A question that I was recently considering was whether or not God could truly love us if we did not have free will. Clearly He could care about us like I care about my grandfather’s jacket or my car, but could one really say that He loved us? I think the answer is both yes and no.
For context let us consider the kind of love that we are dealing with. In the Bible, it uses the analogy of marriage to define God’s love for His elect people. However, it uses the analogy of a parent and child to define His relationship with creation. When we are talking about free will, we are naturally talking about how God designed us. Therefore the parent/child relationship is at the forefront and so it is this kind of love that I am going to be addressing.
So back to the question: Could God truly love us if we did not have free will. I think the answer is both yes and no. First I’ll address the yes. There are examples of humans who love objects which have no capacity to effect the course of their own existence. The best example of this is a young girl playing with her dolls. When young girls do this, they are in fact imitating motherhood, and imitating it in a way which is quite real for them. I think it would be presumptuous to deny that the feeling that girls often have for their dolls is a kind of love.
We can even extend this in a compatibilist direction if you want, for girls usually cause their dolls to interact with each other, and have their own distinct motivations from each other. I remember my sister was quite good at this (my sister who is now a skilled writer).
However, it is not very difficult for one to discover the fundamental flaw with the analogy. Simply put, when girls grow up, they stop playing with dolls. Dolls are basicly a surragate for babies, and when a girl becomes a woman, she wants to have a real child.
What’s the difference? Is it simply that babies are cuter? I don’t think so. There is a fundamental desire within every parent to have a child who will grow to become more like them. Parental love is not a possessive love. It is a love which desires the child to mature and become more independent (though usually not completely independant. We don’t want to be left in the dust). Is a parent more proud when their child does precisely what they are told, or when they do something good on their own?
This, I believe, is the main reason why God gave us free will: to see us grow and mature. He wants to see us make our own choices. He wants to see us learn. Otherwise, He would just be playing with dolls.
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