Free Will!


“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” ~William Shakespeare

Are we free? Or is the ability to choose an illusion? Why is our understanding of this subject so dim? It seems clear that we are programmable creatures, as famously demonstrated by Pavlov and Skinner. But we also have a higher consciousness or spirit that enables us to take charge of our programming (to become our own programmers), or at least the most important aspect of life: our moral choices.

The Bible teaches both. This is called an antinomy: two apparent contradictions that are both true, nevertheless. I sometimes think of it this way: God determined my fate (predetermination) at the moment of creation, knowing the choices I would make (free will). But this argument has its flaws, and in the end is merely an attempt to apprehend what I can only partially grasp.

It’s as if there were two lines stretching from earth into the stratosphere. They appear to be parallel, but aren’t: they simply intersect beyond our range of sight.

In the first century, the Apostle Paul wrote: “For now, we see a dim reflection, as if in a mirror, but then we shall see face to face. Now we know in part; then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). “Mirrors” at the time Paul wrote this were sheets of hand-beaten metal. Even the best gave extremely inaccurate representations, revealing more about the mirror than their subject. 

Such is our understanding of transcendent truth.

Is much of our fate beyond our control? Yes. And yet, it is also true that if we choose foolishly, selfishly, the fault (as free Will Shakespeare tells us) “is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

For the present, we see dimly, but eventually we will look Truth full in the face, and we will see how those two lines intersect, how the choices we made dovetailed with our fate. Fortunately, our future doesn’t depend on our level of knowledge, but on the infinite goodness of…

the One behind the mirror.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
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34 Responses to Free Will!

  1. Hi Mitch – Like you I believe that God foreordained, predestinated those who would be in Christ. Romans 8:29 – Romans 9. But I happen to believe that it was based solely at the pleasure of his good will. While he does know all things, he set his love upon some like the children of Israel. He chose them not because of anything good or attractive in them, otherwise they would have reason to boast. Deuteronomy 7:6-8, Ephesians 2:8 I believe that our free will is restrained or confined to our nature. We are born in sin, dead spiritually; therefore, we cannot, will not choose God. Yes, I can choose to do many good things, and bad things, but I won’t choose God until God makes me willing in the day of salvation. Ephesians 2:1, Psalm 110:3. I sort of see it like me being in jail. I’m free to sing, read and pray in my cell, but I cannot walk out of there because the law of the land constrains me.

    Sorry for the length of my response.

    Liked by 2 people

    • If once saved always saved, then once lost always lost.

      On the other hand, God chooses those who “apply to him”.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Hi Katherine! The only thing is all of us are born lost because of the sin of Adam. Also, the Bible says in Romans 3:10-12
        As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable, there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (Rom 2:10-12)

        Jesus said: Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you. John 15:16a

        That describes all of us.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I believe it was Spurgeon when asked how he reconciled God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, responded “I never seek to reconcile friends.”

    Good post Mitch,

    Liked by 2 people

  3. David Cosier says:

    Thank God for His goodness. I know that I can’t figure it out, but I know that He already has.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. YES!! I tried to express this recently to a friend but failed miserably. You have explained it perfectly! Dr. Smith, one of my favorite Profs at Biola (English Dept), taught me so much about this antinomy through the study of literature. But you have summed it up so concisely and beautifully. Outstanding post, Mitch! Thank you, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      Thank you, Lynn. I find the existence of antinomies in the Bible an interesting, if challenging, indicator of its divine origin. I’m always reminded of Jesus’s words to the learned Nicodemus: “If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?” (John 3:12)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Love this! So true and I like to call antinomy and oxymoron such as “military intelligence” and “alone together,” It is so hard to hold two opposing things in our minds as one answer.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. BelleUnruh says:

    I don’t believe in predestination. I think when Jesus said, “I stand at the door and knock…” he meant every door, every heart. Joshua said, “Choose you this day whom you will serve.” And there is a verse that says Jesus sheds light into every man. I realize there are the verses about predestination too. I guess that’s where the antimony comes up. For me, I guess it depends which belief seems to tell who God is, or what he is like.

    Predestination sounds patently unfair. That our salvation is at the whim of God, that we have no chance, no choice. It is like the interpretation of hell. Does God torture people, including children, eternally? Will they never be free of pain? Is God like that? Would we do that? Would we even do that to a dog or cat?

    In Philosophy class, I learned about Determinism. They say our lives are determined by past experiences. We have no freedom of choice at all. When I heard it explained, I thought of how Jesus said we are slaves to sin. We have no choice but to sin because our nature is fallen. But Determinism leaves God out of the picture. In my mind, the only free choice we have is if we will follow God or evil. If we choose God, then we are his servants. We have the right to make the choice to leave if we want to.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Prachi says:

    I believe in God. But I haven’t read bible. You made me curious about it. I am surely gonna read it. Thankyou. I like the post alot!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Free Will! – The Journey Home

  9. Averyl says:

    I’m “programmed” to be an alcoholic, but have been sober one day at a time since 1997, thanks be to God!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. wboyack says:

    Reblogged this on Resigning as the General Manager of the Universe and commented:
    Great food for thought.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. GC Riffey says:

    When one speaks of man’s self-will, it must be remembered that man’s will does not guide his nature but that man’s nature guides his will. In short, man’s will is free to act only according to his nature.
    So, what is the nature of man? If one reads, understands and believes the Bible then one should agree that we are all born with a sin nature; And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
    Man of his own will, because of his sin nature, does not want God, love God nor seek Him, and of his own will he never will want to come to Jesus in repentance and to receive forgiveness for his sins. Unless God chooses whom he will save and draws him to Jesus no one would ever be saved.
    God does not force one to come to Jesus, but He does work in him to will and to do of His good pleasure and to change man’s heart (born again) to make him willing to come before our Lord and Savior in order to be saved.
    Since man’s will is free to act only according to his nature, it must be understood that man’s nature must first be changed before man’s will can be set free to choose to come to Jesus in repentance and submission; only to find out that he has already been saved by the Sovereign Grace of God. If God is not Sovereign man will never be saved from facing the wrath that is to come upon all mankind on judgement day. It is by God’s will that anyone is saved. Man’s will can never save himself.
    As for God choosing whom He will save, based on knowing their choices, He states quite clearly why He does “not” do so. Remember how God choose to love Jacob and to hate Esau. Well, He explains this most clearly in this manor:
    “Rom 9:11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil (so that man’s choices have no bearing on God’s selections – my words), that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)
    Rom 9:12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.
    Rom 9:13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
    Rom 9:14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.
    Rom 9:15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
    Rom 9:16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
    Jesus said… “you will not come to me that you might have life.” He also said, “no one “can” come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him (or enables him).” In addition, Jesus also said, “ALL that the Father gives me will come to me… “.
    Only if one truly believes in the sovereignty of God can one trust God to make the choices of whom He will save and not to trust in man’s free(?) will to do so for Him…

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      GC, I agree with the doctrine of total depravity, summarized by you above and taught, interestingly, by both Calvinists (known for their emphasis on predetermination) and Arminians (known for their emphasis on free will). In your last sentence you say “only if one truly believes can one trust in the sovereignty of God to make the choice of whom He will save.” To “truly believe” and “trust” God to make choices is a fine example of both predestination and free will at work.


  12. stolzyblog says:

    We have will, as a capacity. This much is clear. We can perhaps cultivate greater capacity with work and insight, but some are more ‘willful’ than others. This willfulness shows that another capacity can cloud our will, namely our feeling. Can we be more ‘free’ in our willing? That is difficult because in large part our will is unconscious. The way to experience more freedom in general is to employ our thinking in as pure a manner as possible. It is our thinking which distinguishes us from the animals, more than our feeling and our willing. The more we gain control of our thoughts, the more we are free. Many assume we are free in thought, but this is an illusion. It must be worked at. The gospel saying about many being called but few being chosen lays clear the idea that human freedom is active at least in potential. We have sufficient freedom, potentially, in other words, to make it possible to become ‘chosen’, if we sense the calling. This freedom expresses itself in our efforts, our thinking, and our marshaling of our will forces. If it were not a matter of freedom, our own freedom, that we enter the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, but was pre-determined, then the world and all morality would be a mechanical joke. This is the way I see things in any case, and I consider it in harmony with the Gospels. Christ will never violate the principle of our freedom. The tempters would; they have no sacred respect for human freedom.

    Liked by 2 people

    • mitchteemley says:

      Thank you for your interesting argument, Robert. You and GC (above) could have quite a spirited discussion, I’m guessing.


      • stolzyblog says:

        Perhaps so, Mitch. I gave his comment a deeper read as you’ve mentioned this. I think we would have different thinking about what human nature consists of and means. Also, your comment on his remark was interesting. I do not know enough about the Calvinists vs. Arminians to realize what you point out. It is quite interesting. Finally, I also think the notion of ‘depravity’ must not be over-simplified; the idea deserves to be further penetrated. Merci. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  13. gpavants says:

    Hi Mitch,

    God’s Truth is there, even Forest Gump got it. Do we have a set destiny or is it random? It can be both at the same time. That is the beauty of the life the Lord has for those who trust Him. It has many layers, simple faith, dynamic world-changing decisions, in a mustard seed sized step at times.

    Thanks for the meaty bites. In Christ,


    Liked by 1 person

  14. I don’t believe in determinism. It is just not compatible with biblical truth. I tried the idea you propose here, that both are true, but there are literally thousands of verses stating that God reacts to man’s choices. Put this up against maybe 50 verses that if read a certain way could lead us to believe in fate. Knowing is not pre ordaining. I’m basically Arminian with a slightly different take on total depravity thean some. I believe fate is a pagan concept that was brought in to the church by Augustine.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Evoluna says:

    This is a really intriguing and perplexing concept. I have written about the nature and reality of freedom in philosophical terms. Also, I am writing about how freedom is actually undesirable. I would really appreciate it if you would check out my article and give me your honest feedback. Thank You. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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