restraint of free will

From the Contemporary Calvinist:

I find it strange that Arminians [substitute Open Theists] always focus on whether or not God actively causes men to sin. Why don’t they ever seem to be just as concerned about whether or not God actively restrains men from sinning? Wouldn’t that also be a violation of free will?

Calvinists seem to try to make this point often. If Pharaoh’s army is crossing the Red Sea and God impedes them by crashing the waves upon them from all sides, this is claimed as a “violation of free will”. Because God is killing people, he is not letting them use their “free will” to cross the Red Sea.

Contrary to what the Calvinists claim, that is absolutely not a violation of free will; free will involves overriding someone’s internal will in order to override their internal thinking. Free will is not about physical or mental constraints imposed by reality. Just because gravity exists, does not mean my “free will” to want to be weightless is overridden. My “will” to be weightless exists whether or not I can make it a reality.

To illustrate: My children have free will. They chose whether to fight amongst each other or play nicely. But when they do choose to fight, I may step in and resolve the matter. When faced with possible consequences and barriers to fighting, my children decide whether to try to defy me or back down. Defying me can be in a mental or physical aspect. Because I am about 8 times their weight, physical resistance usually is not a good choice (another plus: I never lose a “tickle” fight). Mental defiance in my children, I cannot control.

While I can never flip a switch to make my children obedient, I can help guide their mentality towards obedience. I might “break” them, as we commonly use the term. “Breaking” them involves changing their mind due to external stimulus. Only when I am able to convince them that they need to change will they actually change. I can do nothing except guide, lead, and convince.

God does this too. King Nebuchadnezzar was a great and mighty king. Daniel 4 describes an instance in which God wants to humble King Nebuchadnezzar:

Dan 4:24 this is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king:
Dan 4:25 They shall drive you from men, your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make you eat grass like oxen. They shall wet you with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.
Dan 4:26 “And inasmuch as they gave the command to leave the stump and roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be assured to you, after you come to know that Heaven rules.

God cannot just override Nebuchadnezzar’s will. It would be infinitely easier for God to just “enforce” His will by overriding human will. God need not “flood the Egyptians” (Exo 14), “make Zacharias mute” (Luk 1), or “send lying spirits to convince false prophets” (1Ki 22). If God overrode wills, God could just “make the Egyptians decide to turn around”, “make Zacharias name his son John”, and “make Ahab decide to go to battle”. But the Bible does not describe this. God instead uses his resources to physically and mentally stop and manipulate people. God plagues Nebuchadnezzar both physically and mentally, turns him into a psychotic beast, in order to make him humble. This works, and Nebuchadnezzar is much more humble than before the humiliation.

This is in contrast to a robot. A robot has no free will. It is every programmer’s dream to even simulate free will. A robot cannot truly choose to perform an action. Instead, every decision is determined by coding. Even computer generated “random” number are not truly random numbers, but instead determined by complex formulas. Computers, even if not physically or mentally restrained, do not have free will.

Free will is not constrained by physical and mental impediments. Free will is our internal decisions, apart from physical and mental capabilities or limitations. When Calvinists see God killing someone as “limiting that person’s will” we should correct them. God impedes individuals, but nowhere in the Bible “limits their will”.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
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16 Responses to restraint of free will

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  3. God impedes individuals, but nowhere in the Bible “limits their will”

    If I understand you correctly then, I exercise my “free will” when I make an internal decision that is according to what I want most.



    • I definitely think our internal dialog is our will. Our actions may align, may partially align, or contradict our will. But it does not seem in the Bible God ever commandeers someone’s body to force them to do things.

      • I am trying to establish a mechanism (if possible) in which I can explain the way in which we make a decision.

        My attempt here is to establish the “source” of our decision making. What makes it truly free. Am I over simplifying to say that our ability to choose is actually limited by what seems best in any given moment?

        This is important to me for many reasons. The chief is that if this is so than I find no contradiction in God decreeing the crucifixion of Christ so much so that it had to happen exactly as He decreed. This does not however violate the ‘free’ actions to act according to their nature, that is sinfully. Those who crucified Christ chose willingly to nail the Lord of Glory to the Cross.

        Part of the reason I am struggling here is no doubt because of background knowledge/baggage. I struggle to see the compatibility between certain event and the ‘free’ actions of men.

        Hopefully this makes a little sense. I am trying to honestly interact with your thoughts and understand your argument.

        Grace and Peace

        • I think the closest we can get to understanding how “will” works is the passage from James:

          Jas 1:14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.

          “Will” seems to even violate rational decisions and cost benefit analyses at times. In Isaiah God laments:

          Isa 5:4 What more could have been done to My vineyard That I have not done in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, Did it bring forth wild grapes?

          God attempted as many things as He could fathom to make Israel accept Him. He even believed Israel would return to Him, but Israel did not. If “will” was an input-output system, I think God would have had it worked out by now. But “will” seems to work outside of a mathematical function; while there are outside inputs there seems to be incredible noise (randomness). And that randomness tends to be towards rejection of God.

          On the crucifixion, Elseth writes in his now out-of-print book “Did God Know?” that the crucifixion may not have had to happen. I will find the quote. I also need to scan the book into a pdf to keep it available for everyone.

          • Awesome. I think that your initial explanation resonates really well. Though I disagree completely with the implications of us executing our will, I agree with “how” it operates along with its sometimes complete unreasonableness.

            I believe that while we are under the wrath of God, we are by nature children of wrath. We are spiritually discerned. We reject the truth of God in unrighteousness. We are war with God.

            This, insofar as I understand it, still lies within the decree of God from eternity. I know this opens another whole can of worms. One in which this wasn’t established to mine.

            Thanks for your patience, I look forward to further interaction.

            Grace and Peace

    • Tom Torbeyns says:

      My short video might help you:

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  10. Tom Torbeyns says:

    “turns him into a psychotic beast” isn’t that overriding their free will? I am an Open Theist and I also believe God can harden the heart, overriding the person’s free will. (See my book that is stiiiiiiil not published.)

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