So, I got an email from a friend today, asking what I thought of the concept of ‘free will’. Basically I don’t know what I think about free will, other than I’ve heard some cliqe comments about free will in church in my past, and am no longer sure what to think about them. So here is my response to his email, which ended up being about something entirely different, but might be some interesting thought material…
I struggle with the concept of free will too. I mean, basically, us humans did not ask to be created. God apparently ‘gives’ us life. But apparently, in order to not die (that is, participate in the new perfect world that is to come), us humans have to have faith in Jesus (whatever that means). So in other words, according to the story of the Bible, you either follow Christ and live, or you don’t and you die. Where is the free will in that? If we want to live, it appears to me that there is no choice in the matter. Like you say, choose the ‘right’ way, or you’ll get a punch in the face. If that’s the case then no one will choose the punch in the face. Where’s the free will in that?
Dude, the more I learn about theology, the more I think that there are lots of ways of explaining our existence on earth, and explaining the messed-up bit within ourselves. And the reality is that for me, I cannot be absolutely sure about anything. I can be confident and content about certain things, but I cannot be absolutely sure.
What I am confident about is that so often we argue and discuss what we think is the truth about why we are the way we are, and in the end we lose sight of the fact that no matter how much we talk about it, it’s not going to change anything. What I’m confident will change things and affect the here and now is focussing on what is important – love, mercy, justice, peace, tolerance, patience, self-sacrifice…all the good stuff that everyone knows – whether they’ve got a book to tell them about it or not – makes life go smoothly.
At this point then, there’s not much to distinguish the Bible from other ways of life that promote the same things. The thing that gets me excited with the Bible story however is that according to that story apparently God is not only the big creator dude that is in total control of the whole situation, but he’s also involved. He also intervenes and guides and is interested in his creation being all that they were created to be, and is genuinely interested in helping us out. If this is true (and I do choose to believe it to be true, because it gives me strength), then I am happy to bypass my doubts and questions, and say “Thank you God for being involved! Help me to be a person who represents your love in the world”. Because God knows, I need help.
And as for God creating everything, I still believe he did create everything (how he did it is up to science to figure out), and as far as we understand the writer of Genesis, God called everything ‘good’. And we are still all intrinsically good. The problem is, I so often (more often that not) choose not to live up to what God created me to be. I look at the example of Jesus and see the epitome of true humanness, and realise that I don’t have the power within myself to be just like him. Mainly, I choose to be selfish. But from what I understand, giving the creator of the universe a place in my life will allow him to step in and guide me – to be involved. And that’s freaking awesome. It is so comforting, even when I’m not happy about life.
As for having to choose the right religion, far out…I struggled with this…all I can say is this: From what I understand, God is not a dickhead. He’s merciful, he’s fair, and his main motivation is not to take life away but to give it. He is the only one who knows each person’s heart. Surely there is no way that any human being can say that another human being is doomed. Seems to me that if we start doing that then we start acting like God.
I personally don’t like Einstein’s god (created the universe in the begining and set it in motion, and now he’s just a spectator with no contact, watching the chaos). I think God – the God we get to know in the Bible – is fully involved. He has shown us humans how to live, given us guidance, stepped in time after time (check out the stories of the Old Testament – humans do stuff outside of a perfect plan, life goes to poo, humans cry out to God to help, God helps by providing someone to lead people in the right direction, people forget about God’s goodness and go outside of the perfect plan again, life goes to poo, humans cry out to God for help…the cycle keeps repeating itself), but we just keep deciding that we know better than God. I know I do. And unfortunately we’ve all got to live with the consequences of our bad decisions. I see that Old Testament cycle repeating itself in me too. When I’m aligned with him (to me that means calling out to him and thanking him and acknowledging him) I find that I am much more able to be Rob as a true human – patient, kind, not proud, not self-seeking, chilled out, not vengeful, full of hope, perserverant (1 Corinthians 13)…
There are so many things that I still struggle with in terms of how messed up Western Evangelical Christianity is. I fully understand why some people are just so put off by it. Heck, I’m put off by it. I got hacked off in church today because the song leader, after the first song, said that he was disappointed in the congregation and that we should be more lively. To me this translated in my head that we weren’t hyped up enough. Like as if hype has anything to do with being close to God or something…But I stick with this church thing and Christianity thing because we’re all human and all trying to make sense of what it means to be fully human. We all approach life viewed through different lenses of culture and upbringing and tradition and expectations for life, and we’re all trying to get along despite those often blurry lenses.
Life for me is not about being happy. At the core, it’s about having a pillar of faith in something that does not change, i.e., God. Holding onto this faith is often hard, because I continuously want to use my mind to explain everything. But I know my mind. I know how much I don’t know. I know how much even the most intelligent person on earth doesn’t know. I know how much humans as a collective species don’t know, or more specifically don’t want to acknowledge (war, environment screw ups, injustice, etc etc are proof of this, surely). From this faith in something (God) that represents an unchanging and constant truth in the world, I am thankfully able to have joy (is this the same as happiness?) and comfort and peace at all times and through every part of my existence on earth.
I'm comforted by your view of what religion should be. I really wish more people of faith would see things in such a benign way. But I want to make one note, Einstein's God was not from a deist perspective as you mentioned. He specifically mentions his preference for "Spinoza's god". Interestingly, he finds a way to make determinism and science fit in with his version of what religious feeling should be about. Here are some quotes that address your post:
“I do not believe that a man should be restrained in his daily actions by being afraid of punishment after death or that he should do things only because in this way he will be rewarded after he dies. This does not make sense. The proper guidance during the life of a man should be the weight that he puts upon ethics and the amount of consideration that he has for others.”
“The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.”
“I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”
Thank you so much for that clarification on Einstein's musings. Smart chap, he was!
"I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”- Albert Einstein
Very apt comment indeed.
Great post Rob!
Good thoughts Rob. Yeah, God is truth, but hes such a big truth, and we are so small compeered to him, we only get a glimpse. But what a glimpse it is!!The more I read the bible, the more I realise how genius it is. The more I get to know God, the more I realise how awesome he is. And the more I find out about humanity, The more I realise how screwed up it- and how much more awesome God is for still loving us!
Keep at it.
Happy belated birthday Rob!
What are you up to?
May the new year bring you the answers to life!