I’m reading a book written by an agnostic critical of the Christian faIth and theism in general. It’s titled “Divinity of Doubt” by Vincent Bugliosi. It is sort of an apologetic for agnosticism, so he is also critical of atheism as well. There is no doubt that Mr. Bugliosi is an intelligent and well-educated man. His reasoning and wit in the book is engaging. He has made me thoroughly interested in the view of Christianity from an agnostic perspective. However, I am not persuaded. In this post, I would like to address just one of his criticisms which I found to be very odd.
In one of the chapters, he made a strong statement that there is no biblical support for the concept of free will. His reading of the Bible is that there is ample evidence for God being sovereign, but that Christians who believe the Bible and believe in free will are inconsistent with what the Bible teaches. Being a student of the Bible, I found this quite surprising. Throughout the Bible, free will is clearly on display.
For example, in Genesis 2:17, God prohibits Adam from eating from tree of the “knowledge of good and evil”. In Genesis 3, both Adam and Eve disobey and eat of it. That is an act of free will! Someone could say that God sovereignly caused them to eat, but that would not make sense. Why would God force them to do something that He expressly forbade?! They did it because their will was to do so.
Genesis is full of historical events involving free will such as Cain killing Abel, mankind sinning in the days of Noah, Noah obediently building an ark, Abraham lying about his wife but obediently offering Isaac, Lot choosing the plain of Jordan, the wickedness of the people of Sodom, Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery, and many others. And that is just one book of the Bible!
The teachings of Jesus are full of references to free will as well. In John 3:16, Jesus tells us that God gave His Son to “whosoever” believes in Him. Luke 9:24 states,
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.
In John 15:7 He says,
If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
When Jesus encountered a rich man who asked about attaining eternal life, He discerned that the man was dependent upon his riches and told him,
One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:21-22)
In these cases, individuals made choices which by definition requires free will. This is why I was surprised that someone could say that the Bible doesn’t teach free will. Rather, it is full of free will.
However, the Bible is also full of examples of God’s sovereignty–a fact which Mr. Bugliosi correctly identified. I think that Mr. Bugliosi’s problem with free will likely has two facets. First, I don’t think he understands how God can be sovereign over all things and human beings still have free will. Second, I think he doesn’t understand the concept of providence.
The first facet is an age-old problem and one to which God has not revealed the answer. One of my seminary professors said that God’s sovereignty and human free will are like the rails of a train track. If you look off into the distance, it looks like they’re coming together, but no matter how far you travel, they never do. However, the Bible demonstrates that both somehow work together. The fact that we cannot understand it does not mean that it is not true.
The second facet sheds some light upon the first. Providence is God working in spite of human behavior. For example, David committed adultery with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 and then murdered her husband. These were acts of free will. God, being holy, did not condone his actions and certainly did not cause them. However, God in His sovereignty took the results of David’s sin and made something good out of it. David and Bathsheba later had a son named Solomon through whom Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father, would be born. This is God being God. He alone can take away our sin and make something good of our life and the choices we make.
Free will does exist! (And so does God’s sovereignty!) God designed us with the ability to choose and the Bible is full of examples of this.