The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Freedom, Love, and Glory: Freedom

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! :smiley:

Some points of rebuttal:

1.) We can in fact choose against what we happen to merely want. Our wants do not necessarily determine our behavior. Even if a ‘want’ can be identified (as it typically can) when we choose against another want, obviously the stronger want is not what determines the behavior, or there wouldn’t even be a struggle involved.

You sort-of acknowledge this later, but still try to define it in a way that, if we took the definition seriously, would be just as supposedly dissolved as when you’re trying to explain such freedom away.

2.) “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?” – seeing as how our “nature” on this theory is also a long series of randomly impersonal events (even if originally instituted by God for His purposes), you haven’t improved anything by appealing to our nature as the determining factor. The whole project in fact is a radical depersonalization, leaving only puppets of God at best, not real children.

You clearly realize this completely undermines all ethical judgment, quite over against the constant ethical judgments made by God in the scriptures (to say the very least, not even counting other ethical judgments). Which is why you first try to turn around and appeal to some wants being strongly chosen wills. But your solvency about wants determining our behavior from earlier, if it was a valid approach, could be applied just as easily against your attempted defense for ethical judgment against misbehaving wants.

You can’t coherently try to undermine ethical judgments to excuse people from personal responsibility on the first page, as only doing what they couldn’t help wanting to do, with nothing left over but the want; and then on the second page try to rescue some moral judgments by redefining some of those mere wants from page 1 back into personally responsible wills.

You can apparently see the underlying weakness of that project, because you then make the typical escape attempt by an appeal to moral inscrutability from Rom 9, “Who are you to answer back to God, the potter can do what He wants, etc”. But…

3.) …the retort you appeal to in Rom 9 is not about all human wills being only expressed impersonal wants which a person cannot help but do, nor is it about an attempt at getting ethical judgments anyway by trying to redefine some of those mere wants which we can’t help being saddled with back into being strongly willed and so personally responsible choices on our part after all.

It’s about God rebuking people for thinking that He has left Israel to rot in hopeless punishment. All four Old Testament sources for that quote (at least one of which we know for sure Paul had in mind because he cites other verses near it soon afterward in Romans), run along that line. Not one of those sources is about God spoiling the clay on the wheel Himself and then either remaking it on the wheel (like a human potter can) or remaking it after shattering it completely (as a human potter can’t). Each one involves Israel having chosen to spoil itself, which God is promising to fix despite their obstinacy, whether before they die (while still on the wheel) or after they die (having been shattered by God). By citing those verses, Paul is saying (in a typically rabbinic style) that he wasn’t trying to say that Pharaoh (and Esau, and Jonah by an obscure implication by the way) only did what God made them do. He was saying that sometimes God chooses to work on the clay while it’s still on the wheel, but other times God goes ahead and fires the clay into a pot (confirming them in their chosen sins for a while) in order to get other things done.

Granted, even then God has plans to bring about for Pharaoh and Esau which no choice of theirs is going to change – Esau is meant to be blessed in Jacob, and not to be part of the line of the Messiah (which is the sense in which God ‘hated’ him); Pharaoh is meant to be an evangelical witness to God’s mercy and glory. Which the rabbis in Paul’s day understood so well, based on the verse Paul quotes there in Romans, that they came up with epic detailed sequels to him being killed at the Re(e)d Sea, having been raised again immediately afterward by God to go do this or that – one theory being that he became the king of Ninevah, thus directly through surviving by miracle, or indirectly by tradition of his descendants, explaining why the king was so willing to quickly lead the city in repentance despite the ludicrously and hatefully minimal preaching of Jonah. Who willfully chose not to help Ninevah, his enemies, and God made use of that, too. Thus salvation does not depend on the one who wills (Pharaoh, who willfully chose against it and was hardened in his heart for a while) or on the one who runs (Jonah, who ran from the responsibility to lead his enemies to salvation, and then who fled again the moment he thought he could), but on God Who has mercy. Be that as it may. :wink:

I don’t in the least disagree that God excuses as much as can be legitimately excused, as not being the fault of the sinner. But He does find fault where the person is personally responsible for choosing good instead of evil, and chooses the evil. That there are wants involved either way, does not excuse the choice, where the person himself can see good and evil differences in the options, because the person can in fact choose to do what he happens not to merely want most to do. His behaviors are not entirely determined by his nature, and are not entirely random (which is only a short-chain form of determinism).

Libertarian free will does in fact exist (even if not in creatures to the extent some libertarians per se want for it to, insert irony as applicable :wink: ) ; and it is important, including ethically important. You yourself are trying to sneak it back in for purposes of acknowledging some ethical judgment, while simultaneously trying to explain it away for purposes of avoiding some ethical judgment.

Your argument would proceed much better if you acknowledged its existence and importance, as well as its creaturely limitations, especially in fallen creatures. That way you wouldn’t have to deny its existence in one breath and then expect people to accept what amounts to its existence in another breath while-still-insisting-it-doesn’t-exist.

Addendum since I forgot to mention it: that scripture from Matt 15 where Jesus is saying that evil things come from our hearts, not from what we put into us, is not evidence against libertarian free will. On the contrary, it is very obviously evidence against the idea that we are evil thanks to what goes into us. Jesus routinely calls people to change their {nous}, the will, which He occasionally analogizes as the {kardios}, the heart, and holds them personally responsible for doing so or not doing so. What goes into us (the nature we can’t help but have for example) goes through and gets settled in the manure pile (where it can be of better use in other regards perhaps!)

Granted, they can’t change their heart apart from God giving them the ability to do so and leading them to do so. But personal cooperation still requires and involves libertarian free will, even though the creature doesn’t make the free will themselves, and even though a creature will always have natural limits on free will, and even if the creature has been saddled with, and saddles itself, with a corrupted nature hampering the exercise of the free will.

“Hear Me, everyone, and understand!! Nothing outside of a person, going into him, can defile him; but the things coming out of a person are what defile him!”

Then soon afterward, "Do you not understand, that everything from the outside going into a person’s mouth cannot defile him, but passes into the bowels and then is expelled into the settling pile, cleansing all the foods?

"But what goes out of a person is what defiles the person. The things proceeding from the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the person. For out of a person’s heart comes evil reasonings, prostitutions, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed and wickedness, lies and false testimonies, dark enticements, envy, slander, arrogance, foolishness.

"All these evil inside things are going out; and those defile the person!

“But to eat with unwashed hands, does not defile the person.”

The problem with Arminians appealing to libertarian free will as an explanation for some supposedly hopeless punishment, isn’t that libertarian free will doesn’t exist.

The problem with Arminians making that appeal is usually a lot simpler, and even more comically self-refuting, than that. And I say that having come from a strong Arminian background, with C. S. Lewis still my acknowledged Teacher (as MacDonald was for him)!

The first and usually simplest problem with Arms making that appeal, is that the result typically involves God voiding the free will of the person after all instead of treasuring and respecting it – which was the ground for the appeal! Arminian annihilationists (including Lewis on some days :wink: ) exemplify the problem in an inadvertent reduction to absurdity: God so very much respects and values the creaturely free will He has given to the creature, that He permanently wipes that free will out of existence entirely by annihilating the creature.

The idea that God permanently locks a sinner into doing evil forever afterward is only a less obvious mode of the same problem.

Of course, many Arminians see the problem with this and so try to argue that God doesn’t act to do this, the creature does it to itself; but that only works if the creature’s free will exists independently of God on its own self-existence (as if it was God!) or dependent for existence finally on something other than God (as if something else was God or as if there were multiple Gods Most High, or anyway multiple Independent Facts like in a God/Nature cosmological dualism). Which isn’t even supernaturalistic theism, much less trinitarian theism.

So long as God is actually God in a theology, no creature can permanently of its own power hamper the free will of a creature. God may allow the free will He gives to a creature, by giving it a spirit, to be hampered to a far extent, but that isn’t the same thing as non-rational natural operations or subordinate rational creatures permanently destroying any free will.

So then we’re back to God choosing whether a creature to which He gives free will permanently loses free will or not. And so far as God values the free will of the creature, that isn’t going to happen.

After that, the only possibility of an effectively final hell is if the creature keeps choosing, not automatically but actually choosing willfully, to rebel against God. But that’s at most only an ongoing standoff, where God keeps acting to save the person from sin anyway and never gives up.

And that’s technically universal salvation now (if the minimum possible expression of it), not Arminianism, where God is either finally defeated or chooses to stop saving the sinner from sin.

But as I like to quip, IT DOESN’T TAKE A SPECIALLY ROBUST FAITH IN GOD TO BET ON GOD INSTEAD OF ON THE SINNER! – and that’s assuming we have no better assurance from metaphysics or special revelation in scripture that God will surely succeed in leading the sinner to repent and be saved. Though I would argue we do have better assurance than merely betting on God instead of the sinner, from both directions.

But that better assurance isn’t a denial of that by which God makes us persons and children and responsible heirs, instead of merely fictional puppets.

Not a critique, just some thoughts.

I prefer to present UR from both point of views. I believe there is sufficient scripture to satisfy both(within the limits of a reasonable seeking mind) without fully overturning either a view that allows for the exercise of will as an interaction between man and God, or a view that has God micro-managing every event and decision of all.

I simply don’t believe teaching UR is dependent upon overturning either one of these paradigms.

Briefly presenting both allows for the concept of UR to be sown without raising an immediate push button conflict with either, for instance.

I use John 12:32 combined with Phil 2:10,11 to begin with a person whose paradigm leans in the free will camp, showing that the message of Christ crucified is sufficient revelation of the love of God to eventually bring the whole creation to its knees, set free from futility into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

Jesus Himself says, “If I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all men unto me”. From His throne He says “Behold I am making all things new”.

As Jason pointed out, How does God so respect free will that He forces all to bow their knee as an arbitrary object lesson to whatever part of creation survives it, just before He destroys them, or worse, torments them forever.

I use Eph 1:9-11 and Romans 11:32 to begin with more Calvinistic postures because it simply and clealry explains that God’s sovereign plan is to gather all things into one in Christ, and that as every good Calvinist teaches, “He causes all things to work according to the counsel of His will”. What kind of being causes all things to work towards the destruction or eternal torment of most, or even much, of His creation.

At that point the roads come together through Col 1:15-20; 1 Cor 15:22-28; Romans 8:20-22 and onward.

The glory of God is sufficiently beautiful and awesome to win all, to draw all. It is sufficiently powerful to cause all things to work towards all being restored to it. It is not so glorious if most will reject it, I mean really, how glorious could it be if men would rather burn forever than live within its light? If men can routinely refute it? If it actually chose to lock a huge number of folks in torment forever?

Hello, thank you both for your replies! Both of you point out that libertarian free will wouldn’t necessarily rule out universalism. I find myself agreeing with this idea, as Jason said “it doesn’t take a specially robust faith in God to bet on God instead of on the sinner”, despite my disbelief in free will.

Jason, thank you especially for your thoughts (not to downplay your thoughts Eaglesway :slight_smile: ). I believe they will definitely help me strengthen this essay, as they have shown me several points I need to clear up. I’m not going to respond to all of your thoughts right now, but there is one thing I did want to respond to.

I’m not sure I would use the idea of moral inscrutability, at least not in the sense that I think you are speaking of. In other words, I don’t believe in that strong Calvinistic idea that “whatever God does is good because he is God”, rather, I believe that “God is always good because he is God.” In this, we can see the horns of the of the Euthyphro dilemma. If something God does is good simply because he is God, then it makes God arbitrary, but if God does something because it is good, then morality isn’t grounded in God. So I follow William Lane Craig’s idea in this:

So I wasn’t trying to make an “escape attempt” by saying something along the lines of “its a good plan because God says it is”, rather I was saying something more akin to “God made this plan, therefore we know it is good” (though, given the more common Calvinistic explanation of these verses, I can see where you would come up with that idea :wink: ). After that I tried to show why I think God chose this plan by giving an explanation of compatibilism.

Other than that I don’t think I have any comments for you. I can see that some of the vocabulary I used needs rearranged to get across the message I wanted, and some of my ideas need to be expressed more clearly or at greater length. Maybe I’ll get around to editing it, but I have a tendency to procrastinate. Still, your thoughts will be of use to me in my future explanation of my position, including in this essay if I get around to editing it, so thank you! :smiley: