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The Problem with Free Will

Is God a gambler? Does He take chances? Is He waiting to find out what is going to happen in this world? Is He placing bets on finally getting a good, profitable return out of this universe that He created?  OK, these may seem to be strange questions to ask -- because after all, God is supposed to have all knowledge that there is. He possesses the essence of those big theological words, "omniscience" and "omnipotence." He is totally "all in all." We traditional Christians understand all that. We have been hearing it in Sunday School all of our lives.

But let's stop and think about it. How does this concept of God having all knowledge and all power agree with the understanding that we also have about the active free will of man? Just who is it that has the capacity to determine the outcome of this world's events anyway? Is it God, or is it man? Someone may say that it's both. Well, if it is both, then how does that work? Does it mean that God and man take turns deciding on the outcome of things? Or does it mean that God hopefully decrees for things to happen but man must cast a deciding vote before they can take place?

The Unspeakable Problem

Speaking of Sunday School, something else that so many of us home-grown Christians have learned is that God supposedly loves everybody in the world, and He loves them all equally. To disagree with that would be to disagree with the Declaration of Independence, because that document declares all men to be created equal. One would be not only a bad Christian, but a bad American as well. So that's a "given."

We never talk about it, but if this idea is true and God equally loves all people, then He has to love all the people who are in hell just as much as He loves any one of us who hope we are going to heaven some day. Now let's be honest, has that possibility ever occurred to you? If not, why not? Is not God's eternal contentment at least as important as our own? Is our own eternal life all that we care about? What about God's own happiness?

The free will doctrine in Christianity assumes that God wants everybody to be "saved" and go to heaven, and that this desire of His is equal for all people. Therefore, (think about it) if God's love for everybody is equal, consider this scenario: if all the body of people who will be eternally saved were instead the ones who are eternally damned -- and the damned are the saved -- would that make any difference to God, since He loves them all equally? Does He have no preference about who it is who gets eternal life as long as it's a large crowd? Is this the God we believe in?

Now all this doesn't present much of a problem for us who believe we are heaven bound. We are naturally sorry, of course, that there are those folks who aren't going to make it, but, after all, it's not our fault. Maybe we did our jobs and passed out some gospel tracts. If those other folks didn't choose to read them and believe, then it's their own faults. Our heads and hands are "clean."

A "POSSIBLE" SOLUTION

However, that's not all there is to the problem of free will, because for God, this presents a huge problem -- an awesome one. This leaves God in a horrible dilemma. How is He going to be happy and at peace forever when there are people whom He created and dearly loves that are in a place of torment for ever and ever?

One possible solution to this problem, of course, is to assume that if someone hears the gospel and rejects Jesus Christ as Lord, then God just stops loving him. Maybe that sounds logical at first, but is it agreeable with our view about an eternally loving God ? We often say that His love is deep and wide, and lasts forever. How can our God just turn off his love like a water tap? Is this the God we believe in?

No, that idea doesn't solve anything, so the question remains. How can God be content when there are so many people He loves who are in eternal torment? Here is an illustration. Suppose one of you men, when you were young and single, loved a woman and wanted to marry her. You asked her for her hand in marriage, but she rejected you and chose another man to be her husband instead of you. Then suppose that you had it in your power to make her suffer miserably for the rest of her life for rejecting you. Would you do that?

Of course you are going to say that you would not. But is this what God is accused of doing? Do we not believe that God is more merciful and loving than we are? Does He condemn to torment all who reject Him -- people whom He dearly loves? Is this the merciful and loving God that we believe in?

Be careful now. Don't say that these people who do not choose God just deserve that kind of treatment because they are bad sinners. Because we are all sinners, and all are deserving of eternal death. Yes, they did reject Christ, but is rejection of Christ as Savior the only sin that Christ did not die for?

This is where the idea of universalism can come into the picture, and for good reason. In fact, belief in universal salvation seems to be growing among Christians today, and even one well known Charismatic pastor is under fire for teaching it. Rather than to believe in a God who eternally torments people whom He loves, they just assume that there is no hell or lake of fire, and redemption belongs to absolutely everyone. There is no torment and no punishment for sin. But the problem with that theory, like many other similar ones, is that it requires rejection of the Bible as being the accepted and accurate Word of God. However, a lot of people who are a part of Western Christianity have gone in that direction.

IS ETERNAL LIFE A GAMBLE?

But there is more. If man has been placed in the position of determining his own eternal destiny, and it's all left to chance, then what are the odds? Would it be possible that no one at all would choose to have eternal life -- or on the other hand, that no one at all would be eternally lost?

Who is to determine the outcome of this huge gamble? Is it in the hands of the law of averages? If a hundred people hear the gospel will fifty of them probably go to heaven ad fifty to hell? What are the odds? Is it like the flipping of a coin? And another frightful part of this problem is that over the centuries only a small portion of the people of the world have ever heard the gospel anyway. What about the rest? Are they heaven or hell bound?

DOES GOD INTERVENE?

Some would say in answer to this that God intervenes in this scenario and mercifully gives special urging grace to some people for them to believe and be "saved," while others, unfortunately, do not get that much urging. And that would make some sense would it not, except for one thing. It argues in favor of a selective determination from God on the outcome of the gamble. And that's "not fair." (We love to say that.) If God is going to nudge some people into believing for eternal life, then He has to do it for everyone. After all, as we often hear, God is no respecter of persons.

Then there is also the idea, with some validity to it, that God created us all differently, some with soft hearts and some with harder ones. Therefore, the ones with soft, believing hearts get to go to heaven, while the hard cases don't make it. OK, whose doing is that? It would be God's doing, of course. Paul deals with that question in Romans, chapter 9, and shows that God cannot be fault for making us the way we are. But -- is that how some folks get to heaven, by just being naturally trusting?

There are, of course, Christians who believe that God does indeed determine the outcome of man's eternal destiny, that He does it all by Himself, and that He did it even before He made the world. But today there is tremendous opposition among Christians against this concept. To many good Christians this seems to be unfair, behavior on the part of God, and we could even say un-American. It simply does not agree with the times we live in, times in which all people are supposed to have equal chances to enjoy life and the pursuit of happiness (even eternal happiness). Anything less would seem to be totalitarian rule, and certainly God would not run this world in such a manner as that. After all, we do live in the age of democracy. We like to give everybody a chance, and we even talk sometimes about "giving God a chance."

UNIVERSAL FREE WILL

Often, when the concept of God's determination of things is brought up in conversation, the immediate protest also arises, "But man has a free will." This statement is supposed to destroy any idea about God causing certain events to happen or causing certain people to have eternal life. Well, does it do that? Hardly. Free will? Of course man has a free will! In fact all living, moving creatures have free wills. Even an animal or a bug has to make up his mind what action he will take next. This is essential to life itself.

But does man having a free will destroy any possibility of God causing events to happen? To the totally secular mind it does, but it should not be so with a Christian who thinks and lives by faith.

Consider this. There is a large amount of prophetic writing in the Bible, God stating beforehand that He would be bringing certain things to pass in the future. How could those events ever have happened and come to pass if God had simply waited upon happenstance and the free will of man to bring them into being? They would never have happened.

Think of the many prophecies about the birth of Christ, of His life, His death and resurrection. Think of Isaiah, chapter 53. How would God have ever brought all those events to pass if He had waited for the free will of man alone to do it? We could ask, was the free will of man in-volved at all in the process? Of course it was, but not alone. Yes, God does intervene in the thoughts and actions of men to make things happen that He has decreed to take place.

I hear protests to that statement, saying, "No, that can't be true, because it would make man out to be only a robot that is programmed by God." And somehow, to some people, that seems to be a bad thing. Being controlled by God and His Holy Spirit is the very last thing that some people would ever want.

To others, who find their greatest joy in submission and obedience to God and union with Him, to be controlled by Him is their chief desire and the goal of all their existence. What a difference there is in these two minds! One which is determined to have his own way and the other which wants only God's way. Christ Jesus emphasized that He came not to do His own will, but rather the will of His Father.

So does God want to have our free choice of Him? Oh yes, every day He demands it. But He does not require it as a means for having eternal life. As Paul wrote about natural man in Romans 2:11, "There are none who understand, there are none that seek after God." That is why the new birth is a sovereign act of God, and is not an act of the free will of man (John 1:13). Yes, God loves His children, but He doesn't love the devil's children who are headed for eternal torment.

Loren Wilson


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