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01.01.1970 01:0000    Comments: 0    Categories: General Articles      Tags:
What is Free Will

Ed M. Smith

(This article is a response to an email question I received)

Question: I am not sure that I agree with you completely on the teaching about free will. I think that there are examples in Scripture where God did violate people's will and stopped them from doing what they wanted to do. For example what about Balaam and his donkey that talked to him. God stopped Balaam from going where he was going. What about the Tower of Babel where God changed the people's language and stopped them building the tower? I think you need to think this through.

Ed Smith's response: I appreciate your observation concerning these passages and how they apply to free will. It is true; God did intervene and put a roadblock in the pathway of these people in each of these examples. The Bible has many examples of Him doing this. I believe that this is one of the ways He gives direction to His people even today. I call this doing directional signs (and sometimes stop signs). I have appreciated Him doing this with me numerous times throughout my lifetime. He has saved me from some major blunders. However, in all of these cases (the biblical examples and mine); God is not violating free will. Free will has to do with my ability to choose, not in roadblocks that hinder my options.

As long as I have the option to choose something other than God's will then I still have my will in place. The moment that God does not allow any choice but His will then I no longer have a will. The only place I can find where God has eliminated all options but His, is when He removes a person from this life. When God says it is my time to die, there is nothing I can do, all options are removed but one; death. This is the only time I can find in the Bible where man's free will is violated and the outcome is death. The Scriptures and history have taught us that God does not violate the right of decision-making that He gives to us. He allows us to act as evil or as good as we choose and even allows us to violate each other's wills without His interceding. Herein, I sometimes struggle when I minister to people who have been violated and wounded by the willful choosing of evil people. I have ministered with people who report that during the time of the horrible violation, they cried out to God to help them and to deliver them, but to no avail. He apparently sometimes allows evil people to do very evil things even when His children cry out for help. This is not to say that He does not place things in our pathway that hinder our direction. However, in these situations the free will decision making process is never taken off line. He may put up a wall but I do not have to choose His will. I can sit down and do nothing, go a different direction or even end my own life. It is still my choice.

Here is an excerpt from a section from the new manual. Though God may not violate our will in a matter, He will, and often does, orchestrate our environment, which affects our decision making in order to motivate us to move in the right direction. Nevertheless, there are always good and evil options available to me allowing me to choose. For example, God, told Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach repentance. Jonah said, "No." God did not say, "Oh yes you will." Instead, he let Jonah make free will choices to run in the opposite direction. However, the Bible says that "The Lord hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea" (Jonah 1:4) and that "The Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights" (Jonah 1:17). God does make it difficult for us to make bad choices at times because He loves us and we belong to Him. God hindered Jonah's direction but did not violate his freedom of choice. Jonah still made the choices that he made. In a practical manner, God will cause things to occur in the life of the people to whom you minister to motivate them to go where they need to go during the ministry session. I have had a few people along the way who did not get to the place of peace in a particular session and we scheduled them to return later. I have been amazed at how things will then happen in their life that is exactly what they needed to motivate them to go forward during their next session. When a person becomes stuck you could ask the Lord to "hurl a great wind or appoint a great fish" to motivate them. However, in fairness, we also need to pray the same for ourselves. Even more so, we need to learn to stop praying that God will remove the "wind and the fish" he appoints for us, and learn to submit to His handiwork. "Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right" (1 Pet. 4:19).

We see this same sort of thing in other places in the Bible where God does put a roadblock in the direction a person is moving. Probably one of the better-known stories is Balaam and his talking donkey. The angel of the Lord appeared and stood in the way blocking Balaam from moving where he was going. However, in this story as with Jonah, God created a motivation for Balaam to move in the right direction but the choosing was still left up to him. The roadblock does not violate the person's choosing, it only requires he make a different choice. This same phenomenon occurs naturally in life as well. We make plans to go a certain way, but may be thwarted by a natural event. Now we have to choose to do something otherwise. Nevertheless, we are still choosing. Though I am hindered in direction my ability to choose is not violated. God did not violate Jonah's choosing (will) when He sent the storm. Jonah still refused to go to Nineveh. The great fish did not violate Jonah's choosing even though he spit him out in the direction God wanted him to go. Jonah still could have said no to God and gone another direction. However, there is a time where God removes all options limiting me with only one choice and that is the point of departure from this earth. We have no choice about dying when God decides to remove us from this place. Sometimes God ends our life as a consequence of the free will choices we make.

We see this in the case of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts chapter 5. These two people make a poor decision (free will) and God violates their future will by ending their lives. There are other examples where God does end people's earthly existence in the Bible to include King Herod (Acts 12) and individuals in the Old Testament such as the citizens of Sodom and Gomorra. Each of these people's choice-making ability ended when God interceded by ending their lives. They were given no other options in the moment but death. In summary, most theologians that I have read agree that man has a free will that God has chosen to respect. This does not limit God in anyway but actually allows us to be free choosing agents with the potential of having a relationship with God. It is obvious that God's will is often not followed by man. Man will usually go his own way in mockery of what God desires. Free will is very evident when you look at the condition of the world. A good example is that God's will is that "none should perish" yet most choose to reject Christ (free will) and thus will perish. However, many times God will cause things to happen that thwart the direction a person may be going, but does not force what the person will chose when this happens. The person may not be able to go in the direction he was headed but he is still in the decisionmaking role. He is still given the power to choose what and where he will go next.

As I have stated, the only time that God intercedes and stops a person from making a decision is when He ends the person's existence. Free will on earth ends when life on earth terminates. I do not know of any example in the Scriptures where a person was in the act of choosing something where God steps in and violates his will prohibiting the person from making a decision and that person living beyond that moment in time. How do we apply this to the ministry setting? First, you do not have to agree with me here. You are free to believe whatever you choose (free will). However, please watch to see if it is not true that people become stuck based upon what they believe. If they are not moving forward then there will be a belief at the root of the problem. This belief will be producing an emotion that will have influence on their choosing to move forward. The facilitator can help here if he will ask the right questions that help the person to identify the belief he is holding that has him stuck. It may be a judgment made against another, a personal vow, a decision about what he will not ever allow to happen again, etc. All of these things will have a belief at the root. We make willful choices based upon what we believe and the accompanying emotion seals the deal.

 
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