actions? How can anyone “choose” to be saved unless God dictates? What about those who spend eternity in hell without any choice in the matter? Doesn’t this make God hateful and unloving?
Ultimately, this leads to fatalism and personal irresponsibility. There is nothing I can do because my life is exclusively controlled and manipulated by God. Therefore, I cannot and should not be held liable for my actions, words, or thoughts. If a life is lived with this understanding, it becomes one of futility and worthlessness. If taken to the extreme, it becomes a salvation of grace, but has no room for personal work.
Christianity teaches that we are conceived, born, live, and die in a spiritual battle between good and evil. God and Satan. Love and selfishness. Right and wrong. There is no escape. There is no choice. It is here, we are here, we are in it and all we can do is live for one side or the other. If we live on the right side, we will experience eternity in the presence of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. If we live on the wrong side, we will experience eternity in Hell with Satan. The only choice we have is which side we will follow. This is orthodox Christian doctrine and has been preached this way for thousands of years.
The problem that I have in the discussion of “free will” or “free moral agent” is not whether God disassociates Himself from our decisions or controls them exclusively. It is something else entirely and it can be described in four words–neither God nor Satan. If we truly have a free will, then we should be able to come to the conclusion (and many have) that neither God nor Satan exists. Heaven and Hell are non-existent. Eternal glory and eternal torment are figments of the imagination. Man is subject to no one. According to this thought, the only place God (or Satan) exists is in the minds of those who wish to believe. These people are deluded, uneducated, unscientific, politically incorrect, stupid, rabble, less than human, etc., and must be saved from themselves or eradicated by those who know better.
Nature abhors a vacuum, so does politics. In this third version of “free” will, without God, something must take his place. That something is Man, humanist Man, secular humanist Man, and he has done so with a vengeance. If God and Satan do not exist, then man, being the highest form of life and intelligence, automatically becomes supreme. Man becomes subject only to man’s laws and man’s word. There is no limit to what man can do. Might makes right and the most powerful determine what is right for everyone else, at least in word and quite often in deed.
Unfortunately, power generally devolves to the most evil persons, that is, those who will stop at nothing to accomplish their ends. They will use any means to reach their goals, even if it means pain, suffering, or impoverishment of others, less powerful than they. Lenin (and Marx before him) said that “religion is the opiate of the masses” and he did his best to change the world into his own viewpoint. Unfortunately, however, all he created was death and destruction on a massive scale. Today, the Soviet Union is gone, but socialism is still thriving throughout the world, especially in the halls of modern Western academia, where it is preached as gospel to millions of eager learners in some watered down, but still highly effective, form. Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Pol Pot, the Hutus, Sudan, Napoleon, the British Empire, and the conquistadores are among those who have viciously pursued power at the expense of their fellowmen. Even the United States is not exempt–consider the way the American Indians were treated from the Pilgrims onward and the way that Iraqi civilians were slaughtered during and after George Bush’s war on Saddam Hussein.
Money is also pursued the same way. After all, money is power, and if someone, somewhere, less fortunate has to suffer so that Citibank, Haliburton, or Boeing can prosper, so what? After all, what’s good for GM is good for the country. At least it used to be that way, before GM went bankrupt and survived only because the federal government bought it out with massive amounts of money extracted from the citizenry.
Today, the State represents the highest form of achievement that humanist man has reached. It holds sway over everything within its grasp and it is always grasping for more. Anyone who doesn’t conform to the ideal of the State becomes an enemy of the State and is subject to pursuit, persecution, prosecution, and punishment. The State recognizes no rivals and will not tolerate them if they do emerge. Everything and everyone must become a vassal of the State. No stone is left unturned in that endeavor. Wars are fought, small-time or would-be dictators must be broken or deposed, individuals and countries alike must be overrun and assimilated. Eventually, if the direction of movement continues, everyone will be subsumed into a world government, which will be accountable to no one and which will hold all accountable to it. God, in other words.
One of the hallmarks of statism is that everything can be made right by fiat or legislation. The people who buy into this concept preach it incessantly. If there’s a problem, pass a law. Create a program. Force the beneficiaries to conform to the rules. Force everyone else to pay for it. How many times have you said or heard someone say that ‘there outta be a law’? This philosophy is what Gary North calls “salvation by legislation”. We strive to make rules and make people bound to those rules, then declare that they are designed to set us free. In other words, we are only free if we are bound and the more everyone is bound, the more everyone is free. The humanist declares that we are free of God’s Law, but then proceeds to work to make us subject to man’s laws. This is exactly what Satan attempted when he rebelled against God and it is not surprising that his followers are trying the same tactics. It should also not be surprising to find that they don’t work any better. The ultimate future of free will is that man will find himself enslaved and bound more tightly than ever before.
For the Christian, however, there is hope. Contrary to the beliefs of many, it is not the end of the world, the Blessed Hope, the Glorious Rapture when King Jesus comes back to bail out all his followers and slap the evildoers silly. Instead, the answer can be found in Psalms Chapter 2.
“Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and his anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds asunder and cast their cords from us.'”
“He who sits in the heavens laughs. The LORD has them in derision. Then He will speak to them in His wrath and terrify them in His fury, saying, ‘I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.’….’You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.'”
“Now therefore, O kings, be wise, be warned, rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, with trembling kiss His feet, lest He be angry and you perish in the way for His wrath is quickly kindled.”
For anyone who is aware and paying attention, this is visibly happening all over the world. God Himself does not recognize rivals nor tolerate them if they do emerge. The State is bankrupt, not only financially, but also morally. It has only one answer for the problems which are popping up and crying out for attention—more of the same. The end of the State is in sight and, if a World State is ever created, it will not last. God has declared that his people will be set free. Jesus Christ came to set people free. The Holy Spirit is working in history to set people free, not only from Hell and the clutches of sin, but also from the greedy grasp of people who wish to rule over others. The fastest growing religion in the world today is Christianity and wherever it rises and flourishes, slavery and bondage crumble and disappear.
It is not coincidental that the concepts of free will and humanism go hand in hand. Where Christianity embraced the thought that God would distance himself from their decisions, atheism and godlessness rose to fill the vacuum. Where Christians abandoned their God-given mandate to act as rulers over themselves and their own spheres of influence, non-christians seized power and used it for their benefit. To the extent that Christians choose to act as “free” moral agents, unfree, immoral agents usurp control over them.
Contrary to popular opinion, free will is not the issue. Who will be sovereign ruler is. Obedience to God’s will or rebellion against it is. Every individual, family, tribe, culture, society, and nation has only one choice that really matters–surrender and submit to God or you will surrender and submit to someone else. There is no other option. It is never a question of “free or not free”, but rather whose freedom, which freedom do we choose. Refusing to make a choice is still a choice. Implicitly, those who choose neither God nor Satan have chosen Satan and by doing so, they have become accomplices to his plan to impose his rule on everyone else.