Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sovereignty of God vs. Free Will of Man

How's that for a title? A debate, an enigma, a conundrum that we have talked about at least since Job's time.  Spoiler alert:  This post will probably make a lot of people mad and some would say I should lose my job.  Whatever.  I am exercise my (limited) free choice.

I had a student once of Presbyterian background.  We were discussing theology and I brought up the sovereignty of God.  His response was to ask why that characteristic was drawn out from the nature of God and discussed.  How could God be God without being sovereign? For him, I think,  it would be like taking the heart out of a person and expecting the person to still live.  If God had DNA, sovereignty would be that DNA (God, of course, does not have DNA:  God is a spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth, John 4, the words of Christ, and probably some of the most overlooked).  My metaphors are clumsy, but the point is that to discuss the sovereignty of God sort of misses the point.

Anyway, I am always a bit wary or suspicious of us human beings thinking we have God figured out, just because we can quote chapter and verse.  Calvin said God speaks in baby talk to us.  I believe the Bible is what God wants us to know, not everything there is to know or that we could know.  Those who think that is heresy can stop reading now.  And this of course hinges on what human knowledge is and what it is capable of, which are epistemological questions.  One of my post doctoral goals is to become an expert on epistemology, because it is the basis of education. 

Back to the title, then. If the sovereignty of God is a topic that we engage is like fish talking about life outside of water, then the free will of man is a myth.  How much do we really have control over? I would posit that we only have free will in a very narrow area, despite modern science's attempts to change men into women and vice versa and any number of other things.  (The latest is a child with three parents.  And this is seen as progress?)  We have no control over our race, gender, DNA, parents, place of birth, early childhood experiences.  We only have moral choice and a limited realm of choices about place to live and career, family life (spouse and children), economic conditions, health practices.  Those are not to be sneezed at, of course, and compose a significant part of our lives.  I am simply saying that to talk about free will as an absolute counterpoint to the sovereignty of God is not helpful or honest.

(I am talking about the world as a whole here, not just the West.  What I am saying grates against Westerners, but if we think in terms of the big picture, free will has historically and even now been very limited.) 

Of course, it could also be argued that (a) Christianity opens our range of choices, as does education (b) even without the faith, we do not explore all the choices we have (which makes me wonder how much exercising of free will--or not--is built into us) and (c) we do not recognize our choices.  We say we have free will on one hand and then "I couldn't help it, I had no choice."  Morally, there is always a choice. That is the core of the Christian faith.  "Choose you this day whom you will serve."  At the same time, I don't think we'll every really appreciate how much grace constrains our choices, making absolute free will only a hypothetical construct, not a reality. 

Don't worry, I am not some sort of biological determinist.  An earlier post on Darwinian Hegemony is related to this point.  If we buy the evolutionary paradigm as not just a way the species got here but as some sort of norming device (the way the species was 500,000 years ago is how we should live now in terms of sexual practice, diet, community, etc.) we are then biological determinists and logically have no right to talk about change or progressiveness that doesn't fit that paradigm.  (By the way, I am not a Darwinian, I am arguing against that position on the basis of its own premises.  Darwin had a basic paradigm--survival of the fittest, and the world has been shown to be cooperative rather than competitive.  Even from a biological standpoint, species have found ways to coexist, not destroy each other, in a remarkable balance. )

 (However, I believe that is because God made it that way from eternity past, not because of chance.  The actual mechanisms and the time periods we can argue about somewhere else.  I am not going to state there is no microevolution and that the species have not changed in however many years.  But in 10,000 years of human existence, we have not essentially changed except to the get taller (and fatter), so why should I believe other species have changed from one to another by growing legs or wings?  If all we do is add more and more time to the picture, then the odds just become greater and greater.)

Perhaps I am a grace determinist!  The walking point is take full advantage of the range of free choices you have.  For me this morning it means take my dogs for a walk in the snow we got last night--seven inches!

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