Friday, April 23, 2010

Was Man Set Up to Fail? A Look at God Creating Man as He Was (Article II)

Recap of the Last Article

Last time I discussed some general Christian Beliefs about God, Creation and the Fall in regards to the question, “Did God set up man to fail?” To recap, the premise of the challenge is that God knew man would fail, yet created the situation where free will, the serpent (the Devil) and the Tree of Knowledge existed. Therefore God set man up to fail.

In my article, I stated that man did have the ability to refuse, yet chose to act against God, knowing it was forbidden. As a result, man and his descendents fell from what God created them to be.

So let us now look at some of the questions of why God made us in such a way which we could fail.

On The Nature of Triangles

One of the common questions intended to stump believers is to ask whether God could make a triangle with four sides. The supposed dilemma is: If God can make it, it isn’t a triangle. If He can’t make it, He isn’t all powerful.

The problem with this dilemma is that it assumes that the nature of things comes before God, and not that the nature of things comes because of God.

If God wills to make a triangle, He wills to make a thing with three sides. If He wanted a thing with four sides, He wouldn’t make a triangle to begin with, because the essence of a triangle is that it has three sides and the total interior angles total to 180 degrees, whether it is scalene, isosceles or equilateral.

Things like the lengths of the sides and the degrees of each angle depend on the type of the triangle it is. A triangle is not less of a triangle because it is scalene and not equilateral for example. However, once you add a fourth side or make the angles of the interior > 180 degrees, you no longer have a triangle, but something else entirely.

So the answer to this supposed stumper is that it is nonsense to ask whether a four sided triangle can exist, because a four sided object is not a triangle to begin with, and the question can be rewritten “Will God call a four sided object a triangle?”

The answer is no, because to call a four sided object a triangle is to speak falsely, which would mean God was not perfectly good.

So what does this have to do with the creation of human beings?

On the Nature of Men

From the point above, we need to consider what the human person necessarily is. The Human person necessarily possesses certain characteristics in essence, where if you remove them from the idea of “human” what you have is no longer human.

As Christians, we believe that all people are created with an immortal soul. No soul, no person. Or to state it in the opposite way, if one is a human being, he or she has an immortal soul. We also believe that God created man with the potential for free will. So what is the significance of this?

Because man is created with an immortal soul, he will not end with death. Because he is created with free will, the consequences of his choices will exist beyond death. Because he is created with free will, he does have choices he can make, for which he is responsible.

(Excursus: The Question of the Mentally Disabled

I would like to pause here to address the issue of the insane or mentally disabled, who through birth defect or accident or age, are unable to make use of the free will which exists in all men. Does this mean such a person is not a human being?

I would say this would be as wrong as to say that a female who, through birth defect, injury, old age or disease, is unable to bear children is not a woman. The potential is there, though some individuals wind up with the inability to make use of such things because of these circumstances.)

So Why Did God make Man with Free Will?

The common claim here is that if man had not been created with free will, then he would not have been able to sin. Perhaps this is the case. However, man would not have been able to do good either. Essentially we would be not much more than two legged cattle.

Now, if God is perfect (which Christians do believe), then it follows God does not need anything. If He needed anything, it would indicate a lack. Yet the deist concept of the Divine Clockmaker is also illogical. If God merely sets the clock in motion and then ignores everything, the question then arises, “Why make the clock?”

We need to remember the statement, “God is love.” (1 Jn 4:16). Now love is not sentimentality and indulgence. It desires the true good for the beloved. Sometimes this must involve “tough love” to help us. Now since man was created with an immortal soul, it follows that the good God desires for us must take this into account.

Christians believe that God created the universe with the human person in mind, and that He created the human person out of love with the desire of giving us the eternal good, not temporal goods.

The Lover and the Beloved

Now, if this good is something which must be received, it cannot be achieved by man’s own effort because man is a finite creature. Only by being offered the eternal from the eternal God can it be received. If it is to be offered and not forced, it requires a free acceptance of the gift God offers.

So why does God not simply remove free will and give us this eternal good? This is because love is not a one way street. There is the lover and the beloved. Scripture uses many images of God as the lover wooing us, the beloved. The lover never forces himself on the beloved. If the beloved spurns the lover, God will not force the beloved to accept Him. However, with this in mind, the beloved who spurns the Lover has no cause for complaint when they have no part of the life of the Lover. Since God is the eternal lover and we are created with an eternal soul, if we spurn His love, we must spend eternity apart from Him.

So in short, God gave us free will, because we are not merely constructs of God, but people whom He loves and wants to share in His love.

This is the divergence between the one who says God set man up to fail and the Christian belief. We were not given free will so we could choose sin. We were given free will so we could choose to accept what God offers.

Parent and Child

In terms of creator and created, God does have the authority to make behaviors required of us.  However, a parent can at times leave to the discretion of the child when one wishes to teach responsibility as opposed to standing over the child with the immediate readiness to punish.  CS Lewis discusses this in his work Mere Christianity:

…anyone who has been in authority knows how a thing can be in accordance with your will in one way and not in another.  It may be quite sensible for a mother to say to the children, 'I'm not going to go and make you tidy up the schoolroom every night.  You've got to learn to keep it tidy on your own.'  Then she goes up one night and finds the Teddy bear and the ink and the French Grammar all lying in the grate.  That is against her will.  She would prefer the children to be tidy.  But on the other hand, it is her will which has left the children free to be untidy.  The same thing arises in any regiment, or trade union, or school.  You make a thing voluntary and then half the people do not do it.  This is not what you willed, but your will has made it possible.

It is probably the same in the universe.  God created things which had free will.  That means creatures which can go either wrong or right.  Some people think they can imagine a creature which is free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot.  If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad.  And free will is what has made evil possible.  Why, then, did God give them free will?  Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the thing which makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.  A world of automata — of creatures which worked like machines — would hardly be worth creating.  The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water.  And for that they must be free. (pages 47-48)

The parent who wants a thing to be done can of course stand over the child with a whip and make sure it is done this way.  However, the parent who wants the child to understand the importance of doing a thing so the child chooses to do a thing of his own free will must take a different course.  We believe this is the case in our relationship with God.  Since God loves us and wants us to choose the good, He must make us free if doing good is to have any meaning at all.

The Error in Denying that Free Will Exists.

Now it follows that if Love is a choice we must make, the possibility of spurning God is there. The risk of rejection is always there in love. God being the perfect lover will not betray us, but we can betray Him. Adam and Eve did, and so do we. He will always offer it, but will not force us to accept it.

Certain groups of Christians fear the idea that if man has to accept, it means God is not fully in control, and it puts the emphasis on man (Calvin and Luther for example seem to have leaned this way). Such individuals try to argue that the one who God chooses has no say in the matter, and the one who God rejects can never be saved because he was rejected from the beginning. Such a view [known as Double Predestination] is, I believe, blasphemous, as it makes God responsible for all evil done.  If one is predestined to be saved, we cannot call his actions good.  If one is predestined to be damned, we cannot call his actions evil.  Such a one is merely doing what he is predestined to do.

It also confuses the issue by ignoring that without God’s acting to begin with, the man has nothing to choose to accept. What God offers is so far beyond the ability of man to do on his own, that unless God offers it, man cannot receive it.

I think it would be interesting to see whether the "God set man up to fail" argument had its roots in the claims of double predestination.

Misusing Free Will Has Consequences

Now, if will is free, it follows that a person may choose to act in a way which is in violation of what was intended to be. He can do this in the sense that nobody forced him to do something in violation of what he chose to do. However, this does not mean it is good to do so, and in acting against what we were called to be, we do ourselves harm. Sometimes in the temporal realm, sometimes into eternity.

I am able to drive drunk if I choose to. However, it is not permitted for me to do so, and if I do, there will be legal or even life threatening results which will affect me in time or even eternally (if it kills me). I cannot say in response that the law, in not physically preventing me from driving, is to blame for the result.

Likewise, our using our free will to act against God is possible, and because He made us with free will, He recognizes some of us can use our free will for evil instead of for good. However, it is not God’s fault we do evil, because He gave us the ability to think on our own.

The Flip Side of Freedom

What is often forgotten today is that freedom is part of a package deal. The other side of the coin is responsibility. If a person has free will, the person has the responsibility to use their free will in a way which does not harm themselves or others. He, and not the lawmaker, is to blame for failing to act responsibly. The idea of responsibility indicates it is something we can control. If a person slips on the ice, nobody blames him because the law of gravity forces him to the ground. It is only when the circumstances are things we can control that we can be blamed for failing to do so.

Looking at Adam and Eve

Now Adam and Eve were given free will, and they were given the responsibility in using it rightly. Moreover, with original grace, they had the ability to resist temptation to do evil. In other words, they had the free will to control their own actions, and they had the responsibility to make the right use of those actions. With the ability to resist the impulses to choose wrongly, Adam and Eve could not claim that their actions could not be helped. The reason they were judged was because they were able to resist but chose not to.

So from this, we can see that in failing to resist temptation, their actions were because they could have but did not refuse the lies of the devil.

Conclusion: The Direction Next Time

I have given a demonstration of why Christians believe we have free will. However some individuals have a hard time contrasting God’s omnipotence with our free will. If God knows what we will do, does this not mean we are fated to do these things?

The short answer is no.

The longer answer will be covered in part III of this series.

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