Every parent knows that it is tough to release our children into the world, to allow them to do things and make their own decisions. We don’t want them to make bad choices, and we are afraid they will fail or get hurt. Every parent has to realize that there is a point where we have to let go of our children, but we just want them to choose wisely.
If we didn’t love them, it wouldn’t be so hard. But, we know that for our children to be truly human, they have to make choices, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. But, we ache for them when they choose wrongly.
Sometimes we let go too soon and sometimes too late. That’s because we are choosing when to let go, and sometimes our choices are wrong. We can all look at our lives and realize that we are guilty of sometimes making bad choices.
Imagine how God must feel. He created humans and let them go by giving them free will. He knew they would make bad choices, but the alternative would be to make them robots, not humans. Robots can’t love, and since God is love (1 John 4:8), He wants us to love Him.
God had no choice but to allow us to have free will because He created us to be persons who would freely choose to love Him. Therefore, it’s up to us to choose wisely.
One of the struggles that we all have with our relationship to God is understanding why negative things happen to us. Some say “this is God’s will” in response to COVID-19, but when your loved one dies from it, that isn’t much help. Some of us have been taught a determinist view of God. God’s decretive or determining will is seen as sovereign, universal, and all-inclusive. What can we understand about God’s will and our free will?
One writer has said, “God has a predetermined plan for every life. It is that which will happen. It is inevitable, unconditional, immutable, irresistible, comprehensive, and purposeful. It includes everything–even sin and suffering. So your career, marriage, friends, sicknesses, accidents, income, etc. are all part of God’s determined will but are not revealed to you ahead of time.”
Why does God allow someone to have one tragedy after another that they didn’t cause? Why should a young mother have a severe illness and die? Why do babies die? Anyone who says they have all the answers is a liar because none of us do, and being an atheist doesn’t help either. There are some scriptural clues in the use of four Greek words:
“Prothesis” usually translated purpose. See Romans 8:28; 9:11; 2 Timothy 1:9.
“Boule” which means counsel. See Acts 2:23; 4:28; Ephesians 1:11.
“Eudokia” meaning desire, good pleasure. See Ephesians 1:5;9; Philippians 2:13.
“Epitrepo” means to permit. See 1 Corinthians 16:7; Hebrews 6:3.
Cottrell goes into this subject deeply, but here is a simplified explanation. The determinist view has one glaring weakness. It ignores the purpose for which God created humans. We are not robots programmed to a specific end. In revealing God’s will through His purpose, His desire, and His permission, the Bible shows us that we are precious to Him. He allows our free will to love, serve, and obey Him–or rejecting Him. God tells us what is best for us, and He makes it clear what His desire is for us. But He permits us to choose to reject Him and live in destructive ways.
Our free will is the key here, but we need to know we have a purpose in existence and that free will is a part of that purpose. God allows us to have problems and permits us to seek evil solutions to those problems. If our love for God and our desire to have a relationship with Him is strong enough, the problems will not destroy our relationship with Him. God promises us limits (see 1 Corinthians 10:13) and takes the problems and makes good come out of them (see Romans 8:28). These challenges can boost our relationship with God or destroy it. That is our choice.
This ministry is designed to reach out to the common man, not the intellectual giants of our time. By “common man” I mean men and women who work every day, raise families, and live from paycheck to paycheck. They don’t have a Nobel prize or a Ph.D., but they pay taxes and vote, and they don’t fall for self-defeating materialism.
One of the intellectual giants of our day is Dr. John Lennox, and he has something important to say. Dr. Lennox is an emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford. He has written several books on the compatibility of science and religious belief. A recent quote from Dr. Lennox was a response to atheist writer Peter Atkins. Atkins had claimed that “there is no reason to suppose that science cannot deal with every aspect of existence.”
Lennox referred to this as “a self-defeating materialism.” Here is his explanation:
“The scientist’s confidence in reason ultimately depends on the existence of a rational and purposeful Creator. Otherwise, our thoughts are nothing more than electro-chemical events, the chattering of soul-less synapses. If you take the atheistic, naturalistic, materialistic view, you’re going to invalidate the reasoning process, because, in the end, you’re going to say that the brain is simply the end product of a blind, unguided process. If that’s the case, why should you trust it? The materialist view inevitably gives birth to a form of determinism that appears to mock our essential humanity. Biological determinism robs human beings of any claim to dignity and freedom. Free will, we are told, is an illusion.”
You don’t need a Ph.D. to understand the point Dr. Lennox is making about self-defeating materialism. If you want more wisdom from John Lennox, we recommend that you read his book God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?
We live in a time of moral confusion, but every generation has felt that the question of morality was confused in their day. I can remember as a teenager in the 1950s feeling very confused about what was right and what was wrong. As an atheist, I had no real reason to bring my life into conformity with anyone else’s ideas of right or wrong, but I found that most of my friends who claimed to be religious were not a whole lot different than I was. In recent years we have seen an increasing number of religious/political figures involved in incredible moral turpitude. Atheists capitalize on these incidents to claim that religion has no relationship to morality.
Why should there be such a thing as morality? The more you investigate this question, the more you realize that the issue is rooted in the uniqueness of humans as being created in the image of God. Animals do not have a sense of right ideals or principles. Animals are controlled by instinct. A lion does not think of the morality involved in eating another animal. A beaver does not consider the moral issues involved in building a dam that floods a meadow and drives hundreds of other animals from their homes. On the other hand, humans may oppose a dam on the moral grounds of environmental impact.
The first step in discussing this issue has to be a consideration of the existence of free moral choice in humans. It is our freedom of moral choice that gives us the ability to change the direction of our future. Given a set of rules to govern life, every person must decide whether or not to conform to those rules. A burglar is not controlled in his criminal activity by the lock on the door or the presence of the police. These deterrents may temporarily delay the activities of the burglar, but they will not stop him from breaking into a house. The choice is up to the burglar. If his inner restraints do not stop him, he will break in and steal. Building jails and increasing police department rosters will never completely stop crime.
Free moral agency is one of the most important and most underrated capacities of humans. It is our freedom of choice that allows love to exist. I can enjoy the love of my wife because she has the option of not loving me. If she had no choice in the matter, there could be no love. Sexual love without choice is called rape and is recognized as a perverted, distorted, ugly substitute for love that bears no resemblance to the real thing. Without the freedom of choice, we become animals operating totally by instinct to fulfill our own selfish needs and desires.
If you think through this to any depth at all, you begin to see why we are having a difficult time establishing moral guidelines in our day. If we accept the idea that we are merely animals, totally and completely driven by those instincts and drives that govern all other animals, then morality does not exist! Belief in mechanistic, opportunistic evolution of human beings removes morality and all that goes with it. That includes the family, marital fidelity, family responsibility, integrity, and responsibility toward others. Even the most vociferous atheist will attempt to deny this assertion because we all realize it leads to a dog-eat-dog, jungle aspect of existence.
The starting point of morality is recognizing that we were uniquely created by God with an eternal soul created in God’s image. The consequence of that is free will which has implications in all areas of our lives. Human suffering, the proper standards of how we should live, and our view of how we fit into God’s plan are all rooted in our understanding of who we are and the value we have. The “naked ape” hypothesis cannot adequately deal with this aspect of our existence which is so vital to social order and peace.