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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Free Will.
God hardened Pharaoh's heart.

After a Hebrew slave had formed a brick - that brick was hardened, either by letting it dry in the sun, or perhaps by firing it in a kiln. The slave dumped a mix of clay and straw into a brick mold and pressed it into the shape of a break - then the "brick" was hardened into that shape forever. Prior to this hardening, the clay was malleable, but once the clay has set (hardened), it stayed in the shape of the brick. That is what it means to be hardened - it means that the brick is in a state whereby it is no longer malleable - no longer able to change.

Likewise, when we say, "let's get to the heart of the matter" - we mean, let's get at the central issue - the core, the very essence of what we are dealing with.

Understanding these concepts, we regard a phrase like God hardening Pharaoh's heart, to mean, not that God had physically vulcanized the blood pump in Pharaoh's chest, but that God was causing Pharaoh to remain in that state of rebellion that Pharaoh had freely chosen to embark upon.

Scripture describes repentance as something that God grants to sinners, which means that in order to repent, God has to intervene in the life of a sinner. That is an important thing to understand, because when we talk about God hardening Pharaoh's heart, it may well mean only that God refused to intervene in the life of Pharaoh; that is, that God decided not to give grace to Pharaoh in causing him to repent. If God refused to cause Pharaoh to repent, and if repentance is something that fallen man is incapable of, as scripture teaches, then the hardening of Pharaoh's heart is nothing more than allowing Pharaoh to continue unchecked, down the road of his own choosing.

Whatever role God played in Pharaoh's hardening, one thing is beyond debate - God's role was active, and it had a purpose.

If we are able to discern that God allowed Pharaoh to continue in rebellion in order that God's purposes were fulfilled, and this is really beyond debate as well, then we are saying that while God does not force a man to rebel against him, God can and does use the rebellion of men to bring about His will.

We see this sort of thing in the crucifixion of our Lord, where Luke tells us in the book of Acts (c.f. Acts 4:27-28), that God had predestined the death of Christ to occur. We do well to cogitate on the question, "How could a good God predestine the most heinous crime that would ever be committed?"

The answer to such riddles lies in separating the big picture from the little picture.

I love my children. It is never my will to see them suffer in pain. Yet when each of my children were babes I gave them into the doctor's hand. She then jabbed an inoculating needle into each of their pudgy little thighs, causing pain to them. Was I lying when I said that it is never my will to see my little ones suffer in pain? No, I was not lying. Yet even though I took no pleasure in their suffering, I allowed it for the greater purpose it served. Likewise, when my little daughter desired to learn to skate, I allowed her to do so, even though I knew that she would eventually, and often, fall on the hard ice whilst learning. Do I desire her pain? No, yet I suffer it in order to allow a greater purpose - her learning to skate.

God took no pleasure in the death of His son, it was not His will that Christ suffered, or that any of us suffers - yet in order to serve a greater purpose, God allowed Christ's suffering.

The same logic helps us understand how it is that even if it is not God's will than any should perish, and that all should come to repentance - yet that is balanced by God's greater purpose which required that God not grant repentance to Pharaoh.

Now you may be asking, what does all this have to do with free will?

I bring up Pharaoh because scripture plainly tells us that God hardened Pharaoh's heart - that is, that God withheld repentance from Pharaoh (God didn't intervene in Pharaoh's life, granting Pharaoh repentance). If God chose not to intervene in Pharaoh's life, and if repentance is, as scripture describes it, something God grants us, and not something that we can just do ourselves, then whatever options were open to Pharaoh - repentance was not one of them.

Pharaoh was free to choose between the red pill and the blue one, because those were his options, God hadn't put the green one on the table. Pharaoh's free will was by no means violated by this limiting of choices. Repentance was not in Pharaoh's nature, any more than it is in my nature or your nature - the option of repentance, for Pharaoh was an intellectual mirage - it was there, but he had no ability within himself to desire it. It was an option only in the sense that he could will his body to behave in a fashion that looked to be in accord with genuine repentance - and in this way he appeared to almost repent several times - but he could not mean it, because it wasn't an option open to a sinner whom God had determined not to grant repentance to.

We are only free to choose from amongst those options available to us. If we insist, contrary to scripture, that we have in us the ability to repent, that is, if we insist that we are by no means in bondage to sin, and therefore morally capable of repentance, we commit a well known heresy: Pelagianism. If we try and water that down, as is vogue today, so that we agree that we are very, very, morally corrupt, but just not completely corrupt, that is, we are pretty much in bondage to sin, but not entirely - and we imagine that there is some sliver of light within us that can repent of its own accord - we still make the same error, even if we try hard to lean away from it with all our might.

The battle for free will, is not really about whether or not we are robots, it is actually about whether or not we are morally capable, for if we -are- morally capable, then we have more options open to us in our decisions. If we are not morally capable, our options are limited. Our freedom to choice doesn't change - but our choices do.

The problem is that many who argue for "free will" imagine that those who oppose them oppose the notion of "free choice" - as if by opposing "free will" we imagined that God was in the business of manipulating the thoughts of men. Has ever a straw man been so puffed up?

I right understanding free will looks like this: We are free to choose anything we want, and God doesn't impose himself upon our intellect to limit it in any way. Yet we are only free to choose those options which are within our nature - and unless God personally intervenes and adds "extra" options (such as repentance), which are entirely alien to our nature - we will by no means choose them.

This granting of repentance as a moral option is called "grace".

Free will is not any less free because of moral inability - all that changes is the number of choices available.

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posted by Daniel @ 8:57 AM  
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