The battle of the wills

Discussion in '2000-02 Archive' started by npetreley, Nov 24, 2002.

  1. npetreley

    npetreley
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    Some things said in this morning's sermon gave me the urge to "think out loud" on the topic of the will. So this is not a well-cooked argument, but a "work in progress". (By the way, the church I have been attending is not at all Calvinist, and at least one of the elders is vehemently non-Calvinist, so that wasn't the point of the sermon - it just led to this train of thought.)

    C H Spurgeon pointed out in at least one sermon that the expression "free will" is nonsense. I don't recall if or how he explained it. But here's how I would explain it. I define "to will" as "to desire", "purpose" (transitive verb), "to wish", and so on. The will is not something to bend one way or another, but a description of what is already our inclination - what we desire, what we wish, what we purpose to do.

    I hope at this point you do not assume I am going to play a game with semantics. You may conclude that at the end if it is your will (grin), but I hope you'll choose to stay with me and see that although this involves semantics, the difference between what we perceive as "free will" and reality is very important.

    When you got up this morning, you probably chose something for breakfast. Assume for the sake of argument that you very much in the mood for Wheaties and very much opposed to the idea of eating eggs. So you chose Wheaties.

    In this example, you may say that you had freedom of choice, since nobody forced you to eat Wheaties. But you cannot say you had freedom of will. Your will -- your desire or wish, was to eat Wheaties.

    Someone might say that they settled for eggs or something else because they couldn't find the Wheaties, therefore their will was free. But then all they're saying is that their will to save themselves the trouble of looking was greater than their will to eat Wheaties, and their negative will against eggs was not great enough to overcome it. There was no freedom involved in their will at all, it's just that the will for Wheaties was weaker than the will to be lazy and the will to avoid eggs.

    The point is that during none of this process was your will "free". "Freedom" makes no sense in this exercise, because the moment you express it with a choice, you have admitted a desire for one set of things over another -- hence you have simply described how your will was already inclined. You were inclined to have Wheaties before you "chose" them - indeed, you chose them because that was your will, not because you had freedom of will.

    Please don't miss this -- the reason I've spent so much time on the above example is to point out that when you have many conflicting "wills", it is easy to mistake the expression of our competing desires for "freedom". It is not. It is simply a battle where one or more "wills" emerge victorious over the others.

    In order to see how this is relevant to the issue of salvation, try this exercise: Determine right now that you are going to believe that your left sock is god and trust it for your salvation. No matter how hard you try, you cannot do it. You cannot bend your will to obey that exercise because one does not will to believe or trust.

    You should be able to see now that to for us to say we believe in and trust Christ for our salvation is to describe our current inclination. It is our will, and as far as our eternal destiny is concerned, it is inclined toward Christ.

    The key question, then, is not at all whether or not our will is free. Our will is always inclined one way or another, or in multiple directions at once with varying degrees.

    The question is: From where does this will to trust Christ originate? Is it born within ourselves, or is it planted there by God?

    Here is the battle exposed in Jesus, Himself:

    Since Jesus is God, is God struggling with Himself here? Of course not. The battle is between the flesh and God. With that in mind, consider this passage from Philippians:

    Do you see the same principle at work here? Whatever will competes for your trust in Christ (desire to trust in money, career, looks, whatever) can be expressed as the will of the flesh. The will of the flesh is in a constant struggle with God, who works in us both to will and to do things that the flesh neither comprehends nor desires. If it is God who works in us to do these things, then God is the origin of the will that saves us, which is expressed in faith to the degree we submit to His gift of faith over the wills of our flesh.

    Someone may now say, "Isn't it our free will to decide how much to submit?" I instruct those to go back and re-read the Wheaties example. It is not a matter of free will but of which will emerges victorious. If our will were free to bend one way or another, we could command our flesh to submit entirely to God, but we cannot "will" that any more than we can "will" ourselves to put our faith and trust in our left sock. If the will isn't placed there by God, it does not exist.

    That's where I'll stop and let you do what you will with it -- whether to poke holes in it and deflate it or whatever else it deserves. ;)
     
  2. Helen

    Helen
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    Interesting post.

    Maybe what people mean by 'free will' is the freedom to have a will?

    I sort of disagree (I have the freedom to do that, right... [​IMG] ) with using 'purpose' as a synonym, because that implies, at least to me, ability. I can want something, or even will it, and never have a chance in the world or out of it of getting it. I'd love to fly. Not just in a plane but me, myself, with wings! I've wanted that since I was a little girl. Is it going to happen? Not in this body! But I have the freedom to want that, impossible or not.

    Now, at any given moment, our choices may be locked in as we make them and act on them. But at any point before that our minds may change, mightn't they? Is that also 'free will'? If you wanted Wheaties, but then smelled eggs cooking and thought "yeah, I think I'll have the eggs, too...", then your will, or want, changed, didn't it? And you had the freedom to do that?

    And then, having the luxury of being blonde, and Californian, and female, sometimes I just don't know what I want... :D

    Remember Frost's poem "The Road not Taken"? Before the choice was made, both choices were available. And as long as he stared at the two possibilities, he was free to make up his mind either way, was he not? It was not until he decided and started down one -- when he acted on his will, or want, or choice -- that he was locked in (assuming there was no backward gear in his life).

    I'm not trying to say anything about believing or salvation or anything theological right now. This is purely a philosophical exploration into definition -- and that is probably an excellent thing for you to have brought up right now.

    I'd rather separate the philosophical definitions from the theological applications at this point.

    Did I make sense above?
     
  3. Aaron

    Aaron
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    In order to see how this is relevant to the issue of salvation, try this exercise: Determine right now that you are going to believe that your left sock is god and trust it for your salvation. No matter how hard you try, you cannot do it. You cannot bend your will to obey that exercise because one does not will to believe or trust.

    Excellent point. [​IMG]
     
  4. tnelson

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    The title of C. H. Spurgeons sermon you could be talking about is Free will- A Slave, Dec. 2 1855.

    by His Grace

    mike
     
  5. npetreley

    npetreley
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    That's like saying we have the freedom to desire peaches, which is true. But that isn't the same thing as the ability to freely bend our desire to whatever we wish at any given moment -- so that you can decide to desire liver and onions one moment and peaches the next. The fact that you desire peaches is a description of your will, and the fact that you choose to eat one is just an expression of it.

    And what is a change of mind called? Repentance, right? That's where I was going with the argument. Your next statement helps me get there, sort of...

    Let's leave out that "too" for a moment, because it complicates the analogy too much. But if you smell the eggs and decide that's what you'll have isntead, it's still not freedom of the will. It's freedom of choice. You didn't navigate your will whichever way you wanted it to go. Your will was redirected by the smell of the eggs.

    Now consider this: The same aroma could have the opposite affect on another person, and in that case, their will against having eggs and toward having Wheaties would have been strengthened.

    The point is that neither person "willed" themselves to react the way they did to the aroma of the eggs. The external stimulus caused one to repent and eat eggs, and the same external stimulus caused the other to harden his heart toward eggs. The only difference between the two was the disposition toward reacting to certain stimuli. Their inclinations existed prior to the smell of the eggs.

    Freedom of choice. C'mon - is there really any mystery as to what his will was all along? I don't know about you, but even as a child I knew which way he'd go long before I got to that line in the poem. ;)
     
  6. Helen

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    I associate repentance with being sorry for doing or saying something and choosing to be better next time around.

    But I can change my mind about something without any sense of sorrow at all. For instance, I had planned to spend a reasonable amount of time studying the issue of justification in the Bible. I pulled out a couple of books and thought, "Gee, they are not in a convenient space..." and that got me to changing things around a little. A little became a lot. About half way through what turned out to be cleaning and reorganizing the entire den, I thought about studying instead. I wanted both and I felt zero pressure for either. I have been known to stop half-way through a job and switch jobs for the moment, so it would not have been unlike me to do that. But I chose to finish the den. It looks great, it's organized and clean, and I'll do the study tomorrow. I was perfectly free to choose to do either and I wanted to do both. What tipped the scales? I can guess at a few things, but that's not even the point, because there was no pressure or negative with either choice!

    To me, in my book, that is free will, or the freedom to want and also the freedom to follow through (which, to me, are two different things).

    Sometimes I am very pressured and there are no choices available to me. Certain things have to be done at certain times. But on days like today, freedom has real meaning for me and I loved it.

    If you don't think I am or was free to make the decisions I made, well, maybe we just have different ideas of what freedom is!
     
  7. npetreley

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    Maybe that's your "feeling" about the word, but the word "repent" literally means to change your mind, or to "re-think". In the case of salvation, that's exactly what you're doing. Sorrow accompanies your realization that you need mercy, but unless you have a change of mind about things like sin, you have nothing to "feel" remorse about.

    Yes, they are two different things. One is the freedom to have will. That is self-evident, isn't it? We all have will, so we must be free to have it, or else we wouldn't.

    The latter is just freedom of choice, which is limited (you can't always have what you will -- you can't fly, as you pointed out). But freedom of choice does not mean freedom to bend your will this way or that. You didn't freely choose the desire to fly anymore than you could wake up tomorrow and say, I don't think I'll will to fly anymore, I think I'll will to live the life of an aardvark.

    In your example, you were battling between two wills - the will to study, and the will to clean. The will to clean won because it was apparently stronger than your will to study. If they were equal, perhaps you could have flipped a coin to determine which to obey.

    But free will would have meant you said, "Which shall I will - to clean or to study? Heads, it's clean, tails it's study. Heads? Okay, it is my will to clean and not my will to study." In that case, the decision precedes the will. But your will preceded your choice, which is how one's will really works.

    Of course nobody lives that way (I think I'll will this today...), which is why the term "free-will" is nonsense. One does not freely will to do this or that. One has a will to do this or that, and then usually (but not always, as you pointed out) has the freedom to express their will.

    [ November 25, 2002, 02:44 AM: Message edited by: npetreley ]
     
  8. Helen

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    I would have been perfectly happy flipping a coin today...

    One of our favorite things as a family when Saturday chores came around and all the kids were home was to roll dice for jobs. Odd numbers were jobs and even numbers were fun things. Each was given half an hour when it rolled up. New jobs replaced ones that got done. It made the days a lot of fun and an adventure. I guess you could say God did the choosing for us and we just had a good time with the system and got a lot done, too.

    Maybe we live in different worlds. I know repent means literally to re-think. But you and I both know that is not how it is used...either in our day or in the Bible.

    We are very, very different -- that's the only thing I am thinking right now. The Lord has given me so much freedom in so many ways that I have what I ended up years ago calling my 'dummy blonde prayer' which runs something like this:
    "Lord, you have allowed all these open doors for me and I have no idea which one I should go through. You know that! So please shut every door you don't want me to walk through. I'd rather get a bruised nose than walk the wrong way. Please guide me to go where you want me."

    My version, I guess, of 'thy will be done.' Except at times like that I don't really have a will except I want some kind of decision to be made that is approved of by God.

    But right now it's late, and my body is willing me to sleep. So I think I will take my mind and follow.

    God bless.
     

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