Chapter 2: Free Will- The Master’s Master Plan?
I was always taught from my Christian school that God gave man a choice to either obey God or disobey Him in the Garden of Eden. That was God’s master plan, to plant a tree that was forbidden for them to eat of, to test them. It was never really said if God knew what would or would not happen beforehand. The school believed that God was all knowing, so they would have claimed that God knew man would fall if they were pressed, I would assume, but they never addressed that issue. I, and most of the other students, never thought that issue through either. It was an answer we were given, and in my shallow understanding of things, it worked. I was isolated in a Christian bubble, sealed off from the “real world” full of unbelievers and believers with different interpretations, counter-arguments, and rebuttals. In fact, I thought this was the only interpretation for the Christian. I took the school at its word, and thought little more of it.
I am sure this is why many Christians struggle when they go to a secular college. They come out of this Christian bubble of Christian schools and churches, where very little doctrine has been taught to begin with, and then they are bombarded with tough questions by skeptical professors and students at universities who know the Bible far better than they do. Soon, some show they were never saved to begin with, and leave the faith they once professed (although never truly possessed), while others, the true believers, are in a state of despair, and begin searching for the answers. But alas, they are already at a severe disadvantage, and by the time they catch up, if they do catch up, they are out of college.
This is a testament to the poor teaching in Christian schools and churches yet again. At the same time, something needs to be said for the student’s lack of interest in Scripture as well. While I was certainly interested in studying the Word and, if I may say so without sounding arrogant, I believe I had more of an interest than many of my peers, nevertheless, my commitment to studying Scripture on my own, to thinking about and asking the hard questions, was greatly lacking. I always perked up during chapel services or Bible class, hoping to glean something helpful, and sometimes I did. But by the time I was in high school, the questions I needed answered were questions that I should have had down pat in middle school. The questions I still didn’t understand were elementary. I was getting some of them in high school, and because I was so shallow in my faith, it seemed helpful. It was helpful, but it was merely scratching the surface. I would have been destroyed by an atheist or anyone who had actually studied the Bible with sincerity and found it contradictory, immoral, absurd, fallible, or uninspired (To this day, I am still playing catch up in those areas). I thought there was little else to Scripture and the Christian faith, but I was wrong.
For instance, I had no clue that the Old Testament was full of stories where God commands the Israelites to kill other nations- man, woman, and child. I would be willing to bet there are some in high school or even college reading this who had no idea either until just now. A friend of mine, doubting his faith when I was a junior in high school, pointed this out. He had trouble with the morality of a God who slaughters nations, including children. I had no ready answer. This didn’t sound like the God, or especially the Jesus, that I was accustomed to hearing about from my church or school. I knew there had to be a good explanation, but what that explanation was, I did not know.
Then there was the whole issue of how we know God exists. Again, my science books and science teachers didn’t offer a whole lot, except to say that both evolution and atheism or Christianity and creationism are accepted by faith. That was the grand argument, that it took faith to believe both. True enough, but so what? That doesn’t prove the existence of God. Perhaps they were implicitly stating that God couldn’t be proven. I disagree, now, many years later, but at the time I just took their word for it, that both were accepted by faith, and that the appearance of design indicated that there was a Designer. None of us would have had a chance against an evolutionist, or even someone who simply disagreed. We never explored the logical necessities of God, and I can vaguely remember one of my teachers touching on the moral proofs of God in passing, as if it were an afterthought. You weren’t aware that there were such things as “logical necessities of God” or “moral proofs” of God? Never heard of the cosmological or ontological arguments? I hadn’t either.
So at Christian school, I learned little that was actually Christian. I didn’t grow in my faith much because there wasn’t much being taught that would enable me to grow. The gospel, the “Americanized” version that is, was the main concern of the Christian school. Get students in, get them saved, and then discipline them so that they will have a passion to get others saved. The name of the game was reproducing, numbers, or so it seemed to me and some of the other students. That was what most chapels were about. To be fair, some chapels and Bible class did teach us a bit, but it was basic facts, like what the temple in the Old Testament looked like, or a quiz on what such and such a verse in Scripture says, or that drinking beer and smoking and having sex outside of marriage was a sin and the rapture was just around the corner. Rather than expounding on the Scripture itself and drawing out its meaning and implications, we mostly got a few lists of things to do, or not to do, if we want to be good Christians.
Fortunately, that did change a bit my senior year, where we had some good stuff and were exposed to Marxism and postmodernist thought, but prior to that we were encapsulated in shallow Christianity, almost exclusively. That Bible class my senior year, as much as I enjoyed it, was also a rude awakening. It was like the school was saying, “Surprise, there is so much you don’t know about, and we have neglected to teach it to you, but we are going to try to give you a picture of what it’s going to be like just before you are thrown to the wolves at college.” Or, perhaps, my Christian school just assumed that all good Christians go to Christian schools. Bad assumption. By this time, most of my fellow classmates could care less about the “deeper” things of God, and they could barely grasp surface level truths.
I say all that to say this- the only way I will be able to convince you, the reader, that the typical American gospel is a false gospel, is if you begin to realize that the Christian institutions in America, the schools, and the church primarily, aren’t doing their job. They aren’t really teaching. They are more concerned with the rapture, or if drinking beer is a sin, or sharing wild testimonies, and getting “decisions for Christ,” than they are with growing in the faith. The question needs to be asked, what exactly are we winning people to? Christ, yes, of course. But what does that look like? Just continue being a moral person, telling others about Jesus and how they too can be saved and avoid punishment? Is that really all there is to it? Is it that simple, that basic? I don’t think so, and what happened in the Garden of Eden, after man fell into sin, proves it.
We know in Genesis 2:16 that God tells Adam that he may not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And we know in Genesis 3 Adam and Eve listen to Satan, who is masquerading in the form of a serpent, and disobey God by eating of the forbidden fruit. What we sometimes overlook, or often overlook I think, is that God proclaimed the very day in which Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, they would die (Gen. 2:17). This is important, because, as we know, Adam and Eve did not die that very day. Or did they? Some take God to mean that Adam and Eve would begin to die physically the day they ate of the fruit, and I do not dispute that. But, it is also true that Adam and Eve did indeed die spiritually that day. Notice, in Gen. 3:7-11, that both Adam and Eve had their eyes “opened” and they now perceived that they were naked. They then proceed to hide from the presence of God, and are subsequently cast out of God’s presence by God Himself, banished from the Garden of Eden.
Now, before I go on to explain what exactly it means to be dead spiritually, I need to uncover why Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit. This question, I have come to believe, will actually determine if you are a Calvinist, or at least Calvinistic, or not. This may be the most important question of all, since it shapes and affects everything in this sinful world today.
First, we must concede that Adam and Eve were capable of choosing to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit. While Adam and Eve were created without sin, they were created with a free will. By free will, I mean the ability to either obey God or disobey God. What I cannot answer, however, is how they chose to disobey God. They could have chosen to not listen to the serpent and remain obedient. It wasn’t because they were tricked into eating, for it is clear that Eve knew the command of God and that she was not to eat of the fruit. Nevertheless, she was allured by the fruit, saw that it would make her wise in her own eyes, and that it was good for eating. She chose, of her own will, to disobey God and eat the fruit, because she wanted to know good and evil for herself, to be like God, to be her own boss. So did Adam. The tough question, though, is how did man, without a sin nature, incline himself to sin and eat the forbidden fruit?
Why did they want to eat the fruit, given they were made perfect, without blemish, by God? What would incline them to eat that which was forbidden to them if they were created without a sin nature? Sure the forbidden fruit looked tasty, but they did not have a sin nature like we do, so why desire the fruit knowing that it would be in direct disobedience to what God had said? I do not know the answer, but I can take comfort in not knowing because I do know why I cannot know. Let me explain that briefly.
I cannot know why Adam and Eve desired to be like God and not be obedient to Him because the only way I can understand desire is in my fallen state. What I mean is, I can no better tell you what it was like to make a decision, for the good or the bad, without a sin nature or the Holy Spirit within me, than I can tell you what it is like to breathe with gills like a fish. This is because we, as fallen sinners, do what we are most inclined to do at any given moment based off our sin nature. When I sin, it is because of my depravity that I sin. When Adam and Eve first sinned, it was not because of any inherent depravity. In other words, there was a different set of rules, or influences, that governed their decision-making process. It wasn’t sin nature or the Holy Spirit, but free will. Free will, as I am about to labor to explain, was lost when Adam and Eve fell into sin. Not that our will was lost, but our freedom to do that which is good, was lost. The freedom of the will to do that which was good, pleasing to God, was lost (Rom. 8:8).
My argument is that, although I cannot know why Adam and Eve wanted to disobey God, I do know why I cannot know, and not being able to know does not impugn on the righteousness or character of God. Therefore, I trust God in that issue, in the same way that I trust God on the issue of Him creating everything out of nothing. I don’t know how God did it because I am not God and do not have the powers to create out of nothing, but I do know that the reason I do not know is because it is God alone who has the power to create out of nothing. And in the same sense, I do not have the power of free will, for I am enslaved to my own fallen will, my sin nature (at least I was, before I was saved from my sin, but I’ll explain that when the time comes). Suffice to say that Adam and Eve did have the capacity, due to their free will, to incline their hearts towards disobedience, and somehow, within their free will, they brought evil, sin, disobedience into the world, into the realm of humanity. To be clear, I have yet to fully answer my own question that I opened this book with regarding how God can be good yet allow evil; right now I am just setting the stage. The answer will be coming.
In light of that, let’s get back to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil itself. What exactly was going on here, why did God plant this tree in the garden? It was far more than God just “honoring” Adam and Eve with free will. In fact, God wasn’t trying to honor them in that sense at all. True, part of what He was doing was testing them, allowing them to show their obedience and allegiance to Him. Man and woman were created by God, for God, to glorify God. We were created in God’s image, after His likeness, and our purpose is to glorify God in all that we do (1 Cor. 10:31). Therefore, we were made for God, by bringing Him praise and glory, and reflecting His glory in our actions and lives. And God made us so that we would receive the greatest amount of delight, pleasure, and joy in glorifying God, for He alone is worthy of all the praise and glory. This was a good deal for us- it is better to be created, fashioned to live for God, who is the most high, the most glorious, than to be created to live for ourselves. We are far inferior, far less lovely and magnificent, than God. That is a crucial point, as we will see later on.
Now, what this really was about, ultimately, was God giving man the opportunity to honor Him. By abstaining from eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve would be honoring God and praising Him as Sovereign Lord and Creator over them, giving Him the glory as they were created to do, and recognizing Him for what He actually is- the sovereign one. By being obedient, they would be acknowledging His Lordship over their lives, a Lordship which He had every right to. So this was an opportunity for God to be more glorified, and man to receive greater joy by glorifying God. Obedience requires, by its very nature, the ability to be disobedient. If I am forced to obey, or cannot do anything but obey, obedience is not obedience. Obedience is only obedience when it is chosen freely by man, and that free choosing by man to honor God is what glorifies God.
However, man didn’t choose to glorify God, but instead chose to dishonor God and glorify self by disobeying Him. The motive? That they could be like God, knowing good and evil, being their own bosses (Gen. 3:5). It was cosmic treason, and it is important to realize this. Many people, even Christians, have a hard time with the concept of eternal punishment in hell just because a few people chose to eat a piece of fruit. However, as you can hopefully see, the sin wasn’t merely in eating a piece of fruit, but eating a piece of forbidden fruit in order to throw off God as Lord, Creator, Provider, in favor of self as lord, creator, and provider- replacing God’s rule with man’s rule, self rule. In short, Adam and Eve were acting in defiance of God, choosing to live for themselves and their own desires instead of their altogether good Creator’s purposes. The result was severe- God delivered on His promise, and Adam and Eve died spiritually. They, along with the serpent, were also cursed. Pain entered into the world, physical labor was exhausting, and bringing forth fruit from the earth was now a real chore thanks in part to thorns. Man also began to physically die and suffer disease and bodily deterioration. Strife between husband and wife, and interaction between all humans, came into being, aptly demonstrated by Cain murdering his brother Abel.
But worst of all, and perhaps unbeknownst to Adam and Eve fully, spiritual death would spread to all men. It would be inherited from Adam and Eve. Romans 5 tells us that all who are born of Adam (and that would be everyone) bears the fallen, dead-in-sin nature of their first parents. It is passed down. Adam and Eve acted as representatives or our human race, meaning a solidarity exists between us and them, and consequently we are all stillborn, spiritually speaking, the moment we come into existence. The moment we are alive physically, we are dead spiritually. We may not like that, but that is probably because we are Americans. In fact, it is because we are Americans. Our mindset is that we should have the right to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, that we deserve a chance to make right what Adam and Eve made wrong. We think it unfair that the actions of our parents eternally damned the whole human race. It doesn’t agree with the “American Way” of life. Thus we have fashioned the Americanized God as an equal opportunity God- a God that enables each man to determine his or her own fate, their own salvation or damnation.
Of course, we never complain that Jesus Christ died to save men. While we do complain that we are all born spiritually dead because of one man, Adam (Romans 5:12-15,19), we seem to have no problem with being saved by the righteousness and sin-bearing death of one man, Jesus (Romans 5:19). If it wasn’t fair for us to be damned because of one man, Adam, then we should likewise be complaining that it isn’t fair that we should be saved by one man, Jesus. But of course, we don’t want to go there, do we? That is just one of the many inconsistencies of the American God, and the typical American Christian.
So the first thing you are going to have to swallow, if I am going to be able to successfully move you from the “Americanized gospel” to the gospel of the Bible (if indeed you are infected with the American gospel), is your pride. You are going to have to submit to the righteousness of Christ, rather than trying to establish your own righteousness (Rom. 10:2-4). In fact, as those verses in Romans 10 show, if you truly have not done this, you have not been saved from the law and your sin. Sadly, the American gospel confuses the purpose of the law, Christ, and the gospel, throwing salvation onto men’s shoulders by demanding they choose to live for Christ and give up their sin as a prerequisite to receiving divine favor, salvation, and forgiveness. More on that later.
For now, it needs to be stated that God didn’t leave all of history up to a coin flip. He wasn’t crossing his fingers when Eve was tempted by Satan. He knew that Adam and Eve would fall, yet He chose to let them fall anyways. Two questions arise from this that I still have yet to answer fully.
Firstly, how exactly did God know what Adam and Eve would choose, considering that a free will would allegedly have to mean that it is free of God’s foreknowledge? After all, if the act is truly free, and we are defining free will as solely up to man and not God, God could have no more clue what would be done than anyone else, for man’s free will can ebb and flow at any given moment, one way or the other, when it is not tainted with a sin nature. A free will in this sense, which is the sense the Americanized God uses, cannot be determined by God, or anyone. If God can determine the will of man, then man’s will, obviously, is not free, for there is something, or several things, that are tipping God off, showing Him what they will undoubtedly choose.
Secondly, even if we can ascertain or come up with some solution as to how God knew what Adam and Eve would choose beforehand, why on earth would He knowingly allow them to choose rebellion, if He is good and loving? If it was all about honoring man’s free will, and God knew from the beginning due to His foreknowledge that they would not honor themselves, or Him, then why create man anyways? One cannot look at the ravagings of a tornado, or hurricane, or famine, or pestilence, or war, and not conclude that this is a cruel, painful world. Or what about the heartbreak of losing a loved one, or getting cheated on? Those things hurt worse than losing all earthly possessions. How can God claim to be loving towards us, to have a goodwill towards us, and yet stand by, passively as it were, as we plummet further and further into sin, especially since He knew before He made us that we would not honor ourselves, or Him, by refraining from the forbidden fruit? (Eph. 1:4). If He were going to go through with it regardless and create us, why didn’t He stop Adam and Eve before they sinned? Wouldn’t a loving God intervene?
The answer that my Christian school gave me, as I said before, was that God was honoring us with free will. I don’t care about that honor. I would agree that God is an evil monster if that is why He let us fall into sin. I would rather not suffer the affects of sin and death and sorrow just because my first parents had a chance to really make a name for the human race. I should mention that some have recognized this major problem, that if God foreknew that we would fall, yet created us to give us the chance to honor Him and/or honor ourselves by obedience, and have resorted to saying that God cannot know the future, since man does have an entirely free will. They would be right in saying that God could not know the future if man’s will was truly altogether free, however, that is not a comforting thought. These people, called Open-Theists, say that God is learning with us, that He is guessing what we will do and trying to make the most of it. How can a god, who doesn’t know the beginning from the end, guarantee us anything? He could not. This only compounds the problem. Not to mention, it is clear from Scripture that God is all-knowing.
It is these two questions that many non-Calvinists get wrong. And because of that, their view of the purpose of God in all of His doings, in all of human history, is wrong. Think about it- if you misinterpret the reason God made man, you will inevitably misinterpret and misunderstand the very nature and character of man, the Fall, salvation, redemption, and not to mention God Himself. If we don’t know what we were made for, or why God made us, then we cannot know God and His purposes, nor ourselves and the purposes for which we were made. And if that is the case, the cross of Christ cannot be fully understood either. This is a very, very big deal.
Therefore, if you are not a Calvinist (and hopefully you find it unacceptable for God to create man to honor their free will, yet know full well before He even made them that they would fail to honor themselves, and Him, and plunge the human race into pain, suffering, and despair), then it is incredibly likely that your understanding of God’s ultimate purpose in all things, in creating us, and in allowing us to fall, is wrong. Because of that, your view, your understanding of why God made all things, including us, is wrong. So please understand, if you are in this situation, it is not merely that you misunderstand or have misinterpreted your purpose and what God is like, you have believed a lie about who you are and what God is like. This is not to say that you are automatically an unbeliever, but it is to say that you are at the very least severely handicapped in your faith.
How would you answer these two questions? As mentioned earlier, in high school I had never even fathomed such a deep and profound, and important, question. My thinking was shallow. I know if I were put on the spot I would have not had a good answer. I believe I do have the answer now, given to me by Scripture and the grace of God. I learned of it first as a Calvinist, in my first semester at a secular college, on the internet.