The formal class part of RCIA has begun for this year. I’m the go-to guy for history & theology (how profoundly frightening this is has so far escaped our beloved DRE). All this means is that if anyone wants, or, more likely, I decide on my own that anyone needs, a more formal definition or some historical context, I’m the guy who provides it. Such as I might. This leads to me thinking about how to talk about various dogmas in a way that isn’t too hoity-toity yet gets the essential nature and purpose across.
With that in mind, here are some thoughts on Free Will. Where angels fear to tread, and all that.
While we were created in the image of God, God is still very different from us. God’s freedom is part of his eternal Being – it is not so much something He does, bit rather is a fundamental part of Who He is. Nothing outside constrains God; He freely acts in accordance with His infinite goodness and love. Every action of God is utterly free, and completely an expression of divine goodness and love.
While God is not compelled or constrained by external thing, it might be said that He just can’t contain Himself – His loving kindness boils over in His creations. All of creation is a free expression of God’s nature as a loving Father and Creator.
Creation is thus an expression of God’s life and profound joy. It is not like a clock, built once, wound up, and then left to play itself out. Rather, God loves the world into existence at every moment. In Him we live, and move, and have our being. Each of us is a unique expression of His boundless joy.
Out of this joy, God gave man and the angels freedom. This created freedom is a reflection of God’s nature, perhaps the key aspect of our being made in His image. It is a gift from God, loved into being by God, and as an aspect of God, as sacred as God Himself. As an essential aspect of this gift, God will not overrule us.
But to be free in our own little way, our acts must participate in God’s freedom. God’s freedom is always expressed through overflowing love and goodness. Thus, we can only be free when we, too, act in harmony with that divine love and goodness. Acting against God is choosing slavery; once enslaved, we have lost our freedom. Yet God, in His mercy, will always, as long as we live in this changeable world, hold out to us the opportunity to repent, to turn from the slavery of our sins back to the freedom of His will.
An example: A man on the edge of a giant cliff is free to step off the cliff. If he does so, he has lost all freedom: he is subject to the laws of physics, and will fall to his death, shattered on the rocks below. God did not give the man freedom so that he could jump off a cliff. Rather, He gave us freedom so that we, too, could share in His joy as joyful, loving creators in our own little way. Yet that freedom means that we just might choose to step off the cliff.
The moral law, another creation of God, is, in effect, a warning: don’t step off the cliff! As long as we work to avoid sin and repent of the sins we have committed, we have the freedom to act in accordance with God’s loving Will. We stay away from the cliff. Reject the law of God, and we at best court disaster. Without God’s loving guidance as expressed in His law, we will, sooner or later, fall off the cliff of our own free will!
That we are free is a gift and a miracle. The saints, who have surrendered their wills to God’s Will, who have willingly died to themselves, paradoxically enjoy complete freedom. It is when we humbly recognize that we don’t really know what’s good for us and don’t always want what’s best for us that God can show us the Way to complete, joyful freedom.
So, do you think this would be helpful to someone investigating the Catholic Faith?
5 thoughts on “Thinking About Free Will”
I especially like the cliff analogy. I’ll be covering The Fall with my Religious Education kids on Monday, and may need to borrow your analogy.
Excellent. Will definitely use with the Sunday School kiddos. Thanks.
This is very, very well said.
Well, if you find you’re delivering yourself of those thoughts to someone “investigating the Catholic faith,” all I can say is you have a higher class of converts over there than we do here in flyover country. Or at any rate, better read.
This is rather good, but I wouldn’t say ‘Without God’s loving guidance as expressed in His law, we will, sooner or later, fall off the cliff…’ because that sounds rather legalistic, which suggests that God’s will can be codified (remember Prots like things written down, with Thou Shalt Not’s).
I would say, if you avoid being subject to laws (revenge, gravity, usury, gluttony-induced morbidity, etc.), you stay in God’s will. In your example, the person stepping off the cliff has surrendered his freedom to a set of laws that will bring about his end. Avoiding being subject to gravity, in this case, is freedom.
Ol’ Nick loves laws. He uses them to accuse us at every turn, even after we’re dead! As someone once said, ‘He weighs all things to a nicety in the scales of his malice.’ Jesus came to liberate us from that, and when we escape ‘all [their] arithmetic is dismayed.’