On Free Choice of the Will
On Free Choice of the Will
Questions to be addressed: Would a good God let bad things happen? Why does man choose to do evil? For many people, nothing drives them away from Religion like pushy, preachy people. I don’t feel that I am knowledgeable enough to argue many points when it comes to religion. I’m actually not a huge fan of organized religion myself. Like most things, it has its good and bad points, but overall, anything that brings people to God is great. However, you won’t find a better example of hypocrisy than the church. Throughout history, no cause has driven people to war like religion.
On the other hand, if one does not agree with what people have done to the church, does that mean we have to turn away from its very foundation? When one analyzes the core of Religion, they discover that its most basic principles are, in fact, good. God IS good, right? Does God allow bad things to happen? Yes. But why? Because He has to in order to keep His promise of free will. God doesn’t make bad things happen, people do. God doesn’t snap his fingers and *poof*, somewhere in the world another person is murdered. That murderer chose to put himself in that situation. So does God let this happen?
In the sense that He allowed the murderer to exercise free will – Yes, He did. Does this mean that we should blame God? No, I don’t think so. There is nothing I am more grateful for than my free will. There would not be much of a life without it. In Saint Augustine’s On Free Choice of the Will, the idea that God allows bad things to happen is presented in a conversation between himself and Evodius. On page 5 line 19 of the text, Augustine states “Yet it perplexes the mind how God should not be indirectly responsible for these sins, if they come from those very souls that God created and if, moreover, these souls are from God.
” The entire concept of blaming God for bad things has always been hard for me to understand, but the book does clarify many points. I intend on presenting those points by defining several terms and applying them to the argument that Saint Augustine uses in order to obtain a sufficient answer to the question. In order to do this, we must assume that God does exist. People often say, “I know there’s a God, but I want to understand: Is this God good? And if he is good, then why do bad things happen?
” By asking this question, one might really be asking “Does God even exist? ” which is completely different. The question of whether or not God exists has nothing to do with people’s suffering, but instead, with creation, revelation, world history, etc. Therefore, for simplicity, we will not venture to answer that question and will assume that God does exist. The question we are addressing is, in essence, requiring us to “judge God. ” In discussing this issue, I have chosen not to address the question of why particular things happen.
Take a physicist, for example. He may be able to tell you why a leaf will fall in a certain place- it has to do with the aerodynamics of the leaf, the force of gravity, and the direction of the velocity; however, if you ask him where the leaf will fall, he cannot because it is impossible to quantify the different forces that a make a leaf fall in a particular place. Of course, he can propose several general principles, but calculating exactly where it will land is beyond the realm of his analysis. It’s the same idea here.
We won’t be able to say why specific things are happening in a specific situation, but we will be able to speak about general principles that can lead us to understand the workings of a good God who lets bad things happen. The Bible tells us: “God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him” (Genesis 1:27). What does it mean that man was created in God’s image? It means that human beings are finite and corporal. So how are we created in God’s image? Obviously, the “image of God” is dealing with the non-physical part of us – the soul. We get our drive for morality and meaning from the soul which is in the “image of God.
” Just as God has independent choice, so too does each human being have independent moral choice. The image of God means that we have the ability to choose. The ability to choose is what makes us special as a race. Life only becomes meaningful because of our ability to choose. Take love for example. The difference in being programmed to love and the choice to love, is exactly what makes love special. Similarly, if I don’t have the choice to do good, but am programmed to do good, then there’s nothing meaningful about it. On the same accord, if I have the ability to do good or evil, then good becomes significant.
For a choice to be truly genuine, there must also be consequences. If every time I get in trouble, mom comes to bail me out, that’s not really a choice. Choice means consequences. Our history-personal or global- is based on decisions made by human beings including the consequences that come from that. Now we understand that “image of God” means that God created beings who have the ability to make decisions, and those decisions will create consequences that will make this being a co-partner in the development of the world. This has many ramifications as far as why God allows bad things to happen.
For free choice to operate, it’s obvious that evil has to have the possibility of existing. If every time someone chooses to do evil, God is going to interfere, then there’s no moral choice. If every time the gun is pointed, the turret points backwards, after a few times you get the message. It simply becomes pragmatic not to do evil. If the lives of the righteous were obviously perfect, that too would destroy the possibility of choice. Pragmatically, we’d figure it pays more to be righteous because look at all the good things that come my way! That’s not choice. That’s not becoming God-like.
A world where a human being can create himself into a Moses, also carries the possibility of a person creating himself into a Hitler. We have to understand and appreciate that in the Holocaust, it was not God who built the crematoriums, it was the Nazis. It is not God who was massacring Muslims in Bosnia, it was the Serbs. Augustine’s approach to the “free choice of the will” assumes that “there can be no denying that we have a will. ” Instead, Augustine defines “good will” as “a will by which we seek to live a good and upright life and to attain unto perfect wisdom” which, of course, assumes that it is free.
Those who choose evil are ruled by their passion and desire for things of this world. This is futile because they only have, as Augustine says, “the love of things which each one can lose against his will. ” One who chooses to do good ultimately gains everything because there is no fear of losing “things” due to lack of attachment to them. Those who become perfect could lose every material thing and still gain all precisely because they are trying to attain the perfect, which is wisdom. Wisdom cannot be lost as long as someone has good will. This leads us to the question: Why would we choose evil?
It is my belief that humans always choose to do good, it’s just a matter of whether one chooses a lesser “good. ” This occurs when one chooses to allow passions and desires to rule the soul, which tend toward things of this world. While Augustine’s friend Evodius can claim “there is a great difference between” passion-desire and fear, fear is a part of passion. We fear because we hate something, which may or may not equate itself to reason. Therefore someone of good will necessarily seeks to order oneself perfectly with God’s lines of the Gloria: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to men of good will” (Luke 2:14).
Augustine begins to answer the question why man chooses to do evil by declaring what makes humans distinct from animals. It is the fact that humans have the capability of reasoning and animals do not. He points out that some things that men possess uniquely as opposed to animals, such as the “power to jest and laugh” and “the love of praise and glory,” are “of a lower order. ” As a result, when reason rules the soul, “the more perfect [reason] is made subject to the less perfect [desire and passion]. ” In our day, most people do not even realize they should work toward having reason rule their lives.
It has been “in style” for more than one hundred years that humans must have their desires and passions rule their lives. Those who have reason rule their lives are thought to be “rigid” because reason assumes that someone can find truth, which many now claim is impossible. One can view this outlook first hand. It is manifested by people who think they can determine their own morality and even reality. On the flipside, people tend to think they’re at the mercy of the bad things that happens to them to explain away their need to eliminate their faults.
If we have a free will, then we also have the duty to make decisions based on a well-formed conscience and what is good and evil. What determines whether a particular action is good does not depend on one’s own judgment on whether “it feels good” or “does not hurt anyone. ” Instead, we have a duty to determine good and evil based on truth and to have it rule one’s life, with passion and desire subject to it. When people are ruled by feelings, it necessarily diminishes the dignity of a person. When a soul is not well-ordered, the ability to use one’s will freely is diminished, but not completely destroyed.
Rather, we have the duty to work to order our souls correctly, no matter how low we’ve gotten. An interesting fact about Augustine exemplifies man’s imperfections and low points. According to an online encyclopedia reference site (Wikipedia. com), Augustine had a mistress for several years before turning from evil to do good. Not much more was written about this incident, but it did mention that Augustine attributed his rise from a life of sin to a great doctor of the Church by means of God’s grace. He believed that through God’s grace, we can choose to become men of good will and live good lives.
For me, a “good life” means that I make a comfortable living as a doctor, I and my family enjoy good health, and then I die peacefully at age 80. That’s a good life. Anything else is “bad. ” In a limited sense, that’s true. But if we have a soul and there is such a thing as eternity, then that changes the picture entirely. Eighty years in the face of eternity is not such a big deal. Relating this to a major historical event, after being responsible for the torture and deaths of millions of people, could Hitler could really “end it all” by just swallowing some poison? No.
Ultimate justice is found in another dimension. I will stop myself there since the concept of “another dimension” is a whole other argument. That it is very difficult for us to “judge” God because we are stuck in time and space. And because our view is so limited, when “bad” things happen, there are so many possibilities of why it’s happening that we are incapable of considering them all: Is this a challenge in life that was given to me so I could become an example to inspire others? Or is this to get me to fix a wrong I’ve done? Or is this due to historical/national forces that are affecting me as an individual?
Or is what’s happening to me now through a choice that I’ve made? Or that I’m on my own because I’ve distanced myself? ” The fact that there are so many possibilities makes it easier to come to terms with the question and to be more comfortable realizing that if I had God’s infinite view I would understand. Until that day comes, these theories of mine will have to do. On Free Choice of the Will by Saint Augustine An essay providing insight as to why a good God lets bad things happen as well as why men choose to do evil. Roya Mohebpour.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 9 November 2016
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