Free will is such a complex topic, theologians have dedicated entire volumes to it, what it means in the spectrum of divine grace, and how much humans have of it (could we really destroy ourselves, or would God ‘stop us’? if He would stop us, is that the end of our ‘free will’? Does our free will have its limits? If so, how did God determine them? How is imploding the earth non-acceptable, but rape and murder acceptable?).
You can run in circles discussing free will and predestination, and argue until you are blue in the face, but the fact is: no one knows. All we have is theories, built up of traditions, formed of speculations, which seem to make theological sense to our tiny minds.
Truth is, we’d like the rest of humanity to have a little less free will, and for God to act a little heavier handed sometimes… except when it involves us. I hear it all the time, through cries of pain or outrage; why didn’t God stop this from happening? Why is my son dead? Why did my daughter’s rapist get away with it? Does God even care? If so, why didn’t he DO SOMETHING about it?
So, we want Him to stop the murderers, and rapists, and genocides, and child / animal abuse, but we still want the freedom to make our own choices, because humanity has decided to rank misbehavior according to levels of evil, and most of ours fits on the “upper level.” Morals are morals because someone once decided they were, and we have carried on, weighing things based on who gets hurt, and sometimes with a sliding moral scale; stealing an orphan’s last farthing is more evil than downloading a pirated MP3 from those “bloated” music companies, right?
So, that leaves us with a God we want and don’t want, and again, the concept of free will. So, I’m going to pull a controversial move and talk about the Netflix series, Jessica Jones. The villain, Killgrave, has the power of persuasion; he can tell you what to do, and you have no choice but to do it. See how long it takes you to bash your head through that pillar? Right on it, sir! Take off your clothes? Will do! Gouge out your eyes with a fork? Fine, where do you want the eyeballs?
His victims have no agency, no power of resistance, and no way to stop themselves; whatever he tells them to do, they must do. When Jessica confronts him about it, and blasts him for what he ‘made her do’ when she was under his thrall, he retaliates by snarling that he has never known what voluntary affection looks like, because he never knows if someone is ‘choosing’ to do what he says out of love, or because he compelled them. It’s a limp excuse, but he raises an excellent point: imagine the insecurity of not knowing whether people care about you out of genuine love, or are just caring for you because you demanded it from them. (Gives you more empathy for celebrities, doesn’t it? How do they know which friends are real, or just there to piggyback off their fame?)
“How can you stand this?” he asks at one point, after refusing to order Jessica to come to dinner with him; “just sitting and waiting to find out if people are going to come or not?”
Killgrave fears what many humans do – rejection. People who do not want to serve him, sleep with him, eat with him, be his friend; so instead of living a normal life, he compels them to do what he says, and fills his life and time and bed with empty emotional connections, with slaves. None of them love him. All of them despise him. How could they not, robbed of their own agency and choices? Freedom is what humans most crave; the desire to be themselves, to not have someone else – physical or divine – bossing them around, dictating their every move, or constraining them in some way.
But in so doing, in being free to make their own choices, they are also free to hurt other people, to reject, humiliate, and violate other people.
I can hear it now, because it echoes in my own head; but God could intervene more than He does! He doesn’t have to control people constantly, like Killgrave, to stop bad things from happening!
Yes, he could, but according to whose standards of morality? Yours? His intervention would still be taking over someone else’s will. If that, by our own definition, could be considered evil… how could God be evil?
Genesis says God made us in “His image,” which a literalist may think means in appearances, and a more abstract person might say means we are creative, and playful, and funny, and eternal in the ways of God, or you could say, because we crave many of the same things as God. We want loved, to give and receive it, and for our friends to choose to be with us. We want the joy of someone deciding we are worth having in their life. We want people to want us, because they want us, and for no other reason. So does God.
Thus, we have free will, because He has free will. Jesus had free will; and He came into a world that could embrace or reject Him, because of free will. He came to inspire, not to dictate. He spoke to the soul, but never removed anyone’s free will, even when they hauled Him to trial and killed Him. And in so doing, He exemplified the tragic beauty and power of free will.
It can be glorious, it can be horrific, but we all have it. Which begs the question: if He gave us free will, but our theology says He’s going to punish us eternally if we reject Him, how is that free will? Or do we have that bit wrong, because it’s inconsistent with God?
I don’t know, but I enjoy the freedom of not knowing.