Monday, February 23, 2009

Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom IV

(Image from Wikipedia)

I have the image above from Wikipedia, which confidently informs me that "Augustine of Hippo wrote that original sin is transmitted by concupiscence and enfeebles freedom of the will without destroying it." The anonymous contributer then cites an article on "Free Will" in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press, 1997), edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. The statement that Augustine 'affirmed' free will surprises me, for I thought that he had denied it. Unfortunately, I cannot check the article to see what the anonymous Wikipedia individual was referring to, for I do not have the book that contains it.

Well, that's my opening gambit, and it ain't much of one, but I liked the image of Augustine -- his eyes lifted up -- deeply engaged in moral and theological reasoning, for it's indicative of the deep waters into which I've gotten myself (my eyes also lifted up as I sink beneath the waves).

For instance, in an earlier post defending free will, I had innocently noted that "a 'should' entails a 'could.'" To this, Dominic Bnonn Tennant posted a response, asking:
[O]n what basis do you say that a "should" entails a "could"? All men should be perfect. Are you arguing that all men could be perfect? An imperative in no way leads one to infer an indicative.
I've been hesitating to reply to this because I felt that I needed better grounding in the philosophical thinking on this issue. I don't want to go about reinventing the wheel. The wheel has already been invented, improved, possibly even 'perfected', so my own wheel is likely to be a crude one, vastly inferior. But I'll make some suggestions and ask some questions.

First, the suggestions.

Bnonn's statement that "All men should be perfect" is a Christian one, probably based on Matthew 5:48:
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (King James Version)

ἔσεσθε οὖν ὑμεῖς τέλειοι, ὥσπερ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς τέλειός ἐστιν (Textus Receptus)
I borrow this verse, both in English and Greek, from the Blue Letter Bible, as one might have expected. I admit that I've always been somewhat puzzled by this imperative, for it seems to be exhorting people to be something beyond their power. Possibly, one should understand the imperative to mean, "Try to be perfect, and you will learn that this is impossible, for the law is intended to teach you that you will fail" -- if one were to apply a Pauline hermeneutic here (cf. Romans 5:13-17 and Galatians 3:19-25, among other places). But maybe the point goes a bit further, namely, that perfection is possible, ultimately, if one accepts the grace offered and the glorification promised (again applying a Pauline hermeneutic, cf. 1 Corinthians 15:42-54). Perhaps one needs help to be perfect, but if one should be perfect, then one ought to accept that help.

I'll get to my questions in a moment, but I should note an example that Bnonn provided to illustrate that an "ought" does not always imply a "could":
Say a man embezzles a million dollars, and is subsequently caught. At trial, because of mitigating circumstances, the judge agrees to defer jailtime if the man simply pays back the money. Unfortunately, most of it has already been squandered. Surely we'd agree that the man ought to pay back the money (in fact, even if he were not so ordered, he still ought to pay it back) -- yet certainly he cannot pay it back. The imperative does not imply an indicative.
I think that the issue would be more complex than this. Of course, the man should not have embezzled the money in the first place, and presumably, he had a choice about that. Since he is guilty of a crime, he must make some sort of restitution or be punished (or both). One way would be for him to repay the money, and he should do this if he can. If he lacks the funds now, he could be required to pay back in installments. There is some possibility of repaying, even if the man currently lacks the money. By contrast, we would never say of a murderer that he should bring the dead man back to life, for that is not only currently impossible but also utterly beyond all human possibility. Returning to the embezzlement case, if for some reason -- let us assume -- we know that the man would not, ever, be able to repay, then the legal system could provide for punishment instead. The reasoning would be: "Since the man is guilty, then he should repay the funds if he can, but since he cannot repay the funds, then he should be punished with prison time." A legal system would be foolish to insist that the man should repay if he cannot. It would, rather, insist that the man serve time in prison.

Now for my questions.

How would an imperative make sense if the act demanded were impossible? I can understand that an imperative might be given to teach a lesson, e.g., "Okay, be perfect by your own efforts if you think that you can be (but you'll find that you cannot)." But would that be a genuine imperative? Or rather a means of teaching a lesson? In the embezzlement example above, however, the moral assumption is that the man had a choice between embezzling or not embezzling. If he were forced at gunpoint to embezzle, we would likely not hold him responsible. Or, to put things another way, we would not hold the man's computer responsible for the embezzlement, for the computer had no choice, being merely an instrument of the man's will. Would we say that the computer should not have carried out the man's will? Wouldn't that be demanding of a computer that it ought to act in a way that it cannot act? Would such a demand make any sense?

I'm not sure if I've adequately responded to this part of Bnonn's objections to my view that an "ought" implies a "could." Probably, I've merely chiseled a rough-hewn wheel from philosophical stone.

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At 9:05 PM, Blogger Jason Poquette said...

Dr. Hodges,

I think the most relevant imperative to this discussion is found in John 11:43 where Jesus says "Lazarus come forth." Here, in my opinion, is the imperative that most closely resembles the call of the gospel to mankind. Lazarus was dead. According to Scripture, mankind is also spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1). The call of the gospel to repent and believe goes to all, but apart from a sovereign work of regeneration man cannot respond. Lazarus was given a command he could not obey. It was God who made him able.

How it is that man can be fully responsible while the Lord remains fully sovereign is a mystery. If man is not free, it would seem that God is unfair. But look at Romans 9:10-13 and see God's sovereign choice of Jacob instead of Esau. The text is plainly teaching that God made a choice about their eternal destinies. Paul knows our natural argument will be to complain to God this is unfair. So he says "What shall we say then, Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not" (9:14). He then goes on to quote from the OT "I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion" (9:15).

The Bible teaches that man, left to his own will, would never come to Christ (John 1:13, John 6:44,Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 3:11, 1 John 4:19). The Bible describes man, as he is born, as a slave of sin (John 8:34, Romans 6:15-19). The only "freedom" he has naturally is freedom to sin. His mind is at war with God (Romans 8:7).

AW Pink offers much more help with this difficult issue than I can provide. His book "The Sovereignty of God" has a chapter (chapter 7) entitled "God's Sovereignty and Human Will."

Your posts are always very thought provoking. Your academic achievements are impressive, and your gracious manner of writing and responding keep me coming back. I consider myself quite unworthy of replying amongst the bright scholars your posts often attract. Nevertheless I'll toss in my mites and let come what may. Blessings to you in your search for the truth.

At 9:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not among the list of "bright scholas" referred to by Jason, but I will also put in my two cents (a major over-evaluation, I fear).
I have also struggled with the question of divine sovereignty and human freedom, among other problems in the Bible.
When I realized that I was a lost sinner, in need of forgiveness and of a saviour who would provide redemption and salvation, I gave my heart and life to Jesus Christ.
As I am nearing seventy years of age, I still don't have the answers to many questions regarding this subject and others.
I do believe the Bible.
I take comfort in the words, "All that the Father giveth me will come unto me, and all that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.
John 6:37)". (And John 3:16).
I take some comfort that I will precede nephew Jeffery in leaving this life, and when he arrives at heaven's portals, I will be waiting for him with all the answers.
I wish you good health and a long life, nephew.

Uncle Cran

At 10:03 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Jason, for your kind remarks. I do try to be considerate with people who visit, for most are doing me a favor in stopping by . . . and as for those who aren't doing me a favor, well, I've learned from bitter experience to avoid arguments.

I really shouldn't blog on some issues, though, because I know too little and attract the attention of people smarter and better informed than I am -- and often a lot younger, too, e.g., Bnonn (who's half my age!).

People are forever posing questions that I cannot answer.

But I'll try to respond to some of them. Let me address the Lazarus question. According to the details of the story, Lazarus was certainly dead, but does that mean that he didn't exist? My impression is that the New Testament doesn't teach what is sometimes called "soul sleep," so Lazarus would, presumably, be aware and capable of response. I'm not certain of the implications of this, however.

I know that I need to deal with a lot of verses in discussing such issues as free will, but I will need to approach this slowly, step by step. My intuition is that without free will, human beings would bear no responsibility for their actions, but the Bible certainly teaches that people bear responsibility. If free will is necessary for personal responsibility, then free will must be compatible with divine sovereignty. If so, then I want to know how to reconcile these two givens.

I think that I need to read more in order to deal adequately with this issue, and I've found Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig helpful in illuminating difficult points . . . even though the two of them often go beyond my expertise.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:05 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, I'll probably have to wait that long for most of the answers, so you'd better do your homeword (unlike me)!

Jeffery Hodges

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