Hello, I wanted to do an essay on my understanding of God’s glory and his plan for creation. I was hoping that members on here could critique it, and hoped that it would make for some interesting discussion. It’s pretty long so far, so I decided to post it in 3 or 4 parts, Freedom, Love, Glory and possibly an introduction.
The general thesis is that a proper understanding of God’s glory leads to universalism, although you really won’t get that in this section.
Also, the Bible version used for this essay is the New International Version, unless stated otherwise.
Arminians, in a commendable effort to maintains God’s love for everyone in their theology, have tried to use the supposed existence of libertarian free will in order to maintain that, despite His universal love, God can send much of humanity into an eternal Hell. In this section of this essay, I will attempt to show that such views are not only incoherent, but unnecessary for God’s love and justice. I worried about typing this section, knowing the importance of the idea of free will in the minds of many people. I even debated as to whether or not I should include this section in this essay, instead of focusing solely on critiquing the Calvinist perspective. However, in this essay I plan to summarize my understanding of God, and I would not be able to do that without this section. However, I am not unaware of the impact that this section of the essay might have on others. When I came to the truth about free will, it rocked me to my core, to say the least. So I want to ensure that, when I finish this essay, the Arminian reader does not fall into such despair as I did at first, but instead discovers the amazing understanding of God that I have come to know.
To do something of one’s own “free will” is often one of the key factors humans consider when passing judgement on a person, whether in the courtroom or in everyday life. For example, if a man was forced to rob a bank by a group of men who held his wife hostage, we would not likely condemn him for his actions (or at the very least he would receive leniency in the eyes of most of the population). However, our definition of freedom often extends further. For example, if a mentally unstable woman, who we’ll call Helen, was tried for the murder of her husband, the court would reduce her sentence if she pled guilty. However, a mentally stable woman, who we’ll call Jess, would not receive such a benefit. Why? Because, as we rationalize, Helen, although she did wrong, didn’t choose to be the way she is, it was the result of her heredity or some past brain injury, and her actions come from that handicap. Meanwhile, Jess deliberately chose to do evil, though she just as easily could have decided to do otherwise.
But could she really have chosen? Now, the previous example was meant to bring up a question, not to suggest that the two women have an equal level of guilt. I do not believe that they do, but not for the more intuitive reason mentioned above. Now, let us return to that critical question. It has been the view of many philosophers over the centuries that no, she could not actually have done otherwise (at least not in a way that would make Jess more responsible for her actions). They rationalize that either Jess’ actions were determined by past factors, or they were undetermined by past factors (i.e. random). If they were determined, then the person could not have done otherwise, if they were random, then the person is in not in control of their actions, and therefore not responsible for them. Some have suggested that a model of partial determinism, or a mix of caused and uncaused factors, may make people responsible for their actions in the sense that libertarians desire. However, this does not really satisfy most libertarians, for reasons we can see in a simple thought experiment. Consider if one, who we’ll call Bob, were to be in a tunnel, at the end of which were several large fans. These fans increase and decrease speed at random. Nothing is controlling them, for the purposes of this thought experiment they are truly, completely random in their speed. Now consider if Bob were to flip a coin in that tunnel. The movement and final position of that coin is determined by the laws physics, taking into account how much force went into flipping the coin, how high his hand was, and the force of gravity. The wind though, generated by the fans, is random in strength, and its force, or lack thereof, could alter the path and final position of the coin. However, could we say the coin “chose” to land in the state it did? No, it’s final position was the result of caused and uncaused factors, neither of which it had any control over. Likewise, it would be the same with humans if this model of free will were true. With this objection disposed of, the concept of libertarian free will becomes incoherent. Let’s look at it from another example, Satan. The usual story in Arminian circles goes as follows, Satan, though he was once perfect, freely chose to reject God, and to seek to place himself over God, resulting in his evil nature. However, this can be seen through if one simply repeats, in the manner of of an inquisitive child, the question “why?” Why did Satan rebel? The Arminian answers “because he chose to.”
Why did Satan choose to rebel? The Arminian answers “because of his pride.”
Why was he proud? The Arminian answers “because he chose to be proud.”
Why did he choose to be proud? The Arminian answers “because that’s what he wanted.”
Why did he want that? This questioning goes on ad infinitum. Eventually, something outside of Satan must determine his will, or his will must be random (or, at least, partially random). Ultimately, the answer must be that God made him for that purpose. This ends the infinite regress problem, as God’s unchanging nature is eternal, and therefore this answer has no possible “why” to question it. He is who He is (see Exodus 3:14).
Does this make it wrong for God to punish Satan? Paul answers this in Romans 9:19-20, “one of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? for who is able to resist his will?’ But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “why did you make me like this?”’”
The idea that the Bible seems to convey is that it is not merely a person’s* actions* that make him or her evil, it is his or her will, which comes from their very nature, that make him or her evil. The Lord’s words seems to convey this idea, “but the things that come out of a person’s mouth* come from the heart*, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts - murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” (Matt 15:18-19). Notice, in this Jesus seems to be saying “out of the heart”, which could be taken as a metaphor for a person’s nature, comes a person’s thoughts and will. Never does He say that they chose their heart, or nature. They simply have a nature, and their actions and thoughts derive from that.
Arminians have attempted to separate a person’s nature from their identity, which is practically incoherent. Our nature is a part of who we are, to change it means to change our very selves. In fact, Paul calls a saved person, whose nature has been changed by the Holy Spirit in response to their faith, a “new creation” (see Gal. 6:15). Consider this thought. Imagine that someone, who we’ll call Steve, was placed in any particular situation, and he took action A in response to this situation. Now imagine traveling back in time and observing Steve in the exact same situation. Now if Steve takes action A, we would say it makes perfectly good sense for him to do so. Whatever such situation was, he must have chosen what to do based on his disposition and beliefs that pertained to that situation. If Steve takes any action other than action A, we run into several difficulties in trying to explain why he does so. It would seem to indicate that his thoughts and disposition make no difference in his decision making. In other words, his acts were random, and not based on his nature. If this were the case, “Steve” would effectively cease to exist at all. Instead, “Steve” would be reduced to a long series of random events undertaken by a head, a torso and four limbs. For what are we but that, in absence of the guidance offered by our nature?
This helps us to understand Romans 9:19-20. One thing people often misunderstand about compatibilism is this: it isn’t that a person couldn’t have done otherwise, its that they couldn’t have wanted otherwise. I could choose to do action A, provided there are no physical barriers, but, because of my nature, I am unable to want to do action A. (Note: when I use the word “want” I don’t mean merely a favorable or passive preference to do something. For example, I may hate a certain project, and prefer to do something else, such as taking out garbage. However, if I take out the trash, I did in fact want to do it. I may not have liked it, but I wanted it for utilitarian reasons. In other words, I don’t believe in weakness of will.) In this way we can see why humans, as well as fallen angels, deserve punishment for their actions, or should I say for their wills. Humans are simply bad apples. When comparing apples, you don’t care that the apples didn’t chose to be the way they are, you just pick the best one. The rest are simply bad apples. Likewise, a being that chooses to sin is a bad being, regardless of the fact that it doesn’t choose to choose to sin, and therefore may be subject to God’s justice.
The Arminian may have a series of questions to this section. (That is, if my arguments have been convincing, perhaps I’m being overly confident in assuming I have convinced anyone.) Why would God chose to create such beings in the first place? What about the problem of evil? I hope to cover these questions and more in the section of this essay titled Glory.
Thank you for reading, please let me hear your thoughts on this section!