The dark side of free will

warn2.gifNote to atheists: this post may look like I’m pointing a critical finger exclusively at you, but I’m not! This isn’t a happy or easy topic for me. After reading this (if you choose to) please believe me that I, like all humanity suffer from the same problems that free will makes us susceptible to. If I end up offending you, please forgive me! I’m not perfect and I don’t have the ability to write about this sensitive subject very well. Please know I have a great respect for you and that I do not know the whole story for why you believe the way you do. I borrowed the cute warning sticker off of alistapart.com, and will use it when the posts I write have potential to annoy or offend people. BTW, this is NOT reverse psychology trick. It means to get ready to be offended (possibly).

I have talked in earlier posts about the concept of man’s free will in a worldview of an all-powerful God. It’s a nice thing – it makes us different than robots and all that. We have the freedom to choose what to do with the time we have – to live a spiritual life or to live a selfish one. What has haunted me for the last 5 weeks has been this – that free will, as rosy as it seems on the surface, has a terrible side-effect.

This verse has haunted me for some time. It is Isaiah’s commission: (Isaiah 6, 8-10)

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

9 He said, “Go and tell this people:
” ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’

10 Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

Why would God want to deliberately blind people? Make them deaf? Of course this is not talking about physical blindness or deafness, but spiritual. But the question remains. Why would God want to do this? In order to understand this, I feel I must turn to the nature of God’s presence in a world were we have free will.

I have discussed God’s strange non-scientific presence in our world before in earlier posts. It comes down to this tough question: How can an all-powerful God co-exist in a love relationship with finite people and free-will still exist? My guess is that God needs to take a step back – to fade into the shadows. Otherwise the reality of God will be forever in front of our faces – unable to be denied and thus ignored, and thus be freely chosen or rejected. God does not want everyone to be pounded daily by his reality and His presence because he is not interested in a relationship with humanity forced into submission to worship him. He is interested in a love relationship. Materialism and naturalism must exist as believable alternatives to God. In a world view where spiritual free will is a reality, the reality of God cannot be thrust upon us, it must gently be shown to us by God himself in a non-obvious way, like a scent of something on the wind, but the object of the scent is gone before we can find it. It is up to us, within the confines of our freedom, to chase after the scent. There is something alive there, something real, but it will not reveal itself without a chase or without some effort from ourselves.

Why?

Because if it were otherwise, there would be no free will. Without freedom, there cannot be love, only robotic programmed adoration. God desired love instead as the basis for a relationship. So He sits in the shadows and woos us, never forcing the reality of himself upon us too strongly. His subtle advances are such that they can be ignored or rejected. And if they are rejected long enough, he sadly provides the necessary alternative – a different reality where He doesn’t exist – one that is very satisfying and can be completely believed with great certainty. Without the scent on the wind, the object is gone and we are no longer reminded. He must – He wants us to be free, even if it means allowing us to be free from the burden of the reality of Himself. With free will, there is a great danger of self-deception.

This is true of not only the knowledge of God, but of all reality. Because we are free, we are able to exchange a truth we do not want to believe with a lie that we do. After a long enough time, we will believe what we want to believe regardless of its mapping to actual reality, and it will be very convincing. Going back to Isaiah, God will allow us to blind ourselves – to make ourselves deaf. It is the natural course of simply seeing reality as we want to see it, not because it is true, because we are selfish and reality often does not suit that nature within us. We will bend reality to suit it.

Now at this point, let me say that not all people have rejected the concept of God because they selfishly want to live their own lives without a God involved. Most of the people I know that have taken this world-view do so for good reasons – the view of God that they grew up with is unhealthy, and is purged for their own good health. The source of seeing reality as you want to see it is not always rooted in the selfish nature, but can also come from reactive thinking – thinking clung to because of hurt or anger. Although probably not selfishly motivated, it seems that they are not motivated by actually finding truth, but reacting against something truly bad. Sadly, the end result is still the same – you will still move away from seeing reality, and towards a non-reality shaped by your anger. This has been and still is, my struggle with the Christian church. It is hard for me to see it in any way other than a failure and a detractor to true spiritual living because it has become so thoroughly corrupted. But in my anger, that is how I want to see it, but in reality, the true church (which is probably a minute fraction of what is called Christianity) is still real and alive. I know this but I do not want to believe it. But I must fight it. I do not want to loose the scent of the truth, otherwise, I will believe the lie strongly again.

I see this same form of belief system, one based on reactive thinking, existing in fundamentalist Christianity. Everything is rigid and black and white because the life and belief system believed before was destructive and unhealthy – you have gone from one extreme to the other, and the opposite extreme is a safety net that keeps you from returning to the old bad beliefs. I will tentatively admit this is healthy – but I will also admit that this is a transitional state – one not ideal to how we should be, and often does not have the potential for understanding truth objectively because it by nature is built up, brick by brick, by emotionally reacting against our old bad belief system.

In my life, another lie keeps cropping up – that I am not a good person, and that I am truly bad inside. This is not true, but I often find that I believe it. For a while in my past, this lie became so strong that it began to change my behavior – I kept thinking: “Well, since I am a bad person after all, why not just do this bad thing here…” Even though I knew the truth, the more I ignored it, the more I believed the alternative. It took God himself to reverse the direction.

This is very bad news. Because we are free, we can deceive ourselves very well – we will perceive the world as we want to see it, not how it really is. How humbling and discouraging. I find this truth the more and more I search for truth: Within me is the desire to know truth, but there is a stronger nature within me that does not want to know it, but to twist all reality to suit itself instead. It has many motivations – anger or selfishness being the two that come to mind. How can I escape myself and find truth objectively? I’ll let you answer that question, but to me it begins with this thought – I am unable to find truth on my own.

The question that haunts me right afterwards is this: Is the bad news (my inability to find truth on my own because I have a divided mind) by design? I used to think so but now I am not so sure. I think it is because something went wrong.

    5 Responses to “The dark side of free will”

    1. Johnny
      1

      Interesting thoughts. Kierkegaard made some similari arguments, you’re in good company 🙂

      Reply to this comment.
    2. Jonathan
      2
      Author Comment

      Johnny!
      Great to hear from you again! I feel that Kierkegaard might be another good one to read up on. I’ve heard he’s a little hard to read, which was in vogue in the day, but I’ve also heard his notebook is the best way to understand his views…

      Reply to this comment.
    3. John S
      3

      Your quote from Isaiah (and the many other places in the old and new testaments where similar words are written) has been on my mind too.

      First I think there is a mystery here: something we cannot quite grasp as yet. The mystery that (in SOME things) what we do to ourselves, God does to us, and vice versa.

      But basically I think Scripture is saying this: if you receive something of God’s great grace (especially important truth), but reject it and go another way, then you blindness/deafness/thoughtlessness grows and you become more blind/etc.

      Or, as others have put it (looking at God’s side of the mystery): if you say to Him in rebellion, “I will not”, He makes our “will not” into a “cannot”.

      Reply to this comment.
    4. Jonathan
      4
      Author Comment

      John S,
      Thank you for stopping by and commenting!
      I agree with you for sure. God reveals truth to us, but we have the choice to reject that revelation, whether it is about some spiritual truth, or about the reality of his existence. You are right – it is quoted other places – my first thought is by Jesus himself when referring to his ministry.

      But I think what you are adding to the discussion is this: That by revealing truth, God gives us the opportunity to not only know reality, but to choose to ignore it and blind ourselves to it. So by Him revealing that truth, it forces us to act- we will leave the fence/fork in the road that we were at before the revelation, and begin the journey down one path or the other, quite possibly without ever turning back.

      Reply to this comment.
    5. William Barr
      5

      Being forced to confront the truth of God’s existence is something that atheists have been challenged with, or reacted to, and have “decided” to reject. Whatever the source (as alluded to earlier) of their conviction (within the scope of “their free will”), atheists are due a measure of respect for the stance they take that directly challenges the God that Christians abide in. I am no evangelist but I see the fervent conviction in atheists as a positive factor that predisposes these individuals towards our God, rather than not.

      On the other hand, I might conclude that those who profess themselves as agnostic may have the most logical difficulties with accepting (our) God as they struggle to reconcile man’s free will with an all loving God. In my limited observations, free will (in the midst of pre-determination ) is regularly referenced by the agnostic as one of their pivotal stumbling blocks (in accepting the lordship of Christ). As agnostics try to logically rationalize the potential existence of a Judeo-Christian God they conclude or resign themselves to their moderate “on-the-fence” position that certainty of god is unknowable.

      Adding to this tragic irony, the agnostic is often referenced as a sincere seeker of truth (e.g., science) yet these individuals implicitly reject the source of all truth, the ultimate Truth, and thus willfully close themselves to most of the truth or knowledge they seek. Though we recognize the

      From my perspective, the free will exercised by human beings (as we understand it from the Christian perspective) is a direct result of our divine origins (i.e., God created man in his own image). The omnipotence of our Creator was demonstrated when He instilled in us the essence of His nature by creating us with free will. His limitless love is shown by how His providence to redeem us despite our free will and choice to sin.

      In the presence of God, there truly is no dark side of free will. Our ignorance (of the beginning and the end) as mere mortals fuels our skepticism as doubting Thomas’ and undermines one’s commitment to knowing God in a personal way. Ultimately, free will in man has absolutely no meaning or measure or reference point without the underpinnings of God’s grace.

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