Free will. This has got to be one of the most readily used “escape out of a difficult conversation for free” cards by Christians. It is my argument of choice (at least currently anyway!) in addressing the ugly problem of evil. Especially the evil committed by human kind to itself. The existence of evildoers etc is not so much the issue, but the fact that we believe in a God who does not appear to intervene. God did not stop Hitler’s plans, even though one may believe that God knew Hitler’s destiny from even before the womb. So why not? How could a merciful loving God who desires to be reconciled with his creation allow these things to occur? Surely this is inconsistent? Either that, or God can’t intervene. Ta Da! Out comes the free will card. God does not intervene with our capacity to exercise our free will, whether we use it for the betterment or the detriment of ourselves and others. If He did intervene and override our will, we would be reduced to puppets, robots. So the argument goes. Now my tone is a tad sarcastic here, but I have faithfully reproduced this argument when confronted by spiritual seekers who struggle to climb over this mountain. To be honest, I don’t think my argument helps them. I don’t think debates full stop are terribly effective in drawing people to Jesus, but that is not the point of this post.
God does not need to be defended. A brief perusal of my fave book of Job makes this point loud and clear. However, on this topic Christians are often called to explain their beliefs and God’s seeming inaction.
The book “The Openness of God” has an interesting comment to make on this topic in the preface, highlighting a logical inconsistency in the use of the “free will perspective”. How many of us pray for a job? A spouse? A relationship that seems to be struggling? Someone who needs protection from something, or even themselves? When we ask God to intervene in these situations, what exactly are we asking Him to do? Er… override the free will of the desired recipient of God’s intervention.
So God does not intervene in stopping evil, but will make the “gorgeous brunette over there notice me”, because I ask Him to? Please note this comment is to make the point only, not to suggest that I am seeking a love interest! Nick Cave has an interesting lyric on this idea:
“I don’t believe in an interventionist God
But I know darling that you do
But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him
Not to intervene when it came to you
Not to touch a hair on your head
To leave you as you are
And if He felt He had to direct you
Then direct you into my arms
Into my arms O Lord (from The Boatman’s Call, Into My Arms)
I think the problem is clear, although I wish the solution was also. The bible speaks of praying for each other, praying for our needs, intercession etc, suggesting that God does intervene in the lives of His people. And, I believe this has been borne out in my own personal experiences. However, I am now less certain how the “free will” card really works, if indeed it does. Maybe getting out of the preface of the book will help…