Friday, December 7, 2007

Freedom & Choice Revisited

A (the?) fundamental principle that divides the body of Christ, the Church, concerns the extent to which a human being is capable of exercising freedom of the will and/or freedom of choice. This principle underlies seemingly more obvious issues like the role of human works in salvation and the nature of original sin.

Lutherans, I believe, are unique in their view that, post-fall, human volition is in "bondage" to sin, e.g. St. Paul's confession that the good he would will to do he does not do, but the evil that he would will not to do he finds himself doing. Note that "that which has volition, that which wills", i.e. the "New Man, or New Spirit", is not corrupted essentially, but is in bondage to sin, the flesh -- thus St. Paul asks "Who will save me from this body of death?"

But, what about before the fall into sin? Did Adam and Eve have freedom of the will or freedom of choice before the fall? Well, yes, and no. They could exercise a certain freedom, yes, but that freedom to will or to choose could only be sin. Our first parents, before the fall, were they to exercise free will or free choice, could only choose to disobey God or to rebel against God. Otherwise, their wills and choices were in perfect alignment with God's own will, to the extent that they were doing and desiring what God willed, and not essentially the will of our first parents. We confess this truth in the Lord's Prayer: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, not our will. Man's will and man's choice, before, and after the fall, are free only to sin. The difference, before and after the fall, is that, after the fall man's will is truly in bondage to sin so that even assent to God's will is impaired, corrupted by sin (concupiscence) so that, on our own, we can do no good or righteous thing in the eyes of God, nothing truly righteous and in accord with God's will.

What this means is that, before the fall, love and obedience to God was not really a choice at all, but was the natural disposition of God's creatures toward their Creator. Upon man's first exercise of free will, man's first choice, sin and rebellion occurred and death entered the world. No longer was man's natural disposition toward God in accord with His will. Upon conversion, in contrition and repentance, the old rebellious man is drowned and a New Man is raised up whose nature, once again, is disposed to love and obey God in accord with His will. However, the New Man is in bondage to sin and the flesh, e.g. St. Paul once again. Through daily contrition and repentance this Old Man drowning, New Man rising cycle is repeated again and again. Man is constantly being realigned with God, his will with His will.

One significant way in which our understanding of the freedom, or lack thereof, of human volition and choice divides the Church is in the nature of conversion. Decision Theology teaches that one must choose to invite Jesus into the heart or make a decision for Jesus - the idea being that Jesus has prepared all things for your salvation and is standing, knocking at your door, but you must open the door and let Him in. This, of course, is synergism, Pelagianism. Our Lord Himself, however, has said most clearly, "You did not choose me, but I chose you." Countless images in the Scriptures relate man's condition before the action of the Holy Spirit through the Word to that of a dead man (Lazarus) or to dead lifeless bones (Ezekiel). As there was nothing that Lazarus, dead in the tomb four days - he stinketh! -, or those dried out bones stripped through time and predators of all flesh and tendons, could do to change their dead, lifeless conditions, neither is it possible for men, dead in the spirit and without the life that is the Lord, to do anything to change their condition, let alone choose to believe, to accept, to invite, or to live rather than remain dead.

In fact, we do not, we cannot, choose to believe anything! Yes, we talk this way, because it seems that we make free choices, even choosing to believe in something or not. But if you only would sit back and honestly think about it for a moment, it is obvious that we do not choose our beliefs - in fact, the idea of choosing what to believe or not is fundamentally contrary to what it means to believe. E.g., you do not choose to believe that the light will come on when you flip the switch in your bedroom. You believe this because your experience leads you to believe this - your experience (and the experience of many others both contemporary and antecedent) informs you that this has consistently been the case; if the light does not come on then there is a problem either with the bulb or with the current. Belief could be defined as "having a firm conviction in the truth of something which cannot be known for certain." Here I will be criticized, for most people would say that we know the light will come on when we flip the switch; this is how we commonly talk. However, we do not know that the light will come on; the two scenarios of the burned out bulb or an interruption in current should suffice to demonstrate that. Sure, there is a 5,000 year old philosophical debate concerning what constitutes knowledge called Epistemology, but that will have to be another post. My point now is this: our would be free will and free choice is in bondage to sin and the flesh so that we cannot choose to change our sinful and spiritually dead condition. Further, it is logically and linguistically impossible to choose to believe in Jesus, or in anything. Thanks be to God that He acts upon us: Jesus calls us by the Holy Spirit through the Word. The Holy Spirit, through the Word, blows upon us and through us, enlivening us, resurrecting us. The Holy Spirit gives us faith, as a free gift, and it is faith that believes, that has a firm conviction in the Truth that cannot be known for certain.

I thank God that He chose me, because I never would have chosen Him - I couldn't have chosen Him. That is why my favorite verse in the Scriptures is the confession of the Centurion, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief." And regarding the freedom of the will and freedom of choice Jesus has said, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

1 comment:

Fr. J. Sollberger said...

It would seem that choice is the culprit here. Pre-Fall, man's natural disposition was the love and good of God's ontological nature. The first choice, then, was indeed a seperation and departure from God, and therefore inherently evil, that is, devoid of God's life (Life iteself). This of course is the definition of sin: death = seperation from God.

God is not a God of choices, even within Himself. He did not choose to save man; he just did it - He had to, becuase that's who He is/what He does - He is Love. Love neither chooses nor reacts. Its nature is to forgive and give life, even and always at its own expense.

I believe I'm finaly understandning why Decision Theology is so prevelent. (As a former adherent to this schismatic heresy, I needed to grow less reactionary to my former belief before I could see it for what it really is.)

Synergism/Pelagianism is a most widely-held belief becuase God so fully and initimately pours out His grace and faith in a person, that the person feels like this faith is something of his own (which it is, after the giving of it). The error, however, occurs in that man thinks it is not just his own, but his own doing.

He "feels" this way becuase God so perfectly gives faith that it is indistinguishable from all man's other "original equipment" he was created with (emotions, sight, etc.)

Man doesn't really know how to receive a gift graciously. He always wants to give something more grand in return (conceit).