Musings on Free Will

This is not a particularly theological comment. It's a little early in the morning for that.

Musing after New Word Alive on Terry Virgo's comment that the Father has the best parties. In the story Jesus told of the Father and the two sons there are two strikingly different ways for the sons to express their contempt of the Father.

Remember that he divides his property between them, the younger and older both get a share. The younger squanders it on prostitutes. He flees from the Father assuming that he can get better in riotous living. The shock for him is when he realises that joy of the Father is overwhelmingly better than anything he can get elsewhere. Why would you live either with prostitutes or in destitution when you can have the joy of His house? It either means that you have a wrong view of the world, believing lies about how much it can give you, or a wrong view of the Father, believing far too little about his goodness.

The older brother on the other hand just behaves as if the Father never gave him anything. "All these years I slaved for you and you never gave me a young goat." He flees from the Father too, into self-imposed drudgery and resentment. Never enjoying who he really is and who the Father really is. His view of serving the Father is far from the freedom of joy that it should have been. He too believes lies. He has persuaded himself of a lack of love and joy from the Father that is absolutely out of sync with reality. And that his position is not that of a dear son. The big sting in the story is we don't know if he ever went to the party.

Here are two wrong ideas about freewill:


  1. it is better to have the freedom to go to the far country. That somehow the freedom to do so makes us more human or our relationship with God more authentic. The far country is rubbish. When the younger son comes to his senses that is exactly what he sees. When we come to our senses we realise that having the freedom to act autonomously without reference to the Father is definitely not what it is cracked up to be
  2. that lacking freewill leaves us "slaving" with the older brother, with no more relationship to the Father than a hired hand or a robot. Unwilling to admit that there is a brilliant party to be a part of. Anyone can castigate lack of free will and applaud libertarian human freedom and autonomy if you cast it in those terms. The trouble is that the terms are wrong


In the story of the prodigals the desire for freedom is a rubbish desire, and the wrong view on being with the Father is worse.

The person who most closely lived with the Father was Jesus. We might say that he was the least free of the Father's will of anyone who ever lived. He said in John 5 that he only ever does what he sees the Father doing. Would anyone like to claim that he wasn't the most free, the most exuberant, the person most full of godly joy and wonder? If growing as a Christian is the process of being changed by the Holy Spirit to be more like Jesus (it is), that means increasing dependence on the Father, increasingly not desiring to be free from his plans and purposes in our wills. Not independence. The desire for that freedom is, in itself, sin. Christian maturity (and Christian joy) is about laying down our desire for freedom from the Father. 

Did the sons have free will, the one to run off, the other to misconceive his identity? I guess to a point, but only as the Father allowed it. They weren't free within their wills, they were only free within his. He didn't have to divide the property. He could have stopped the first leaving the joy of his house and forced the second to come in. You might want to say that is giving a measure of freedom, but finally the Father has the right and the ability to control if he wants to. And that is GOOD! Who wants freedom at the price of such stupidity? 

To theorise that we are better off otherwise, with a better relationship with the Father on terms that we have a hand in deciding, is to swap the party, music and dancing, the robe and the ring and the fatted calf for rubbish. Whether we do it with hedonistic licence or religious drudgery. Freedom from the will of the Father is suicidal for our joy because the Father has the best parties.

The question to ask in any discussion about free will vs predestination is not "do we have free will?" but "why on earth would I want it? Is there any conceivable way I am better off going it on my own rather than submitting to the Father?"