Monday, August 28, 2006

The Heart of the "Free Will" Error

(Here is some "theology 101" from a few years back. It's not a polished essay but it should have enough discussion to be useful.)

One of the first questions that needs to be asked when addressing this topic is, “What is a will”? Advocates of “free will” theism talk about the will of man as if it were the core aspect of a person. The will is thought of as a metaphysical object that plans, chooses, and directs man’s activities. It is thought of as the seat and “generator” of man’s desires. Thus, a free will is that metaphysical aspect of man which makes choices between alternate options. But this concept of the will comes from secular philosophy; the Bible does not teach it. The Bible speaks of “willing” as a verb/action far more often than it speaks of “the will” as a noun. And when it does speak of “the will,” it is not referring to some core metaphysical thing that makes choices. Rather, the will of someone is equivalent to his plan, purpose, or desire. The choosing faculty — the seat of emotions, desires, and choices — is the heart. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (ed. R. Laird Harris; Gleason L. Archer, Jr.; and Bruce K. Waltke), under the entry for leb and lebad (entry 1071), has this to say.

Concrete meanings of leb referred to the internal organ and to analogous physical locations. However, in its abstract meanings, “heart” became the richest biblical term for the totality of man’s inner or immaterial nature. In biblical literature it is the most frequently used term for man’s immaterial personality functions as well as the most inclusive term for them sense, in the Bible, virtually every immaterial function of man is attributed to the “heart.”


By far the majority of the usages of leb refer either to the inner or immaterial nature in general or to one of the three traditional personality functions of man; emotion, thought, or will.


Thought functions may be attributed to the heart. In such cases it is likely to be translated as “mind” or “understanding.” To “set the heart to” may mean to “pay attention to” (Ex 7:23) or to “consider important” (II Sam 18:32).... The RSV translates “which came upon Solomon’s heart” as “all that Solomon had planned” (II Chr 7:11).

Wisdom and understanding are seated in the heart. The “wise heart” (I Kgs 3:12; RSV, “wise mind”) and “wise of heart” (Prov 16:23) are mentioned....

The heart is the seat of the will. A decision may be described as “setting” the heart (II Chr 12:14). “Not of my heart” expresses “not of my will” (Num 16:28).... Removal of the decision-making capacity is described as hardening the heart (Ex 10:1; Josh 11:20).

The abridged Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (ed. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich), under the entry for kardia (heart), has this to say.

There is in the NT a rich usage of kardia for a. the seat of feelings, desires, and passions (e.g., joy, pain, love, desire, and lust; cf. Acts 2:26; Jn. 16:6; 2 Cor. 7:3; Rom. 10:1; 1:24); b. the seat of thought and understanding (cf. Mt. 7:21 [sic, 6:21?]; Jn. 12:40; Acts 8:22; Mk. 11:23; Rev. 18:7; Rom. 1:21); c. the seat of the will (e.g., Acts 11:23; 2 Cor. 9:7; Lk. 21:14)...

The will is simply a function of the heart. Man wills/desires to do what is foremost in his heart. Thus, in biblical terminology, the question of man’s “free will” is really a question about man’s heart. Does man have a “free heart,” and what is the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s heart?

In terms of general history and events, man does not have a “free will” as that concept is commonly understood. To begin with, the human will is a function of the human heart. The heart is the seat of man’s inclinations, desires, and emotions. As such, man will desire or will to do that which is in his heart. The Bible teaches that God foreordains everything that occurs in creation history. God is in sovereign control of everything, and this explicitly includes the hearts of men. This does not mean that God is guilty of evil or that man is not responsible for his actions. On the contrary, man is responsible for his thoughts and actions, and God is absolutely righteous. However, it is also the case that man’s heart (and thus, his will) is not “free” (i.e., he does not make autonomous choices apart from God’s sovereign plans), and God is the author of history. Although the following material may appear to make man a robot or puppet in God’s hands, such an inference does not follow and should not be drawn. The remarks following the outline should help to clarify this.

I. The seat of the emotions and desires is the heart. Man wills, desires, and decides to do that which is in his heart.

A. Various phrases in the Bible such as “said in his heart,” “speak truth in his heart,” “regard iniquity in his heart,” “thoughts of the heart,” “set your heart upon,” “cut to the heart,” “take to heart,” “secrets of the heart,” and “counsel of the heart” point to this. In addition, the heart is over and over described as glad, angered, sorrowed, yearning, contrite, proud, etc.

B. Both good and evil actions flow from the heart.

1. Evil comes from the heart: Gen. 6:5; 8:21; I Sam. 17:28; Job 15:35; Ps. 101:4; Prov. 6:14, 18; 11:20; 26:24, 25; Eccl. 8:11; 9:3; Is. 10:7; 32:6; 59:12, 13; Jer. 3:17; 5:23; 14:14; 17:9; Rom. 1:24; Jas. 3:13

2. Integrity/uprightness comes from the heart: Gen. 20:5, 6; Deut. 9:5; I Kin. 3:6; 9:4; Job 33:2; Ps. 24:4; 73:13; Rom. 6:17; Col. 3:12; I Pet. 1:22

C. Various aspects of the heart also confirm this.

1. Scripture focuses on the fact that God knows the heart of man: I Sam. 16:7; I Kin. 8:39; Acts 1:24

2. It is the heart which is hardened: Ex. 7:3, 13; 8:19; 10:1; Deut. 15:7; Ps. 95:8; Is. 63:17; Lam. 3:65; Mark 6:52; John 12:40; Eph. 4:18

3. It is the heart which must be humbled: Lev. 26:41

4. God laments their lack of a reverent heart: Deut. 5:29

5. It is one’s heart which must be inclined toward the Lord in order to do His will: I Kin. 8:57, 58 cf. Josh. 24:23

6. The heart takes delight in the Lord’s ways: II Chr. 17:6

7. God “bowed the hearts of the men of Judah”: II Sam. 19:14

8. God’s people were to search for and return to God with their hearts: I Kin. 8:48; II Chr. 22:9; Jer. 24:7; 29:13

9. They were to set their hearts to see the Lord: I Chr. 22:19

10. It is circumcision of the heart which leads to obedience: Deut. 10:16; 30:6 cf. Ezek. 44:7

11. It is the heart which turns away from / toward God: Deut. 17:17; 29:18; 30:17; I Sam. 7:3; I Kin. 11:3, 4; 12:27

12. We ought to forgive from our hearts: Matt. 18:35

13. The apostles were slow to believe because they were “slow of heart to believe”: Luke 24:25

14. The heart must be cleansed by faith: Acts 15:9 (cf. Jas. 4:8)

15. It is “with the heart [that] one believes unto righteousness”: Rom. 10:9, 10

16. Servants should obey their masters “in singleness of your heart”: Eph. 6:5

17. The peace of God guards our hearts: Phil. 4:7

18. The peace of Christ should rule in our hearts: Col. 3:15

19. We should sanctify Christ in our hearts: I Pet. 3:15

20. The law of God is in or written on the heart: Ps. 37:31; Prov. 3:3; 6:21; Is. 51:7; Jer. 31:31-33 (cf. Heb. 8:10)

D. Numerous passages directly show that the desires which produce action come from the heart.

1. Every man who “willingly gives with his heart” shall give an offering: Ex. 25:2

2. Whosoever is of a “willing heart”: Ex. 35:5, 29; II Chr. 29:31

3. “Follow after own heart” means to do what the heart desires: Num. 15:39

4. “Do what is in thy heart” means to do what the heart desires: I Sam. 14:7; II Sam. 7:3

5. “In the heart” means he desired to do it: I Kin. 8:17, 18; II Chr. 1:11; 7:11; 29:10

6. “To put into the heart” means to stir up the desire to do: Ezra 7:27; Neh. 2:12; 7:5; John 13:2 (cf. Acts 5:3; 7:23)

7. It is “the desires of your heart”: Ps. 37:4

8. “Go after the stubbornness of their own hearts” means to follow the heart’s desires: Ps. 81:12 cf. Jer. 7:24; 9:14; 11:8; 18:12

9. Solomon went after false gods because his heart was turned in that direction: I Kin. 11:4

10. “Turn my heart toward your statutes” means cause him to desire God’s law: Ps. 119:36 cf. 119:112; 141:4 cf. Luke 1:17

11. The Lord’s anger will not cease until He has “performed the intents of His heart”: Jer. 23:20; 30:24

12. “Settle it in your hearts” means make a determined decision to act a certain way: Luke 21:14

13. Ananias’ lie was conceived in his heart: Acts 5:4

14. “... with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord”: Acts 11:23

15. “... my heart’s desire... is for them”: Rom. 10:1

16. “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart”: II Cor. 9:7

E. Thus, the issues of life flow from the heart, not the will: Prov. 4:23; Matt. 12:34; Mark 7:18-23

II. God is the sovereign controller and director of all things. This includes the hearts and desires of men. He has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.

A. God does all that He wants/pleases: Job 23:13; Pss. 115:3; 135:6; Is. 14:24-27; 46:9-11; 55:11; Dan. 4:34, 35

B. He works both “good times” and “bad times” according to His will: Job 2:9, 10; Eccl. 7:14; Lam. 3:37, 38; Amos 3:6

C. Nothing occurs without His decree: Lam. 3:37, 38; Matt. 10:29, 30

D. His decretive will cannot be resisted: II Chr. 20:5, 6; Eccl. 7:13; Is. 14:27; 43:13; Dan. 4:34, 35; Acts 5:38, 39; Rom. 9:18-21

E. And in His sovereignty, God denies men’s plans when He chooses so to do: II Sam. 16:20 - 17:14; Ps. 33:9-11; Prov. 19:21

F. Thus, God sovereignly appoints/directs man’s good and evil actions: Gen. 20:1-6; I Sam. 2:22-25; II Chr. 10:1-15; 25:17-20; Job 14:5; Ps. 37:23; 139:16; Prov. 16:1, 9; Jer. 10:23; Acts 2:22, 23; 4:27, 28 (cf. Rom. 8:28); 18:20, 21; I Cor. 12:6; 15:10; Eph. 2:10; Phil. 1:6; 2:12, 13; Heb. 13:20, 21; Jas. 4:13-15; I Pet. 2:7, 8

G. He is also in sovereign control over the spirit, dispositions, and desires of man : Gen. 3:16; Ex. 11:3; 34:23, 24; Ezra 1:1, 5; Is. 37:5-7; Dan. 1:9; Hag. 1:14; Zech. 8:10

H. All of this is true because God is in sovereign control over the hearts of men.

1. He puts things (including dispositions) into the heart: I Kin. 10:24; Ezra 7:27; Neh. 2:12; 7:5; Ps. 4:7; Rev. 17:16, 17

2. He prepares the heart: Ps. 10:17

3. He turns / directs the heart in a certain direction: Ezra 6:21, 22; Ps. 105:25; Prov. 21:1; II Thess. 3:5

4. He opens the heart to belief: Acts 16:14

5. He changes the heart / gives a new heart: Deut. 29:2-4; I Sam. 10:9; Jer. 24:7; Ezek. 11:19, 20; 36:26, 27

6. He hardens the heart: Ex. 4:21; Deut. 2:26-30; Josh. 11:19, 20; John 12:37-40 (cf. Rom. 9:18)

I. Thus, He (actively, not passively) foreordains and directs man’s evil desires to accomplish His purposes: Gen. 45:8 w/ 50:20; I Kin. 12:12-15; I Chr. 5:25, 26; 6:15; II Chr. 21:16, 17; Job. 1:13-15, 17 w/ 1:20, 21; Is. 13:17; 19:2

J. He (actively, not passively) directs the evil desires of other creatures for His purposes: Judg. 9:23; I Sam. 16:14, 15; I Kin. 22:19-23; Job 1:8, 12 w/ 1:20, 21

K. He (actively, not passively) sends men to perform their evil desires, and then He punishes them for those evil deeds: Deut. 13:1-3, 5; Ps. 105:23-36; Is. 10:5-15; 47:5-11; Ezek. 14:6-10

L. In sum, God foreordains all events in accordance with His comprehensive plan: Rom. 11:36; Eph. 1:11


It should therefore be clear that man does not have an autonomous, free will. Men will to do that which their hearts desire, and the hearts of men are ultimately in God’s hands. To say that God allows evil to occur is much too weak a statement. God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, and this includes all evil events.

Now this seems to imply two rather nasty conclusions. Indeed, the two most common arguments leveled against the previous material is that if it is true, it would mean that (1) God wills/performs evil for which He is morally responsible, and (2) man is not responsible for his actions because he is a robot or puppet that God plays with like a G. I. Joe action figure. (A well-known Protestant teacher is fond of saying that “God is not a cosmic rapist” and “God is not a cosmic puppeteer who forces us to love Him.”) These two arguments are never leveled against “free will” theology (for obvious reasons), but they are almost always employed against the Reformed views of God’s sovereignty and predestination as presented above.

In response to these two objections, it should first be noticed that throughout the epistle to the Romans, Paul preemptively raised and answered questions and objections that he knew his teaching would provoke (e.g., Rom. 3:1-6, 31; 6:1-4, 15-18; 7:7, 13, 14). Then in chapter nine, Paul did something very interesting. Right after he stated that God sovereignly predestines men apart from anything in them (9:6-13), he anticipated and answered the same two objections always made against Reformed theology! He first answered the question: Doesn’t this make God evil (9:14-18)? He then addressed the question: Doesn’t this make man a robot that is not responsible for his actions (9:19-24)?

His answer to the first question is that such an inference is false. He then basically left the question in order to restate the truth of God’s sovereignty. His answer to the second question is even less satisfying to us. He didn’t answer it at all. He basically said, “Stop your arrogant, rebellious whining.” He then even had the “gall” to suggest that God’s electing sovereignty is “longsuffering” to the wicked and “glory” and “mercy” to the elect! He first slaps us in our faces for even asking the question. He then completely turns the question around such that we should be grateful for God’s sovereignty! Thus, the Reformed view of God’s sovereignty as presented above is in good company. The two big objections to it are the two big objections that Paul anticipated and answered (though his answers don’t really satisfy us psychologically).

Now that we know that the two objections are not valid, the question is: why? They seem to quite logically trace the consequences of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. But in fact, when trying to draw inferences from such deep truths, very subtle errors are easy to make. Such is the case here. The two objections, along with the entire paradigm of free will theology, presuppose a subtle but fatal error. Free will theology assumes that God causes events to occur in the same way that man causes events to occur. That is to say, the two forms of causality (God’s and man’s) are assumed to be qualitatively similar. Thus, it is assumed that if God foreordains man's actions, man must be a robot. Why? We know that man can only cause something to occur by either persuading another “free moral agent” or by applying some kind of coercion (e.g., verbal threat, physical force). And it is assumed that God causes things to occur in pretty much the same way (qualitatively) though He does cause things to occur on a much larger and/or grander scale (quantitatively). Thus, for God to cause something to occur with respect to man, He can either persuade someone to make an autonomous, free choice or He must force that person to do something (either in robotic fashion or against his “will”).

By definition then, God’s foreordination must equal coercion. Causality is thought to be a zero-sum game. If man caused his choice, then God didn’t (and vice versa). The free will advocate rightly points out that man is called to make uncoerced choices and that he does, in fact, make such choices (Josh. 24:15; Jer. 18:7-10; Matt. 10:32, 33; 23:37; Rom. 10:13, etc.). But he combines this truth with a zero-sum view of causality and concludes that God must not be truly, actively sovereign over all things. And this is the same methodology which has led to a number of theological errors with respect to other important doctrines (e.g., the Trinitarian nature of God). A clear biblical truth (there is only one God) is combined with a philosophical assumption (there is nothing in the created order that is “trinitarian” in nature, and man can’t really get his mind around the concept; therefore it doesn’t exist) and results in the denial of another clear biblical truth (there are three persons in the Godhead). Free will theism is not heretical like Unitarianism, but both views arise from the same erroneous methodology.

The free will advocate’s view of God’s causality cannot be biblically sustained. God’s ways, after all, are not our ways. They are much “higher.” Of the many biblical examples that were referenced above, consider Is. 10:5 15. God sovereignly ordained that Assyria would plunder His people, and then He punished Assyria for her savagery!!! Assyria was culpable for her sins (vv. 12, 13), yet she was compared to an inanimate tool in the hands of the sovereign Lord (v. 15). What in the world is going on here? The biblical answer is that God sovereignly foreordains everything that occurs while man is responsible for each and every decision of his volitional (though not “free”) heart. Man makes real, meaningful, personal, conscious choices (i.e., volition), yet it is also true that God has foreordained all of those choices. The king’s heart is in the hands of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wills (Prov. 21:1).

The obvious objection is that this is contradictory. Either the choice is “free” (i.e., metaphysically autonomous) or it is forced. But this objection likewise makes the metaphysical assumption that causality works pretty much the same way for God and man. It is simply assumed that an active, infallible, and non-coercive causality cannot exist because man cannot perform such a thing (or even understand the mechanics of it).

But along with the biblical examples already mentioned, we should realize that ultimately, His thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways. His ways are as high above ours as the heavens are above the earth (Is. 55:8, 9). Thus, His word will accomplish all of His desires and purposes (Is. 55:11). His judgments and ways are quite simply inscrutable to our puny brains (Rom. 11:33). We are, after all, talking about the God who spoke and the universe leapt into existence. Obviously, there is something quite different about the way He causes things to occur. And as if that were not enough, the Bible tells us that this mind-boggling act of creative causation is small potatoes compared to what He is actually capable of doing (Job 26:6-14)! His providential dealings with creation are but the edges of His ways. Thus, it is hardly surprising that we cannot understand the actual mechanics of how God can foreordain man’s decisions without Himself performing evil or destroying man’s volition and moral culpability. But this is what the Bible teaches.

God’s causal activities are, in the end, not qualitatively the same as those of man. God is not restricted to the coercive causality of man. This is a bit crass, but His causality operates “on a different plane” as it were. He has foreordained all things including evil, yet He does not create or perform evil and He is not guilty of it. Men consciously and meaningfully choose to perform evil actions and are guilty of them. Yet God, without coercion and without destroying man’s volition, decisively planned those actions before the foundation of the world. He has foreordained all things, yet man is not a mindless robot. (Notice the explicit juxtaposition of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility without resolving the “tension” in Acts 2:22, 23; 4:26-28; Eph. 2:8 10; Phil. 2:12, 13.)

Thus, both free will theology and the metaphysical assumption of causality that undergirds it are false. God is truly and actively sovereign over all things. He is the potter, and we are the clay — the work of His hands (Is. 64:8). The Lord is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases (Ps. 115:3). He works all things according to His will, and this includes the redemption of the people of His choosing (Eph. 1:3-11). His people perform meaningful works that are good, yet He ordained those works beforehand (Eph. 2:10). He works in them both the will (i.e., desire) and the actions for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). And because of His comprehensive and active sovereignty (Phil. 2:13, “for” or “because”), His people should reverently pursue obedience to Him (Phil. 2:12)!?! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!


Blogger Robert said...

So you have stealthily entered the blogosphere. Cool!

8/30/2006 10:01 AM  
Blogger Derrick Olliff said...

Yeah, we'll see how often I actually contribute.

8/31/2006 12:56 PM  

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