Human Free Will and the Problem of Evil

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One of the garden variety objections usually thrown out by atheists and skeptics – especially after a tragic event – is: “Why can’t God just instantly fix all the injustices, wickedness and outrages in the world? If God is so good why is this world so messed up?”

Notice, these folks imagine God to be like a wishing well. Just toss a coin in and your dreams come true. This is not how God works and such a narrow concept of God evinces ignorance. God will still fix these evils at the end of the age – in His own time – not ours.

Many of the atrocities, disorder and outrages in the world stem from man’s free will and humans, to an extent, can “fix” some of these problems. The question is, why do we always blame God for what we entirely caused? This blame-shifting mentality is as old as Eden. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, but the serpent had no one to blame.

God cannot instantly “fix” the mess in the world because to do so will override human free will. Now what does free will means? It’s the ability of mankind to make willing choices that have real effects.

It is the ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded; it’s the power to make decisions. I’ve had some dear Christians say rather brazenly, “There’s no such thing as ‘free will’ in the Bible.” They are either repeating someone’s line or their adherence to a theological system precludes them from seeing it.

The term “free-will” appears several times in the Bible. It occurs as “freewill offerings” (Ex. 36:3; Lev. 7:16; Amos 4:5), “freewill offering to the LORD” (Ezk. 46:12) and offerings from “everyone who is willing” and “each man whose hearts prompts him to give” (Ex. 35:5; 25:2). If the concept is an illusion, it wouldn’t have been alluded to.

The heart is the seat of the will and emotions. Free will is very essential to man’s relationship with God. He calls us to love, obey, serve, worship and to do so by choice. Without free will, it will be impossible for us to love or hate, choose or reject, submit or rebel. For example:

Loving God
Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30)

Love can only come willingly; you can’t compel someone to love you. God in His love gave us the freedom to serve and love Him with the whole of our hearts. This command is meaningless if we don’t have the power of choice.

Service
Be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you” (1 Sam. 12:24)

David admonished Solomon “acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts” (1 Chr. 28:9)

Choice
Joshua said “then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites…” (Jos. 24:15)

If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (Jn. 7:17)

But you are not willing to come to me to have life” (Jn. 5:40)

If people are not willing to come to God or Christ, then there must be a choice to be willing. In fact, God’s warnings and ultimate judgement are meaningless (if not mockeries) if humans lack a free will.

I have seen this time and again when people trapped in false religions willingly seal their hearts to the truth of the Christian Faith and this prevents them from learning anything. The Bible warns: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart” (Heb. 4:7)

Obedience
If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good of the land.” (Is. 1:19)

If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn my heart against their foes!” (Ps. 81:13-14)

Coming to God
Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live” (Isa. 55:3)

Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28)

The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Rev. 22:17).

Seeking God
I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me” (Prov. 8:17)

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts” (Isa. 55:6-7)

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (Jas. 4:8).

Praying for God’s will on earth

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10)

This shows that not everything that happens on earth is God’s will, otherwise there would have been no use for this prayer. To assert that everything that happens is according to God’s will and man has no power to decide logically implies that the rapes, murders, wars and evil in the world today are God’s handiwork. That’s theologically abhorrent.

Rejecting His ways
“I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me” (Isa. 1:2)

I am bringing disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not listened to my words and have rejected my law” (Jer. 6:19)

But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves…” (Luke 7:30)

Ezra said “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him” (8:22)

Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water” (Jer. 17:13b)

They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor…” (2 Pet. 2:15).

A major objection raised to the reality of the free will is that God foreknows and wills all things, otherwise we can’t believe, trust and rely on His promises. This was an argument raised by Martin Luther in The Bondage of the Will. But this is faulty on 3 counts:

1. Scripture doesn’t imply that God knows all things beforehand because He has caused it, much less that He must cause it in order to know it. Granted, God knows everything that will happen before it happens. That’s why the Bible is full of prophecies. But foreknowledge is not the same as predestination.

To know something in advance is not the same as predetermining that it will happen. God doesn’t need to predestinate something in order to know it will happen. For example, in Job’s case, God knew he would be would stand the trials, but God wasn’t the author of his troubles.

2. We can believe, trust and rely on God’s promises because He is God and “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). He doesn’t have to will all things for Him to make or keep His promises. We can trust Him because He is faithful and sovereign, and He will fulfil His Word regardless of the will or actions of man or nature.

3. It’s unbiblical and fallacious to assert that God’s foreknowledge eliminates human free will. God being Sovereign can effect His eternal purposes unhindered and yet allows man freedom of choice. Both man’s free will and God’s Sovereignty are presented in Scripture (cf. Ps. 75:6-7; Jer 10:23; Rom. 8:28 etc). To deny either is to espouse a heresy.

Many Calvinists and Lutherans will perhaps find this indigestible, but we don’t accept something just because someone influential said it. We need to examine the Bible for ourselves in arriving at truth. Even Augustine of Hippo, whom Calvin and Luther fondly admired wrote:

“Therefore we are by no means compelled, either, retaining the prescience of God to take away the freedom of the will, or, retaining the freedom of the will, to deny that He is prescient of future things, which is impious. But we … faithfully and sincerely confess both” (The City of God, V. 10. 1977, 35).

Conclusively, the evils we see in the world today are results of people who have rejected God and His Word and have chosen to serve Satan and sin. Therefore, they have no moral anchor, no empathy, no reason, no hope, no direction, no shame, no conscience, no understanding of right and wrong, and most of all, no willingness to even listen to any other view except their own.