More exploration of creation in Open Theism – 2

Let’s look now at whether God’s foreordination or foreknowledge actually does destroy human freewill, as Open Theology claims.

• How unconstrained, in reality, is our freewill anyway? We are limited by physical laws, senses, intellect, strength, courage, education, finance, childhood conditioning, social position, external constraint, sickness, addiction, insanity, disability and death from exercising our wills freely. Yet are these ever cited as evidences against freewill? So we consider our wills free even though multiple constraints prevent many of our volitions becoming realised.

• One major constraint on our wills, according to Scripture, is sin. Yet we still sin voluntarily, so sin restrains, rather than destroys, freewill, just as the constrainsts of the last paragraph do, only with moral connotations. As Richard Baxter puts it, in his densely argued Catholick Theologie of 1675 (yes, it was all dealt with centures ago) – we lose moral liberty, not natural liberty, as we become sinners.

• If, at the end of our lives, we could time-travel to the end of all things and know their outcomes, would those outcomes have limited our free choices in any way?

• If a God living in eternity, or having complete foreknowledge, took absolutely no part in the ordering of the Universe (including our lives and wills), but simply observed the outcomes, would that limit our free choices in any way?

• If a God living in eternity, or having complete foreknowledge, deliberately decreased our senses, intellect, strength, courage etc, would that decrease our freewill in any way, since we have already shown that our existing limitations do not? (Would I be any less free if God hastened the age of my death from 70 to 60 years, seeing I cannot live forever anyway?)

• So if such a God were to bring about his eternal purposes by such means, how would that decrease our freewill? (Eg disease strikes a despot down before he can destroy the Church)

• If such a God were to decide his purposes and his means for accomplishing them by taking into account the choices he foresees we will make, how would that decrease our freewill? (For example, knowing that Jezebel wants to murder Elijah, he spirits him away to the desert)

• If such a God, foreseeing our choices, were to plan circumstances to utilise those choices, would that limit our freewill in any way? (eg Jesus chooses Judas knowing he will prove disloyal, sends Moses to challenge Pharaoh knowing his sinful pride will cause him to resist, allows a false prophet to gain the ear of a faithless king and lead him astray)

• If, on the other hand, God gave us longer life (or eternal life), or lessened constraints on our will by giving us clearer senses, brighter intellect, more power etc, would that decrease our free-will in any way?

• Similarly, if God removed our moral captivity to sin, by renewing our nature, would our free-will be decreased?

• Or if, on the other hand, he did not decide to renew our nature, would he in any way have decreased our freedom or caused our sin?

• In any of the above scenarios, since our freewill remains as free as we perceive it to be now, would God be unjust to hold us accountable for our volitions?

 I conclude from this that, of themselves, God’s foreknowledge of events, and even his ordering of them, do not of themselves lessen our freedom of will one jot. What they do is to point out the restraints that can be seen to limit our freedom anyway, were we took take the trouble to think them through. Libertarian freewill, as described at the beginning of this piece , is simply and demonstrably not what the nature of our human will is in any case. And that might have something to do with the reason that this view of freewill is nowhere taught in Scripture – as another Puritan, John Owen, also pointed out more than adequately in the 17th century.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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2 Responses to More exploration of creation in Open Theism – 2

  1. Cal says:

    I think its silly we even attempt to bottle our “will” in any categorical form. No it is not fatalism, no its not libertarian, so its conditional? In one sense it is, as it is neither the above, but what does conditional mean? Its a whole wild expanse of vain philosophical conjurings.

    Also I like your providing the example of Elijah and Jezebel. I think there is tendency to assume one half of the puzzle and not the other. Some will say “Well, God hardened pharaoh’s heart! So..” and then goes on to some quasi-islamic argument, with the cautions “yet He is not the author of sin!!”. But how did He harden Pharaoh’s heart? He did so implicitly by having Moses confront him, yet as Scriptures say, Pharaoh hardened his own heart against the Israelites. God could have just merely stupified Jezebel with a new found love for Elijah, but He allowed her to act out her own desires. And so God saved Elijah.

    It seems the OT argument starts to foam as soon as you say “Yes, man has a “free will” to act and choose, but God also acts!”. NT Wright makes an excellent point that we assume, deistically, that God has to jump into Creation, fix it by miracle, and fly out so the corrected course continues on (almost Newton’s argument for the planetary cycles). In the Hebrew mind, Heaven overlaps Earth, and when God acts, it is a breakthrough of one into the other. They enmesh each other, being quite separate, but not so far off and distinct.

    And thus pops into evolution as the OT will assume that if God was to act on His creation, it would be jumping in, fixing, and jumping out, which makes His creative ability seem a sort sloppy. Therefore it must be absent His hand. But if Heaven and Earth overlap and enmesh, well, it would almost be as if everything is upheld by Him? Sounds too Scriptural perhaps!

    Anyway, my daily thoughts,

  2. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    “No it is not fatalism, no its not libertarian, so its conditional?” Sometimes I think the whole problem is absolutising the thing. Our wills are free enough for normal purposes, just as our intellect is good enough for the job. Neither are a match for God’s, but only sin is bothered about that!

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