A Prayer of Jesus I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.
Chapter II: The Properties of Free Will
The conclusions of Chapter I call for a careful look at the circumstances of human existence in the world – why we are as we are, and why the world is as it is. This requires that we carefully evaluate the purpose of the Creator so as to define what he requires to fulfill his purpose. The findings of natural science will be relevant, for it is there that we see the definition of features that uphold the world. We must continue to compare this with the message of Jesus, for it is there we discover the principles that regulate the world in its sole purpose of producing children for the Glory of the Father. Free will is then a key concept and in this chapter we will examine some of its properties.
What are the conditions under which free will can become a reality, or apart from which it cannot exist? In answering this question we do not seek to prove anything, but only to show that it is reasonable to believe the universe was created for the purpose of producing children for the Father’s Glory.
A. Free Will is an Individual Property
Isn’t this obvious? What rational meaning could one have in stating that multiple individuals exercise free will as such? How could two persons exercise free will as one?
This goes without saying, nevertheless we must say it because it is relevant to other ideas to be presented. The relationship father/child is essentially one of an individual father and an individual child. Therefore, the free will that we are positing as fundamental to that relationship must be the property of individuals, and in itself an individual property. Of course two or more persons may agree on a particular object of the will, but each comes to his agreement with the other as an individual exercising free will independently of the other. We can allow for a degree of persuasion to operate between them, but not of coercion or compulsion.
B. Free Will is a Personal and Spiritual Property
Isn’t this obvious also? Nevertheless it must be stated so that our position is clear. I think that it is also correct to say that I, a person, cannot truly define “person” due to the limitations imposed by a self-reference. What I believe, intuitively, is that God is a person, and those human beings in his image must therefore also be persons. I believe that free will is an essential element of a person. God, who is a person, therefore of necessity possesses free will exactly as I, as a person, possess free will. Apart from this property of free will, neither God nor I would be persons. I might define a person as any discrete entity possessing free will, but that would be self-referential circular logic with little significance since it is I, a person who possesses free will, that defines it.
Consider the following sentence as an example of self-reference, and you will perhaps have a better idea of the difficulty of rational thought where self–reference is present.This statement is false.You see the problem? It refers to itself, but the result is nonsense. Let us suppose for the moment that the statement is true; if so, it is false!
To continue with the concepts of “person” and “free will”, I can say that free will is a property of the person, not that personhood is the property of free will. I can also say that the person consists of many other properties – intellect, emotion, etc. – in addition to free will, and therefore free will is always contingent on the existence of a person. Yet neither exists without the other!
An electro-mechanical robot, to give an example, is not a person and does not possess free will. Yet it can be programmed to intake and process data by using its unique, artificial and sensory apparatus. It then "makes decisions" based on the data processed. It senses the presence of an obstructing object and then decides to go around it by moving either to the right or to the left – seemingly a free choice. It can learn from its experience if it has been programmed so that the next time it encounters such an object, it can proceed with less chance of errors that might result in a collision. We human beings, persons, do exactly the same thing at a certain functional level. We are likewise programmed by experience, through trial and error, to operate exactly as does the robot. That is the way we learn to walk, avoid hot objects, climb steps, talk, and do a multitude of similar tasks. When doing so, we, like the robot, are operating as reductionistic entities. This means that the robot can be reduced to its individual parts, then assembled to produce certain responses to stimuli. At this functional level, human beings can also be reduced to a set of interacting components connected through a program.
Alternatively, the human may move to a different functional level where its responses are not dictated by a program established through experience. At this level, the individual human is more than the sum of its parts. It becomes holistic and acts in ways that defy the limitations of its components and its available data. It seems to regulate itself to respond to stimuli in ways undetermined by a program. There are those who believe that the robot may also become holistic when it’s program exceeds a certain level of complexity, but here is where we part. I believe the essential distinction between reductionist robot and holistic human is not complexity but spirituality. God is spirit, and only God can impart the Spirit to others. The Bible describes this symbolically when it says, of Adam, that “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7) The human individual often operates at a reductionistic level, but is capable of rising to the level of holism because of the presence of the Spirit, a most essential component. Spirit is therefore, in my view, an essence of a personality that has the property of free will. Only those creatures thus inspired by God qualify as persons. The human being is not necessarily more than the sum of its parts because the distinctive Spirit is one of those parts.
C. Free will is a Decision Property.
The free will of which I write manifests itself as a choice of options. It evaluates individual options, then decides between them. It is therefore a decision property. The most appropriate example is Jesus upon the cross. Going to the cross was his free decision, and staying on it was likewise his free decision. The option was to avoid the cross, or to come down from it and resume his life in the world. He stated the options for this decision in his Great Principle. (John 12:25) They are eternal life and life in this world. Free will is meaningless without options, for there are then no decisions to make. It is therefore a decision property. In creating the world and human beings within it, God at once provided an alternate habitat and a life, or lives, optional to the one he would have us live.
D. Free Will is a Temporal Property.
This implies having options and selecting among them or simply first conceiving an object of desire and then realizing it in some way. It absolutely demands sequential, or serial, activities. One option is first considered, then a second, after that a comparative evaluation, then a decision, and so on. But, apart from time, there seems no way an individual entity can manage a sequence of events. To think of this concept in a mode of existence that is before time, and therefore without time is impossible for us. It appears, therefore, that in so far as human beings are concerned, time is essential to the operation of free will.
This is difficult to correlate with the views of many scientists. The revelations drawn from the theories and observations of some scientists lead to paradoxical conclusions. On the one hand those who believe, as I do, that God created the universe are exuberant at this correspondence of modern science with what the Bible has all along attested – that the world had a beginning. On the other hand, we may fail to realize the full implication of the scientific view that time had a beginning with the creation. It is itself one part of that creation. In that case, time as we know it did not exist prior to the creation. Tthis seems necessarily to restrict God in a variety of ways and especially when we ask the question, central to this presentation, "Does God have free will?"
In discussing this very thing, the British physicist Paul Davies in his 1983 book, God & the New Physics, draws the following conclusion:Fresh puzzles crop up if the Christian doctrine is followed in which God isThis is a powerful argument and, if final, undermines our basis thesis, that human beings have free will because they are in the likeness of God who has free will. If God, or any personal entity, knows the future, then there seems to be no basis for a choice in time.
believed to transcend time, for the concept of freedom to choose is intrinsically a temporal one. What meaning would it have to make a choice, not at a particular moment, but timelessly? And if God already knows the future, what meaning can we attach to a cosmic plan and our own participation in it? An infinite God will know what is happening everywhere. But as we have seen, there is no universal present moment, so God's knowledge must extend in time if it extends in space. So we conclude that it is meaningless for a Christian eternal God to have freedom of choice. But can we believe that man possesses a faculty not available to his creator? We seem forced to the paradoxical conclusion that freedom of choice is actually a restriction that we suffer – namely, our inability to know the future. God, released from the prison of the present, has no need of free will. (P. 143).
Let me take myself as an example. If I know the future and have always known the future, there are no choices for me to make, and I can have no freedom to choose. If I have always known who is to be my wife, I cannot choose a wife. If at this moment I know exactly when I will retire to my bed for the evening, then I do that without deciding upon it. Correspondingly, if God foreknows those who are to become his children in Glory, our critical choices are already made and neither our free will nor his play any part.
We can theorize at least two means by which to overcome this. One, which is and must always be pure speculation, is to suppose that although God is not temporal from our perspective, he is nevertheless temporal from his perspective. His time may be distinct from ours. His may be absolute time whereas ours is relative time. This would correspond to the speculation of some physicists that other universes, parallel to ours, include time that is completely distinct and independent of ours.
The second means is much more viable. Indeed, it seems to be demanded by the circumstances of the case. This conceives that God has the essential free will because he has freely chosen, within the operation of that free will, not to know certain things including specifically our future. To think otherwise makes God helpless in the face of his own foreknowledge. He must have imposed this limitation on his foreknowledge, for our sakes, coincident with his creation of the universe including time. He does not know who will become his children! This self-imposed limitation of his foreknowledge preserves both his free will and ours. He has chosen to view us only within the limitations of our time. He is not, like us, a prisoner of time but has voluntarily taken on temporal limitations for our sake.
Here is a common analogy that seems to affirm this: I don’t want to know how the movie ends until I have seen it. If someone who has seen it tells me, then it will to some degree spoil it for me. I can therefore choose to say to such a one, “Don’t tell me! I don’t want to know!” I believe, therefore, that God may not want to know the end of certain things, and that in those cases he has the ability to choose not to know, as I do. He must want not to know our eternal destiny, which would spoil it for both of us. So I conclude that free will is fundamentally temporal after all. It is reasonable to believe in a Father-God who created the world, including time, and who, having free will, is also capable of acting temporally.
All we need now is some assurance from the mouth of Jesus that God is capable of acting and knowing within temporal limitations. This we receive from the following utterance, among others:But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:30,31; Luke 12:7)Numbers are themselves not necessarily temporal, but the process of numbering, or applying them to other entities, is temporal. This utterance was intended by Jesus to emphasize our great value in the eyes of God and not to make a statement about the nature of God. He would not, however, present a metaphor that is contrary to the true nature of God. Therefore God numbered the hairs of the head, which he could not do if he were not capable of acting temporally.
How is it that numbering is essentially temporal? Like free will, when performed by an individual it is sequential, and a sequence is temporal. By this I mean that it is not possible for individuals to conceive of the application of numbers apart from a sequence. First comes 1, then 2, then 3, and so on. I cannot type these numbers into the sentence simultaneously. 2 comes at a later time than 1. I cannot mentally conceive them except sequentially. I can, of course, conceive a ruler that contains, simultaneously, numbered marks 1, 2, and so on. That is a dimensional distinction only. If, however, I attempt to acknowledge the numbers simultaneously, all in the same instant, I cannot. I can only recognize 1, then 2, then 3. So, the hairs of the head did not all pop out at the same instant. Hair No. 1 can only be numbered as the first in a sequence. Therefore, this numbering is essentially temporal, and God must be capable of acting temporally.
Some of Jesus’ parables make no sense whatever if God is not capable of acting temporally, or of limiting his knowledge of future events. Consider the Parable of the Unfruitful Fig Tree.And he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, 'Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?' And he answered him, 'Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it and put on manure. And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'" (Luke 13:6-9)The fig tree, without a doubt, represents the nation of Israel; its owner is God. It is unfruitful because it has not born children for the Glory of God. The vinedresser is Jesus who has come to the nation to cultivate and fertilize it, in hope that it will yet bear fruit. But if God already knew the outcome, what was the point? Clearly God chose not to know the outcome; he was therefore acting temporally.
I conclude, therefore, that free will is individual, personal, spiritual, decisional, and temporal. It remains to show how this can be fitted into the alternate habitat and the inhabitants that we proposed in Chapter I. It is essential that the Creator both design and produce these in a manner that preserves free will. In doing so he has produced the universe that science seeks to understand. According to Jesus, the life that has evolved within this universe is the prime option to the one that the Father desires for us -- the one in his Eternal Glory. Here is one of Jesus' statements to that effect:For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. (Luke 9:24, Mark 8:35, Matthew 16:25)Our is the free will to choose; outs is the option of eternal life in Glory. Which will it be? Everything depends on a decision that only Jesus has made know to us.
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