Free Will and Consequences

Probably one of the most hotly contested and most controversial positions to look at, either philosophically or theologically, is the issue of human will.

Philosophically, the issue comes down to whether one is a purely metaphysical naturalist, which makes the belief that metaphysical naturalism is true necessarily false, or a dualist of some sort. Theologically, the issue boils down to a matter of salvation: did God choose who would be saved or does man “actualize” salvation by freely believing and living in faith in Christ. Ultimately, it seems to boil down to which one is true. The problem seems to be, theologically speaking, a failure to demonstrate between the choices themselves and the means of choice.

Man is constantly faced with choices, but in order for those choices to be real choices—by “real” those choices have to have consequences, either positive or negative—then they must be freely made. It seems that no matter where one falls, either Reformed or remonstrant, there is a belief that our choices really matter. Unbelievers seem to want to separate the choice from its consequences. It’s like the old 3-doors trilemma: there are three doors, behind one is a man-eating lion, behind the other is a torture chamber from which you will eventually be released, and behind the third is an unhindered path to freedom, if you can outrun the guards who will bring you back and throw you to the lion. The problem is that you can’t tell which consequence is behind which door. You get to freely choose which door to open. The problem is that we want to be able to peek behind the door and be able to close it back. The freedom to choose is also like playing Russian roulette: you might snap the trigger 5 times before it goes off, or you might catch the bullet on the first pull. The problem is that human beings are limited, we love choices, but hate the consequences of our choices.

We want to be able to peek behind the doors or play with unloaded guns, have do-overs or get multiple attempts to pass. The problem is that the eternal doesn’t work like that.

More troubling, to some is the fact that once we walk through the door, or pull the trigger, there is an ever-widening cascade of events that are outside of our immediate control. Our choices, once made, echo like ripples on the surface of a still pond, and they multiply and magnify. Sometimes we can predict the effect that our choices will make, sometimes we have no idea. Fear of the unknown will often cause us to be unwilling to choose because we cannot foresee the outcome; sometimes the outcome is obvious, but our aversion to discomfort will cause us to hesitate.

If we go back to the Garden, man had a choice: obey and live in the presence of God; disobey and live outside of his presence. It doesn’t seem fair that the choice of one person would affect so many negatively, but then people believe that they are islands unto themselves and their choices do not affect anyone else. All it takes is a drop of a particular poison to render a glass of water, which normally sustains life, into something deadly. Adam, as the federal head of humanity, its representative before God in his council, in his exercising his freedom to choose made a choice that echoed and permeated across time in man. He was warned about what would occur and placed self in the first place and made an enemy of him who would be our friend.

It took another choice, made in eternity, knowing that creatures would break the covenantal relationship, to plan and accomplish a restoration and a rescue, both fulfilled in Christ the God-man.

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