This question, posted by Charles Glenn on a Christian philosophy email list, caught my attention:
I was up almost all night thinking about this question Darrin asked: is God significantly free?
May I ask a question in response to this question?
According to Hume, free will belongs to every person who is not in chains. So is it possible that God possesses perfect free will in an eternal sense, but has willingly placed himself "in chains" as a part of his act of creation, specifically in his creation of the human race? In one sense, he would still possess free will, right? Willingly limiting yourself to "Good" is, after all, a choice that a perfect being could make if that being possessed free will - that choice would have been made freely.
I suppose that also means He could change his mind and break his "chains" any time he chooses too, doesn't it? That would imply God possesses the CAPACITY for evil, right?
I'm pretty sure that's not part of mainstream Christian theology though...
In any case, wouldn't we have to resolve this question in order to coherently discuss God's "goodness?"
This is a question of literally eternal significance. It is also the question that has turned many from God who have seen and experienced the suffering in this world.
When I seek entertainment, I most enjoy works that focus on moral choices, not in terms of law or instinct, but in terms of free will. The factor that feeds the God-shaped void in my human heart is when a character makes a difficult decision out of love for another, not out of need. When a character chooses to be good, even when compromise is far easier and has greater benefits.
I believe that for God to be truly sovereign, He must be prior to (and/or the foundation of) everything that exists. That means He is not driven by anything out of His control. And that means He must be ultimately free, perfectly free, because what could chain Him but Himself?
When the serpent told Eve that if they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil she would become like God, I think he was telling the truth deceptively. She became aware of what it felt like to do evil, and her eyes were opened to morality, the vast gulf between following laws by necessity, and making free choices that coincide with the laws because the laws were written by someone good and wise. Then Adam damned us all to a lifetime of making moral decisions in a fallen world, where death was let loose to ravage us all, some slowly, others swiftly, and where sacrifice became necessary.
God knows how to do evil, and could if He chose. He could be infinitely cruel, taking pleasure in the pain of others. He could ignore us, let the sun explode, and go on to make less rebellious puppets on a planet in the Andromeda Galaxy. He could lie. But He never does; He has "chained" Himself to love as He chained Himself to logic: He will never create a rock so big He can't lift it, because that would be a paradox.
As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe:
"If there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than me or else just silly."
"Then he isn't safe?" asked Lucy.
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
His capacity for evil is as infinite as His capacity for good, but He has never and will never use it. And that is what makes the storyteller in me love Him so much. And that is why I praise Him: because He Is who He chose to be, and has promised His steadfast love to us eternally.
Labels: choice, decisions, free will, love, morality, theodicy, theology