By: William Jackson
God made man in His image (Genesis 1:27, 5:1), so “what does this truly mean?” Well we know where we are not completely like God; for example we are not omnipresence (Jeremiah 23:24, Psalm 139:7-10, Proverbs 15:3) or do we look like Him (Exodus 33:20) but we do share certain characteristics He has gifted us with. Some of these are our emotions and desire for justice (Psalm 2:4, 5:6, 7:12, 11:5, 37:13, 135:14). One gift that can also be considered a curse is our “free will”. This understanding that a human can express personal choice and that he or she is not simply influenced by physical or divine forces has caused a historical divisions within both world philosophers and religions.
To capsulize it; free will means that a man is capable of choosing his own course of action whether it be good or evil. The first instance we see this is in Genesis 2:16-17 when God tells Adam “You may freely eat from every tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. You are not to eat from it…” and then God gives consequences if Adam (Hebrew for man) chooses wrong. God could have saved himself a lot of grief if He just programed man (Adam) to do right but where is the sincerity in that? As both a sovereign and compassionate God (Psalm 86:15, 103:8, 145:8), He laid out the rules and probably out of love gave the consequences for doing wrong. Since we were made in his image sometimes understanding ourselves allows us to understand Him, our Creator. For example, many of us parents and leaders know that we can control people by creating an environment of constant restriction but we also know the benefit of having those that we mentor “skin their own knees”. Sadly, without the freedom to choose wrong our ability to develop is stymied. If we are placed here on earth to develop and learn (Proverbs 1:5, 9:9, 25:12) the liberty of “free will” is necessary.
Some boil down the definition of “free will” to mean the ability to choose between “good” and evil” but this abridged answer is misleading because it lacks a major component, God. If we think on it “all” people think that they choose “good”. Hitler rationalized that the Jews were the enemies of the world, so in his mind he justified that as doing “good.”1 To do good we must have a reference point, if God is not our higher authority than we become our own authority. This is equivalent to grading your own report card. No wonder when we evaluate truly evil men like Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein they appear justified in their testimonies. This is because without God they are only accountable to themselves. It takes walking with God as the patriarch’s did (Genesis 5:22-24, 6:9, 17:1, 48:15) and studying His word to make the right ethical decisions.
So since “free will” is so controversial why give it to us? For our answer we need to answer the bigger question “Why did God make us?”. This answer is handed to us by the Prophet Isaiah, who states our purpose to glorify God’s name (Isaiah 43:7, 21, 29:23). Yet, nature was design to glorify Him (Isaiah 55:12, Job 12:7-10, Psalm 19:2-5, 148:1-6) and so weren’t the angels (Ezekiel 3:12-13, Psalm 148:2, Job 38:7). The difference between us and God’s other creations is that these things have no choice but to glorify Him and humans have a choice. If we look at the angels we will find how “free will” creates a difference between us and them. For instance, the Hebrew word for angel is “malach,” which also means messenger. This is interchangeable throughout Torah because the angels are God’s messengers to perform specific missions2. We reaffirm this again in Psalm 103:120 where it says “Bless Adonai, you angels of his,you mighty warriors who obey his word, who carry out his orders!” and in 2 Kings 19:35, Psalm 78:49-51, Joel 2:11. The angels do not have “free will” this sets humans apart from angels and all of His other creations. Simply said, they must believe and we can choose to believe or not. Yet in Psalm 8:6 it tells us that God made us less than the angels, this certainly speaks to the heavenly missions of angels but the same verse adds that God has crowned humans “with glory and honor”. Which makes the motives of humans who freely worship the Creator more sincere than those programed to worship Him. However let us not forget that with the value being higher, the stakes are higher. In Deuteronomy 30:19 it reminds us that God gives us a choice of life or death so “… choose life…”, this is further amplified in Deuteronomy 11:26, 30:15, Psalm 119:30, Proverbs 8:36.
Conversely the majority of Christianity, follows Calvinism which does not believe in the conventional idea of “free will”. They believe that as humans we are too deprived to choose God as our savior but God elects certain ones of us to be saved. This removes our “free will” and gives us the programmed desire to worship God like all things without a soul. This topic is quite loaded and we will expand on this further in two weeks.
As we explore “free will” we find that God doesn’t cast a blind eye towards our actions. He doesn’t just allow us to make mistakes without either helping or punishing us dependant on our motives but he does not control us either. So how does this Lord who is our shepherd guide us ( Psalm 23:1, Isaiah 40:11, Ezekiel 34:11-12) ? For starters He gives us His Holy Word, the Tanakh but he also gives us His “divine intervention”. We will discuss that next week as we expound this topic.