So, last week, during a monthly gathering of the Pint, Pipe and Cross Club at my home, we had gotten into a very spirited debate with a couple of Calvinist about free will. Of course as Catholics, we believe that God gives all humans free will and has complete foreknowledge of all that has, is and will happen. He knows who will choose Heaven by His free gift of Grace and who will choose Hell by rejecting that gift. Many Calvinist however, believe that God predetermines who will be saved and who will be damned. This they say he does to show his divine sovereignty.
Some Protestant Reformers rejected free will by stating that with the fall of Adam, the will of man was irreparably damaged, unable to make an unaided free choice. The Catholic response is that God would not permit the essence of the human will, by His very own design making a choice among alternatives, to be changed from His Will. Man does remain created “in the image and likeness of God.” The will may be wounded or weakened by sin, but it is not taken away or annihilated. Scripture attests to the assumption that mankind, even after the sin of Adam, is still free to make choices.
As I stated above, as Catholics we believe that we are granted the gift of free will from God and we believe in predestination. That the two work together. Here is the Catholic definition of predestination taken from the Catechism:
“To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of “predestination”, he includes in it each person’s free response to his grace: “In this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” For the sake of accomplishing his plan of salvation, God permitted the acts that flowed from their blindness.” – CCC, 600
Eventually this lead to the question, ““If God does NOT predestine some to Heaven (The Elect) and some to Hell (as Calvin would contend), and if God gives free will to all humans, and He knows which of us will choose to cooperate with His grace and choose good and which of those who will reject Him, then why would God even create people He knows would go to hell?”
While this is a very tough question to answer, and no one can thoroughly know the mind of God, let’s consider the following: God created us for Heaven. According to Scripture God Our savior “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) but that doesn’t mean everyone will be saved. Also, according to scripture (as seen in Romans and many other places), it seems that God patiently endured the “bad” people so that He could express His great riches upon the people who do go to Heaven. Those who commit evil acts freely choose to be evil, and if God were to stop them from existing, then He would have to–in effect–stop people from being born who would never hear the Gospel and who would reject the Gospel. For example, many of the elect, are descended from those who have done evil and are probably in Hell. Yet, if the evil had not been allowed to be born, then neither would their descendants who were among the elect.
For example, what if someone who will be or is in Heaven now was descended from a very bad sinner, say someone who is in Hell, which is very likely. If God had not allowed the sinner to be created, then the saint would never had existed as well.
But still, even the people going to Hell can have a purpose in this life. There are many non-Christians who have advanced medicine, technology, and helped other people a great deal, even showing Glory to God all while rejecting Him (Pharaoh?). God has ordained that they perform work which is ultimately for His glory since He has blessed even the lost with gifts–in accordance with their being made in God’s image. But, they reject God and are without excuse (Romans 1:20). God made man not for Himself, as we do not add or take away anything from God. He is complete without us. He made us out of his immeasurable Love. God’s purpose for man is that we have the desire to “want” to love Him freely. Not just that we “love” Him. He could have made us automatons if that was his purpose. But by allowing us to “freely” choose to Love or not to Love, then those who truly Love is real Love indeed. Not coerced or forced, but freely given, just as He freely loves us… as we are made in His image and likeness. Being made in the image and likeness of God means that we have many of His attributes, among that is the free will to Love, since love without free will is NOT love!
The Jews Believe in Free Will
Even in Jewish theology, they believe the free will of humans. In the words of the 10th century Jewish scholar, Maimonides, if man’s actions were not freely chosen,
“how could G-d command us through the prophets ‘Do this’ and ‘Do not do this,’ ‘Improve your ways’ and ‘Do not follow your wickedness’…? What place would the entire Torah have? And by what measure of justice would G-d punish the wicked and reward the righteous…?” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance, 5:1)
Sacred Scripture on Free Will
In many places both formally and explicitly Sacred Scripture asserts both in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the New Testament that a person has within him the faculty of choosing freely. The existence of choice is either virtually or indirectly understood in counsels, exhortations, rewards, and penalties offered; and indeed in showing those actions alone as moral and meritorious or not meritorious which come under the power of man to choose.
If you do well, you can hold up your head; but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master.
I call heaven and earth today to witness against you; I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live.
If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.
2 Samuel 24:12
Go, tell David: Thus says the LORD: I am offering you three options; choose one of them, and I will give you that.
1 Chronicles 21:10
Go, tell David: Thus says the LORD: I offer you three alternatives; choose one of them, and I will inflict it on you.
Let us discern for ourselves what is right; let us learn between us what good.
Envy not the lawless man, and choose none of his ways.
When God, in the beginning, created man, he made him subject to his own free choice. If you choose you can keep the commandments; it is loyalty to do his will. There are set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, whichever he chooses shall be given him.
Happy the man … he could have sinned but did not; could have done evil but would not, …
If you are willing, and obey, you shall eat the good things of the land; if you refuse and resist, the sword shall consume you: for the mouth of LORD has spoken.
He shall be living on curds and honey by the time he learns to reject bad and choose the good. For before the child learns to reject the bad and choose the good, the land of those two kinds whom you had shall be deserted.
It was for liberty that Christ freed us. So stand firm and do not take on yourselves the yoke of slavery a second time!
My brothers, remember that you have been called to live in freedom–but not a freedom that gives free reign to the flesh.
1 Peter 2:16
Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cloak for vice.
The Early Church speaks on Free Will
Ignatius of Antioch – He died no later than A.D. 110, was likely a disciple of both Apostles Peter and John. He was martyred in the Coliseum in Rome.
“If anyone is truly religious, he is a man of God; but if he is irreligious, he is a man of the devil, made such, not by nature, but by his own choice.” The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians, A.D. 107
Justin Martyr – He wrote this to The Roman Emperor and his adopted son, Marcus Aurelius, who was a noted stoic philosopher that believed in, fatalism, predestination and predetermination, not unlike Calvin.
“But lest some suppose, from what has been said by us, that we say that whatever happens, happens by a fatal necessity, because it is foretold as known beforehand, this too we explain. We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, and chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Since if it be not so, but all things happen by fate, neither is anything at all in our own power. For if it be fated that this man, e.g., be good, and this other evil, neither is the former meritorious nor the latter to be blamed. And again, unless the human race have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions, of whatever kind they be. But that it is by free choice they both walk uprightly and stumble, we thus demonstrate. …But this we assert is inevitable fate, that they who choose the good have worthy rewards, and they who choose the opposite have their merited awards. For not like other things, as trees and quadrupeds, which cannot act by choice, did God make man: for neither would he be worthy of reward or praise did he not of himself choose the good, but were created for this end; nor, if he were evil, would he be worthy of punishment, not being evil of himself, but being able to be nothing else than what he was made.” First Apology, A.D. 160
“… But neither do we affirm that it is by fate that men do what they do, or suffer what they suffer, but that each man by free choice acts rightly or sins; and that it is by the influence of the wicked demons that earnest men, such as Socrates and the like, suffcr persecution and are in bonds, while Sardanapalus, Epicurus, and the like, seem to be blessed in abundance and glory. The Stoics, not observing this, maintained that all things take place according to the necessity of fate. …But since God in the beginning made the race of angels and men with free-will, they will justly suffer in eternal fire the punishment of whatever sins they have committed. And this is the nature of all that is made, to be capable of vice and virtue. For neither would any of them be praiseworthy unless there were power to turn to both [virtue and vice]. And this also is shown by those men everywhere who have made laws and philosophized according to right reason, by their prescribing to do some things and refrain from others.” Second Apology, A.D. 160
Irenæus – He was a disciple of Polycarp, Polycarp was a disciple of John. He was also martyred.
“Men are possessed with free will, and endowed with the faculty of making a choice. It is not true, therefore, that some are by nature good, and others bad…And not merely in works, but also in faith, has God preserved the will of man free and under his own control, saying, “According to thy faith be it unto thee;” (Matt 9:29) thus showing that there is a faith specially belonging to man, since he has an opinion specially his own. And again, “All things are possible to him that believeth;”(Mark 9:23) and, “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.” (Matt 8:13) Now all such expressions demonstrate that man is in his own power with respect to faith. And for this reason, “he that believeth in Him has eternal life while he who believeth not the Son hath not eternal life, but the wrath of God shall remain upon him.” (John 3:36)” Against Heresies, A.D. 180
There are many more from the Early Church who teach that man is indeed gifted with a free will. And why? Why would God give us a free will? To be as he is, to be who he desires us to be. To transform us into our original state, that state of original justice in which our first mother and father enjoyed before the fall.
Why God gives us the Gift of Free Will
God calls us to use our free will to choose between what is good and holy and what is harmful and evil. We are called to love God with all our heart. (Deuteronomy 6:5, Luke 10:27, Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30-31) To truly “love” requires free will. Compulsion or forced love is not love at all. Love is the means by which we respond to the gift of grace and salvation that God has given us, and in doing so, we are perfected.
It is the call of “perfection” that Christ called every Christians to live in the Sermon on the Mount when He said in Matthew 5:48 “Be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect.” We strive for moral perfection in order to be united more perfectly to our heavenly Father by imaging in our lives the purity of the Jesus Christ living in us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “The way of perfection passes by way of the cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Spiritual progress entails the ascesis [self-denial] and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes.” [CCC# 2015]. When we respond in love, to love as Christ loved we grow to become more like Him. We grow in virtue, we grow in holiness, we become sanctified. We are transformed.
The Logical Argument for Free Will
Finally, there is a logical problem with not creating people who go to Hell. It would mean that no one would go to Heaven. How? Well let’s examine the following. Firstly, by Adam and Eve’s first sin, knowing that they would disobey Him, he could have just not created them. But that would not fulfilled His plan to create us out of Love and for Love and humanity would have never existed at all, neither damned nor saved (See above). Also, without people who reject Him there would have been no crucifixion, without the crucifixion no one could have been saved. But, in order for Jesus to be crucified, evil people had to lie about Him and murder Him. His crucifixion is the means by which we are saved. So, if God doesn’t create people He knows will go to Hell, then there would have been no crucifixion by which people could be saved. In that case, all people would go to Hell by the fact that we inherit the punishment of original sin. Therefore, by that logic, nobody would allowed to be created since ALL people would have gone to hell. In fact, to avoid it all, God could have just remained God and not created anyone, including the angels, because it was ⅓ of His angels that were disobedient first, and it’s by the influence of satan, one of the fallen angels, that sin entered the world.
Darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of good. The battle for our souls is the battle between satan and God. Satan’s plan is to drag as many of us to hell to “rob” God of his creation. But in the end, God will use even all that satan does, to bring about HIS glory.
I love this quote from CS Lewis on Free Will and I think it sums it all up nicely.
“God has made it a rule for Himself that He won’t alter people’s character by force. He can and will alter them – but only if the people will let Him. In that way He has really and truly limited His power. Sometimes we wonder why He has done so, or even wish that He hadn’t. But apparently He thinks it worth doing. He would rather have a world of free beings, with all its risks, than a world of people who did right like machines because they couldn’t do anything else. The more we succeed in imagining what a world of perfect automatic beings would be like, the more, I think, we shall see His wisdom.” – CS Lewis, The Trouble with X
More to come in future posts on Free Will….“Does Romans 9 really say that God predestines people to Hell?”