↑ Log In to contribute
Brent (9)

Sovereignty - Are Humans Really Free

This is a discussion about the nature of God, not the nature of human beings, but here the two ideas overlap significantly.


..is the philosophical position that for every event, including human action, there exist conditions that could cause no other event.1

"You are the sum total of your experiences". A friend put it as we discussed these matters one night. In a world where reality is understood in the context of causality, the human claim to be free, seems to be a claim to transcendence. The idea that a thought could actually originate in a human mind gives that mind properties that are non-physical, miraculous, spiritual. This is related to the idea that we are spiritual beings, that our physical minds are merely tools for our use and that we can actually decide whether and how to use them.

Now using words like "miraculous" and "spiritual" sounds pie-in-the-sky, but behaving as if you're free is very common-place. That night as we talked, I asked my friend why he was contributing his opinion to the discussion, why was he saying these things? Was it completely predictable that he would say them and was he free to say them or otherwise. He seemed to feel free to stop, to resume and even to construct his argument is a way that he felt was understandable and wise and deserving of a man of his standing. And it seemed to me that he felt that we both deserved some credit for our worthy points.

When a person is cruel - we blame them and society punishes them. We believe that they have chosen to do and say the things they did and said, and that they might just as easily have done otherwise. This responsibility hinges on freedom and seems quite empty without it.

The Sovereignty of God

The theological doctrine of sovereignty has a few differing definitions but here is a common one from http://www.theopedia.com/Sovereignty_of_God
The sovereignty of God is the biblical teaching that all things are under God's rule and control, and that nothing happens without His direction or permission. God works not just some things but all things according to the counsel of His own will (see Eph. 1:11). His purposes are all-inclusive and never thwarted (see Isa. 46:11); nothing takes Him by surprise. The sovereignty of God is not merely that God has the power and right to govern all things, but that He does so, always and without exception. In other words, God is not merely sovereign de jure (in principle), but sovereign de facto (in practice).

This doctrine, understood this way, always troubled me for exactly the same reasons that determinism does. There is something precious about the idea that I am free. Free to sit here and read and write and to write something truly unpredictable. I cherish the idea that the relationships that I value are populated with people who are not merely speaking and behaving in the predictable chain of cause and effect, but are instead free beings, making choices that are, on the whole, loving and kind. Terms like love and kindness or even spite and meanness lose their meaning when freedom is explained away. Life itself seems to follow suit.

What's more this concept of sovereignty seems to stand in conflict with other Christian ideas such as prayer, evangelism, discipleship, training and spiritual disciplines. Why pray for something to happen or not to happen when all has been decided and is being controlled by God anyway?

If God directs all things, that includes some pretty ghastly stuff. It pushes the concept of God way past the edge of a being who could be loved, respected, admired.

The Alternatives

God cannot be incapable of controlling any event. If he were, he would defy his own definition: omnipotent (see Brian's post here). So in this sense God must be sovereign. But God cannot be actually controlling every event because he would also be acting against his nature of being perfectly good. Therefore if there is a god, he must be choosing to limit his control and there must be a reason. If we include the info from determinism above, we might outline this argument pertaining to freedom.
  1. If there is no god there is no freedom - only cause and effect.
  2. If god controls everything there is no freedom.
  3. Freedom can only exist if there is a god who wants us to be free.
If the last is true, the reason God wants us to be free may be that freedom is of more value to God than say order or control or security. Freedom seems essential to love, friendship, responsibility, community, growth.

Freedom, is the cause of most suffering. It's a high price to pay. But as we have discussed in God Must Be Just if there is the possibility of renewal in a reality where our existence is not confined to one life, then creating free beings in a fairly short lifespan, might have been the best way to go about building something worth keeping. What do you think?
1. from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Determinism

Pam (0)

Great summary Brent

I look forward to the discussion this evening

Max (3)

Free to choose?

Another great chat last week. The question of free will provokes many more questions for me. Free to/for/from what? I left convinced that on some level I do indeed possess a freedom to choose. However, at the same time, I am aware that in some way my choices are constrained. Certainly the outcome of my choices, at times, appears to follow a predetermined path. Curiously, I find I am comfortable with these apparent contradictions. It seems to me that freedom to choose ones course doesn't necessarily mean freedom to determine the outcome of such choices. I envisage free will as a dam containing all the possible choices I might ever make, all of which are known to an omniscient God. ; this is what I consider to be the potential (potential energy) of free will. Once I set my will in motion (kinetic energy), it seems reasonable that the result will follow the laws of nature established by a sovereign God. I may choose to jump naked off the harbour bridge, however the laws of gravity and perhaps society ;) will determine the outcome. I am both free and yet not entirely - a strange conundrum.
And yet when I consider what it might be like for us to possess boundless free will (power), I recognise that if something didn't limit me,   I would not restrain myself. Who but God could master such great power without being corrupted by it? Therefore I find I have no problem with Gods sovereignty and the endowment of free will. I don't believe either diminishes the other, that they can and do coexist, indeed they seem to be be essential to the expression of authentic relationship. I perceive free will as an invitation to partner with God in acts of creation.  It seems to me that free will is absolutely necessary to enable us to experience beauty, to create music or art or love.
This line of enquiry has whet my appetite to explore what are we to do with this gift? Anyone else interested in discussing these questions next week?

Brian (8)

Lets try to flesh out these questions.

Are you suggesting we look specifically at the question of whether it is necessary to have free-will in order to
1. create/appreciate art  
2. create/appreciate music
3. experience love  
4. appreciate beauty?
At this stage we do not have a specific topic for this weeks discussion so this may be it?
Fyi I have posted a general list of other ideas in the Local Discussions area. 

Max (3)

Good questions

These would be interesting thoughts to tease out Brian. Unfortunately I am unable to catch up this week, 15yr anniversary! Will look out for online discussion. 

Max (3)

An interesting perspective on Free Will