Sometimes I listen to James White's
webcast, "The Dividing Line." Several times, I have heard him say the same thing. He'll say that he believes in free will, but that God is the only one who has it. I guess I need to call his show sometime and ask him what he means by "free will."
There are a lot of different definitions out there, and I sometimes think we could settle our differences if we could just define our terms clearly. Let me show you what I mean.
Martin Luther wrote this book called The Bondage of the Will
in response to Erasmus who had written something about free will. Luther's whole point was that the will is in bondage to sin. He uses the Bible to prove his point. If the bondage of the will to sin is the opposite of having free will, then what does free will mean to Luther? Well, to Luther, free will would have to mean freedom from our bondage to sin. If we had free will, that would mean that we could live and move about free from any irresistable compulsion to commit sins.
If we go with Luther's definition of "free will," then God does
have free will. But God isn't the only one who has it. Everybody who has died and gone to be with God also has free will since, as Paul says, "he who has died is freed from sin" (Romans 6:7). I suspect that many of the angels also have free will according to this definition.
But that isn't what most people mean by "free will," and I don't think it's what Erasmus meant. Unfortunately, most people are unclear about what they mean by "free will." If asked, most of them would say simply, "The ability to choose." That's an inadequate definition, because the act of willing is the same thing as the act of choosing, whether the will is free or bound. The will is the faculty of choice, whether the will is free or not.
In philosophy, there are two kinds of free will. There's libertarian free will, and there's compatibalist free will. I'm convinced that only philosophers hold to libertarian free will, because when pressed, people who claim to believe in free will inevitably back away from the libertarian definition.
Libertarian freedom means that there are no antecedent causes or conditions which determine the acts of the will. When the will acts freely, it acts independently from any antecedent conditions. That means no desire, motivation, inclination or anything compells the will to act. Now granted these things can have an influence on the will, but they don't determine the will.
Some people seem to have this understanding of free will. I often hear people say that free will is destroyed by the threat of hell. If we are being threatened with something so gastly as hell, then our decision to accept Christ was not a free will decision. The reason is because the threat of hell creates a motive in us so strong that the will is unable to resist it. The motive determines the act of the will.
I'm resisting the urge to give a refutation of libertarian freedom. Oh, it's so hard! Just go read Jonathan Edward's book on The Freedom of the Will
Anyway, if God has libertarian freedom, then it is just as easy for God to do evil as it is for God to do good. But in Titus 1:2, Paul tells us that God cannot lie. What does he mean by "cannot"? Does he just mean does
not, or does he really mean cannot
? He also says that God cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:13). There is nothing physically or logically impossible about saying something that isn't true. If God cannot lie, then God does not have libertarian free will.
Here's another argument. If God could do evil, then God is not necessarily
good. God only happens
to be good. If God is necessarily
good, then God cannot have libertarian freedom.
And I think it's quite plain that God is necessarily good. If God is the standard of goodness, then he can't be anything but
good. I remember in grade school reading about how there was some king who wanted to have a standard of measurement. To decide a standard length for a foot, they measured the king's foot. Now how long do you think the king's foot was? Well, it was exactly one foot, because it was the standard by which everything else was then measured.
Compatibalist freedom is the view that we excercise the greatest freedom when we act out of full intention. In other words, we act freely when we do what we want or what we are motivated to do. Now, of course, we often have conflicting desires, but the strongest desire always wins out. Compatibalism is sometimes called soft determinism, because compatibalists believe the acts of the will are determined by the strongest motivation.
This is the view I hold. Any act that is not based on some intention is an unintentional act. It's just an accident. It's a spontaneous knee jerk reaction we have no control over. I think any act that can rightly be called a "choice" must be based on some inclination, desire, or motive. I think this is the common sense understanding of "freedom," and I think it's what most people mean by "free will" when they aren't trying to be philosophical about it.
By the compatibalist definition of free will, everybody has free will. Some people have less of it than others, of course. People with nervous ticks, muscle spasms, etc., don't excercise free will when having spasms or ticks, but every intentional
act is a free will act. God acts out of perfect freedom when he does good, because it's his nature to always do good. We act out of perfect freedom when we sin, because it's in our nature to sin.