Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Friday, June 19, 2009

Does the Bible say that humans don't have free will?

Rom 9:17-23: "For the holy Writings say to Pharaoh, For this same purpose did I put you on high, so that I might make my power seen in you, and that there might be knowledge of my name through all the earth.
So then, at his pleasure he has mercy on a man, and at his pleasure he makes the heart hard.
But you will say to me, Why does he still make us responsible? who is able to go against his purpose?
But, O man, who are you, to make answer against God? May the thing which is made say to him who made it, Why did you make me so? Or has not the potter the right to make out of one part of his earth a vessel for honour, and out of another a vessel for shame?
What if God, desiring to let his wrath and his power be seen, for a long time put up with the vessels of wrath which were ready for destruction: And to make clear the wealth of his glory to vessels of mercy, which he had before made ready for glory"

Does this verse say that humans have no free will? This has been used to argue that the Bible itself contradicts the idea of free will, since God is alleged to determine what people choose (for His glory).

I think that if a) and b) are true below, then one can show in a way that fits with Romans 9:17-23 that God wants everyone to be saved, offers salvation to everyone (in the next life if they never hear about Jesus) and that through a miracle by God everyone can say 'Yes'.

a) In one of the paradoxes of free will, although God knows before we're born how everyone will freely choose in an infinity of possible situations, God can't use this knowledge to make only the people who will freely choose in the way that God wants.

So if God knows that out of a hundred people He makes that 33 will choose to reject grace and 67 will not reject it, God can't use this knowledge to make only the 67 people who will be saved.

More about this here.

b) Given (a), God must deliberately make people who He knows will choose to be damned in order to make anyone who is saved at all.

E.g. if the ratio of people who reject God versus not reject is 33:67, then God has to knowingly make an individual who will make 'cursed' choices (Matt 25:41) in order to make two individuals who will be happy forever.

You could describe the cursed individuals as 'clay vessels ready for destruction'. But they do the cursing themselves. But God knew they would do so before He made them! So God bears some responsibility. But it was nonetheless good to make them because their creation was a necessary part of making the saved given the 33:67 ratio or whatever it is.

So in a tricky way, both human freedom and divine sovereignty overlap here, and Paul is describing the 'divine sovereignty' side of things, where God bears some responsibility. But was God wrong to do what He did? Creating 'vessels ready for destruction' was needed to make 'vessels of mercy', so no (and they do the 'destructing' themselves by freely rejecting grace, as God knew they would).

To be more exact, God's actions are morally OK from our point-of-view as long as they fit with two requirements:

1. The ratio of the damned to the saved isn't too worrisome. E.g. if 90% of people are going to hell then it seems unlikely that God should create people even if it's based on a fair process. I'm not sure what ratio is 'alright', but as long as there's more happiness than sadness in reality overall, then it seems OK for God to make 'cursed' people as long that is needed to make saved people.

2. It's the outcome of a fair process. In the idea of grace there's nothing stopping the unsaved from coming to God; God offers salvation to both the unsaved and the saved and no one gets an advantage over anyone else in accepting it (over this and the next life). Every damned individual could be saved at any point over an eternity if they simply changed their mind and didn't reject grace(!) So damnation is the outcome of a fair process - the saved are only treated differently to the damned because they don't reject God's grace ("there is no respect of persons with God" - Rom 2:11).

(Note: What I just said is a bit confusing given the concept of heaven and hell. I wrote an article on a good way of looking at hell here).

It's a mystery how a) and b) works. Libertarian free will doesn't make sense from the perspective of finite reasoning so it's not a huge step from the not-making-sense nature of free will to accepting that free will works in a way consistent with a) and b). You have to accept the idea that free will is a mystery and somehow fits with a) and b) for this argument to work.

If you read the Romans passage above in light of these arguments, then I believe that you can reasonably interpret them in a way where God wants everyone to be saved but people reject His offer of salvation. For those who reject, God uses them for a dishonourable purpose to help the saved come to Him forever. It's only because God knows they will reject Him - and are a clay vessel made for destruction in the understandable way I talked about above - that God hardens their heart to use them for a dishonourable purpose if that is somehow needed to bring people to Him (through creating adversity in ways that God knows will do that).

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