Free Will and the Why of Creation
I am not a big fan of arguing for free will. In general, I think it is a given for the moral character of humanity. Even Calvinists postulate some degree of freedom through the concept of secondary agency to present some kind of intelligible concept of morality. So generally, we are debating what everyone seems to really accept when we look at it rationally. But a conversation prompted me to post the following.
An acquaintance was listening to a Youtube presentation by a popular Calvinist concerning God’s knowledge of the future and its relationship to sin and free will. The Calvinist posed the common question posed by many Calvinists, which I have paraphrased below.
If, as Arminians believe, God infallibly knew exactly what was going to happen when he created, and knew that sin would occur as a result of his creation, then why did he create in the first place?
The Calvinist went on to suggest that he heard someone (implying that “someone” might be an Arminian) say that the reason for this was so that man could have free will.
That seems like a rather silly statement. While our Calvinist brother may have “heard” someone say that God’s purpose was that man have free will, this certainly is not the Arminian position. Perhaps he had heard it in a conversation with another Calvinist or “rhetorically” heard it for the sake of argument. Or perhaps he has heard it from someone young in the faith, who was trying to make sense of an argument being presented to him. But the one making the statement had certainly misunderstood God’s purpose to have suggested this.
God gave humanity volitional freedom (making choices, often contrary to circumstances and influences external to the person), which allows sin. But God’s purpose is not found in humanity free will nor is the volitional will somehow an end in itself for humanity. Rather this characteristic was given to achieve the real purpose God has for humanity in creation. In creating humans, God has made something in his own image that reflects his character in creation. That is our purpose and it is why humanity is the crown of creation. We were designed to carry God’s image and likeness to creation. In fact, that is what the Bible teaches –
Genesis 1:26-27 (NRSV) Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
The volitional aspect of persons is part and parcel of the image of God. That part of God is what distinguishes God from creation itself. He acts by his own will and not by necessity of things external to himself. By giving humanity the ability to act contrary to external circumstances and stimuli, they best reflect how God operates. This includes giving them the ability to act contrary to God Himself and contrary to his desires.
By giving humanity this ability to act apart from nature and apart from God’s influence, humanity does reflect the image and likeness of God. But each and every one of us also must be responsible for actions that we initiate for good or for ill. The image of God makes us moral creatures and makes us accountable to God for how we use his image. That is, by making us image bearers, God has made us morally responsible for the way that image is used and we are judged because of it. Sin is a misuse of that image.
This idea should not be foreign to our theology. The second creation story of Genesis 2-4 presents man and woman as cratures made in God’s image that are morally responsible to God. God’s judgment came to humanity because they violated God’s command by exercising their own will contrary to God’s will as found in his decree to them not to eat. But even at the end of the story, humanity still bears the image and likeness of God (Genesis 3:22; 9:6).
Could God have made a creation without the capacity for sin and where humanity would not have rebelled? Probably. That would be the creation of the deist or the deterministic atheist, fully fixed and lacking anything that bears the image of God. That is a creation that is mechanical and barren, precisely the creation the modern world has modeled, one devoid of any concept of God (except as a prime mover).
In such a creation humanity would not have born God’s image. We would have been just beast; smarter than others, but beast just the same. And there would be no need for the wedding feast of God, since there would be no bride to carry the image of God.
My point here is very simple. God did not create humanity simply to give them free will. He did not create humanity to sin or for sin. He created us for himself to be the bearers of his image. That is the purpose of God in creating us. If an aspect of the image of God is the ability to act apart from external influences, and if we bear that image, then free will and the the possibility of sin are given by default. But the value of the image of God is much greater and God will redeem it for himself.
The question that will be raised by some is whether God can be sovereign in such a system. That is, if God gives humanity the freedom to choose, how can he be sovereign in creation and bring about his end? This is a legitimate question but I believe it misses the point by assuming that there are only two models of creation, both of which I see as unbiblical.
The first model is a fully deterministic model where God dictates and controls every single event in creation. This full determinism presents a model not much different from naturalistic atheism, where mechanical processes of nature dictate everything. For “theists” who embrace this, “God” becomes an aspect of nature that dictates in this system. This, of course, presents a contradictory God who makes decrees to instigate injustice and violates God’s own statement of justice in Isaiah 10:1-2.
Isaiah 10:1-2 (NRSV) Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be your spoil, and that you may make the orphans your prey!
The second model presents a God who withdraws from creation and actions become random. This is really a deistic model, leaving humanity to its own purposes. That does present either a weakened God or a God who does not really care. Such a God is not depicted in Scripture. It is the god of the Enlightenment.
But there is another God we can present. This God is one who is dynamically interacting with his creation. He is an actor in out existence and labors in creation to bring about his ends. He does not stand back, but will work to achieve those ends. Isaiah 10 is a very good example. God raised up Assyria as a world power and used the Assyrian conquest to punish the idolatry of Syria and Israel. He warns Judah that such judgment is coming to them. God did not do this because of some foreordained decree. God raised up adversaries against Israel because they rebelled (Isaiah 9). Indeed, he decreed judgment against Jerusalem because of their idolatry that matched that of Syria and Israel.
Yet God also intervened for Judah when Judah repented (Isaiah 36-37). This God is not limited by decrees but works in justice and mercy. He is a God, fully active in creation, but separate from it. His power makes him sovereign, but he is fully able to allow freedom to humanity, judging them for their actions with true justice. The sovereignty of this God is not coercive or dictative, but the sovereignty of a Father who loves his children, desires their love, and takes corrective action when necessary for their benefit. This is a God not of arrogant pride, but of humility.
And that is the final point. That God is sovereign is not questioned by any true Christian. But if we raise a false, deterministic view of God’s sovereignty, we do not have much more than a set of secondary causes initiated by a prime mover. Such a god is nothing more than the sum total of events and reactions within nature. We could as easily call this god “nature” or “the big bang” or even “fate.” But real sovereignty as defined by Jesus is the willingness to serve others even to the point of death, to labor for your children to bring them to the place of completion. This is the sovereignty of a Father who loves his children, a creator who loves his creation, a God who loves even when we are his enemies.
That is a truly sovereign God.