Is our salvation "coerced" by God?


#1

Yesterday, I was asked an interesting question. I thought you might like to read my answer.

Question: How is God not violating a person’s free will if He uses hellfire for redemptive purposes? Who will not eventually have “had enough” and relent to serve God? Isn’t that coercion to the maximum extent?

My answer:

“Fire” is not to be taken literally. It simply refers to a process of purification, a process that even Christians experience. Substitute the terms, “trials,” “judgment,” “correction,” “guidance,” “chastisement,?” and “negative life experiences.” God uses these to steer us in the right direction and mold our characters. In a sense, we all experience the “fiery crucible” of life experiences. I don’t believe in “free will,” as I am a determinist, but I do believe in “free agency.” We are free to do what we want, but what we want is determined by circumstances we have no direct control over. None of our attitudes are self-caused. They are all “determined” by antecedent events and the genetics which have shaped our wills. When God “draws” us to Himself and “saves” us we can take no credit. Our salvation is “not of ouselves” (Gal 2:8,9). There is no room for boasting. Do we call it “coercion” when God gives us the faith to believe in Him and creates in our hearts a desire to receive Christ? I suppose you could call it that. Christ said that when He is lifted up, He would “draw” (literally “drag”) all men to Himself. But He not only wants to restore fellowship with us, He also wants to mold our characters so that we would by “nature” desire to be good for all the right reasons and “freely” love God for all the right reasons. He walks a fine line that loving parents walk with respect to the amount of “coercion” that might be involved in shaping their children’s character. Some children require more of the “negative” sort of discipline than others, but everything the parent does is motivated by love. God is infinitely more wise and loving than any human parent. I think we can trust Him to do what is best. I don’t like the term “hell,” because it is not a Biblical term. What we think of as “Hell” refers to future “judgments” of God, which vary tremendously from one individual to the next. The amazing thing is that God doesn’t just “give up” and force us all into submission. He allows us “free agency,” which may be defined as the “freedom to make our own choices.” For that reason, He exercises enormous patience and waits for us to genuinely repent for positive, rather than negative reasons. More extreme measures are required for some than others. To use an extreme example, I would imagine that for someone like Hitler to be brought to genuine repentance he would first have to find himself on the “receiving end” of some of the misery he caused others. This might be the only way for him to be able to truly “empathize” with those he has harmed and see the error of his ways. I am reminded of the story of Corrie Ten Boom who was able to forgive the prison guard who was so cruel to her and her sister during the halocaust. That prison guard was tremendously impacted by that. I often wonder if, during ages to come, there would be opportunity for evil doers to expierience this kind of forgiveness from those whom they tormented during this age. I believe that Christ will continue to seek out His lost sheep during the ages to come and that those who were “saved” during this age will in some way be partnering with Him in these endeavors. The Bible indicates that Christians will “rule” with Christ during the coming ages. Would that not also involve “serving” the needs of the lost? To become “great” in the Kingdom of Heaven and be truly conformed to the image of Christ, would we not need to become the “servants” of all?


#2

Um… but you previously stated that free agency only means we are free to choose to do what we want; and that what we want is only determined by environmental circumstances (with no self-caused attitudes at all.)

The two statements either contradict one another, or the second one means nothing. Yet it’s clearly supposed to be an important testimony to the love of God for us–apparently not to treat us as only being puppets on strings but as being real sons and daughters. (Which fits your later parenting analogy well.) But the “free agency” you initially described ends up only describing puppets on strings. The only distinction is whether God is authoritatively pulling the strings, or whether God authoritatively chooses to leave other (non-rational, non-moral!) things to mechanistically pull those same strings. (Which doesn’t fit your later parenting analogy as well.)

A truly composite account of things, without the absolute exclusions of the initial position on “free agency”, would fit your overall presentation better. You second position on free agency leaves room for God’s creative fiat in our development, including (but not restricted to) God’s prime action and authority in our salvation (we don’t have to propitiate God into saving us, or reconcile God to ourselves, or anything like that), as well as room to recognize the part our mere environment plays (for better or for worse) in our behavior. But your second position also involves some kind of real freedom of the will. Your first position on free agency is the odd man out by being more restrictive, not only than it has to be in order to synch with the scriptural testimony you referred to, but than the scriptures themselves testify to in other regards (i.e. personal responsibility in sin and repentance, to put it briefly.)


#3

Jason, thank you for your thoughtful response. I do believe that “free will” is an illusion. I am with the Calvinists on that. But this does not equate, in my view, with God directly “pulling all the strings.” I believe that God has created a world which to some extent is governed by truly “random” processes. (Physicists call it the “uncertainty principle.”) Our “wills” are partially shaped by God’s direct interventions and partially by antecedent “random” processes. In the end, I believe God directly or indirectly “causes” all outcomes in human history. This does not absolve us of “responsiblity” and or free us from “accountablility” for our actions. We are “free,” at least to some extent, to make our own decisions, barring external factors which limit our choices. God does “intervene” on our behalf, but in judicious ways, so as not to completely remove the illusion that we are, at least to some degree, in control of our own lives. Important life lessons can only be learned in the context of human freedom, illusory though it might be. By making “wrong” choices, we learn first hand the devastating effects of sin on our lives and the lives of those who affected by our actions. When we make “right” choices, we learn first hand the benefits to ourselves and others. Only through life experiences, in the context of what I and the Calvinists would term “free agency,” can these lessons be learned. It is not relevant to the lessons learned whether human free will is real or illusory. These lessons, and resulting character development, are the same in either case.


#4

If the first statement is true, then the second statement cannot be true–your account is exhaustive and excludes the very option of our wills being partially shaped by “our own decisions” as well. If the second statement is true, then “causes” is too strong a word (even qualified in quotes :wink: ) for how ALL OUTCOMES OF HUMAN HISTORY come about. (Except in an important but limited ontological sense, insofar as without the ongoing action of God no created reality continues to exist at all, including with whatever operational abilities are granted to it by God. But if God can create a natural system with truly random behaviors which aren’t directly determined in vector by God at every point–which I agree about, by the way–then there is no reason why God cannot create derivative free willed creatures either, especially since we’re talking about the foundational Fact Itself being the ultimate free-willed entity.)

Note that your second statement effectively involves us really being to at least some degree in control of our own lives. Yet you immediately go on to call that notion an illusion (twice, even!), which fits much better with your first statement.

Admittedly, that’s true. I am, after all, a novelist who creates fictional characters who don’t really exist and aren’t really children of mine but only puppets with an illusion of being real people! But I don’t write such characters and put them through such illustrations for the sake of other illusions of real people who are only fictional characters and don’t really exist. (Granted, within the fictional story that happens, too, but I don’t write the story ONLY so that fictional characters who don’t really exist can seem to ‘learn’ various lessons.)

I do the best I can for them, but ultimately it doesn’t matter whether I finish out the story or not (except to real people outside the merely fictional story, perhaps! :mrgreen: ) And to the extent that I sacrifice caring for real people in order to concentrate on promoting illusions of real people (in many various ways), then I’m sinning.


#5

If the first statement is true, then the second statement cannot be true–your account is exhaustive and excludes the very option of our wills being partially shaped by “our own decisions” as well. If the second statement is true, then “causes” is too strong a word (even qualified in quotes :wink: ) for how ALL OUTCOMES OF HUMAN HISTORY come about.

(Except in an important but limited ontological sense, insofar as without the ongoing action of God no created reality continues to exist at all, including with whatever operational abilities are granted to it by God. But if God can create a natural system with truly random behaviors which aren’t directly determined in vector by God at every point–which I agree about, by the way–then there is no reason why God cannot create derivative free willed creatures either, especially since we’re talking about the foundational Fact Itself being the ultimate free-willed entity.)

Note that your second statement effectively involves us really being to at least some degree in control of our own lives. Yet you immediately go on to call that notion an illusion (twice, even!), which fits much better with your first statement.

Admittedly, that’s true. I am, after all, a novelist who creates fictional characters who don’t really exist and aren’t really children of mine but only puppets with an illusion of being real people! But I don’t write such characters and put them through such illustrations for the sake of other illusions of real people who are only fictional characters and don’t really exist. (Granted, within the fictional story that happens, too, but I don’t write the story ONLY so that fictional characters who don’t really exist can seem to ‘learn’ various lessons.)

I do the best I can for them, but ultimately it doesn’t matter whether I finish out the story or not (except to real people outside the merely fictional story, perhaps! :mrgreen: ) And to the extent that I sacrifice caring for real people in order to concentrate on promoting illusions of real people (in many various ways), then I’m sinning.


#6

Free Will isn’t an illusion, self-determination is an illusion. There are many things in life which are beyond our choice but that doesn’t mean we didn’t choose, only that we lack the power to fulfill that choice. It is not lack of choice, it is the lack of power to fulfill. Two men meet, one man leaves, the one who leaves is the one who is greater in power.


#7

How do you know that the one who remained didn’t have the greater power?


#8

Because they’d both inadvertently stepped into a puddle of quick-drying glue :wink:


#9

[size=200]THUNDERDOME!!![/size]

:mrgreen: Sorry, I’m far too geeky for my own good sometimes… :laughing: :sunglasses: :laughing:

(Edited to add: I’m not critting what you said there, Craig. It’s just that when you said it, my brain associated instantly with Tina Turner and a crowd of post-apocalyptic outcasts. :smiley: )


#10

But good geeky not creepy geeky :laughing:


#11

Lol! It’s cool!

Anyways, if all people return to dust and the spirit returns to God who gave it, then we all end up in the same place regardless of our life. It is from that final place, that our Hope resides that God will save all mankind. It is not in the life we led, but in the Life He gives. That is why to the Apostle Paul, and to all the disciples, it was the resurrection of the dead in which have our hope for salvation for all humanity.