Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Power of Choice

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about Arminian theology. I’ve been studying it intensely the last few days and discussing it with all those closest to me that I come in contact with. I always like to investigate my beliefs, subject them to scrutiny, see if my thought processes are warped or not.
When I talked to one of my friends about Arminianism, she stated that she was more libertarian. When I asked her about her view of libertarian freedom, what she didn’t know was that classical Arminians AFFIRM liberatarian freedom!! What scared her the most about Arminianism, though, was that she didn’t believe humans could have THAT MUCH FREEDOM to be able to walk away from the Lord and His Spirit!!!

So that got me to thinking—I decided then and there to do a post on “The Power of Choice.” I figured that, my friend, being very sound in her theology, echoed a sentiment of most people. VERY FEW libertarians know that Arminians affirm their principle tenet, although Arminianism is NOTHING LIKE Pelagianism (despite the attacks on the view itself)!!

We first see the power of choice when God decided to create man. The Lord God did it of His own will—He was not forced to create man and give Him dominion over creation. Neither was He forced to create anything else in creation, for that matter! However, He decides to create the world…and so He does. So choice becomes the motive by which man was created. Our very existence is due to the will of God—God’s CHOOSING to make humankind.

The next instance of choice that we see is that God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden to watch over it (Gen. 2:15).From the very beginning, God desired that man would work and created work as something good. In the same way that God worked by creating the world, so man, bearing HIS IMAGE and being IN HIS LIKENESS, would work as well. Notice that God had a PURPOSE for Adam—he was to “work and watch over” the Garden. God gave the Garden to Adam as something Adam was supposed to do. Whatever happened in the Garden, Adam would have to own up to and take responsibility for (whether it was good or bad).Calvinists who spend time assuming that God is supposed to do everything have NEVER read Genesis, where He gave control of the Garden to Adam. Adam was God’s “right-hand man.” Adam was supposed to keep the Garden in order.
Adam worked the Garden, watered the plants, made sure everything operated as it should; but he was also given the responsibility of naming the animals:

“So the LORD God formed out of the ground each wild animal and each bird of the sky, and BROUGHT EACH TO THE MAN TO SEE WHAT HE WOULD CALL IT. AND WHATEVER THE MAN CALLED A LIVING CREATURE, THAT WAS ITS NAME” (Gen.2:19, HCSB).

Adam was given the responsibility to name the animals, but it was not only a responsibility—it was a privilege. God so honored Adam as His creation that the text says, “WHATEVER the man called a living creature, THAT WAS ITS NAME.” If Adam said, “cat,” then the animal was a cat; if he called another “grasshopper,” then the insect was a “grasshopper,” etc. God does not override Adam’s power of choice. Although God created the animals, HE CHOSE for Adam to name them—and by Adam naming them, Adam was operating under the authority and power of choice that he had received from God.

However, as I said earlier, Arminians affirm libertarian free will—this means that God sets boundaries for man’s free will, but man is able to operate freely WITHIN THOSE BOUNDARIES. Although God gave man the power of choice in the Garden, the Lord still retained control over all things—for He created a woman FOR Adam (and Adam got no say in the matter):

“Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is like him.’ So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to come over the man, and he slept. God took one of his ribs and closed the flesh at that place. Then the LORD God made the rib He had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to the man” (Gen. 2:19, 21-22, HCSB).

Adam did not get a choice over whether or not he wanted to have a helper in the Garden—it was God’s garden, and mankind was God’s creation, so God would decide whether or not to appoint a helper for Adam.

Another good text to look at regarding the power of human choice is in Genesis 1. Let’s read it together:

“And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die’” (Gen. 1:16, HCSB).

God gave man a choice here as to how man would choose to walk before God; but if man broke it, he wouldn’t just have to leave paradise—he would die a physical (and spiritual) death.

Well, as Genesis 3 shows us, the serpent (whom Revelation calls “Satan”) deceives Eve, and she and Adam both partake of the fruit. Let’s listen in, though, regarding the fall in Genesis 3:

“And He said to Adam, ‘Because you listened to your wife’s voice and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘Do not eat from it’: THE GROUND IS CURSED BECAUSE OF YOU. You will eat from it by means of painful labor ALL THE DAYS OF YOUR LIFE. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return from the ground, since you were taken from it. FOR YOU ARE DUST, AND YOU WILL RETURN TO DUST’” (Gen. 1:17-19, HCSB).

When Adam sins, ALL OF HUMANITY AND CREATION is cursed because of his sin. After Adam and Eve sin, God does not shake His head in horror; He does not ask Himself, “Oh no! My creation has sinned—what shall I do?” Instead, God distributes punishments to all three guilty parties—the serpent, Eve, and Adam (although Adam was the one God gave the instructions to). Not only would Adam have to work extra hard to till the soil (since his sin brought thorns and thistles to the ground), but he would actually “return to the ground” (he would die a physical death).God gave Adam the promise that he would die—and he did, according to Genesis 5:5. However, Adam and Eve also died a spiritual death as a result of their sin. The Apologetics Study Bible gives us these words as commentary:

“The couple did not immediately die physically (cp. 2:17). By God’s grace, their death was postponed till a later time. But their expulsion from the Garden (vv. 23-24) shows that the word of God was indeed fulfilled as the immediate consequence of their disobedience. They were cut off from access to the tree of life, WHICH SYMBOLIZED THE SOURCE OF LIFE (Gen. 2:9; Rv. 2:7;22:2,14,19)…The human couple’s expulsion signaled their spiritual death (see Eph. 2:1). That their physical death occurred is confirmed by the refrain “then he died” in Adam’s genealogy (Gn. 5:5). Physical death for humans was the result of disobedience in the garden (Rm. 5:12-21; 6:23)” (“The Apologetics Study Bible,” HCSB, page 9).

And this brings me up to a point I want to emphasize about libertarian freedom. When Adam and Eve sin, God gives them their punishments and never takes them back. And at the end of Genesis chapter 3, God shows Adam and Eve their boundaries—if you think that His punishment to them was boundary enough (that they couldn’t commit sin and escape punishment), read these words:

“The LORD God said, ‘Since man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil, he must not reach out, and also take from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.’ So the LORD God sent him away from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken” (Gen. 3:22-23, HCSB).

Here we see that God makes good on His promise. He told Adam that if he ate from the tree, he would die (Gen.2:16-17). Here, the Lord executes His words to Adam. Eating from the tree of life would have caused the couple to live forever—but this would go against God’s order regarding sin and death. So, because God is consistent and does what He promises, He takes Adam and Eve out of the Garden. This is why He removes them from the Garden and sends them out to the world to live and then die.

We see here that God has a boundary. He is consistent in His character, and He does not change man’s boundaries. God’s boundaries are God’s boundaries, and man isn’t allowed to move beyond them. Man wasn’t allowed to “get around” his punishment for sin and live forever—why? Because GOD PROMISED that man would die for eating the fruit. God demonstrated that He had set boundaries for man—when man attempted to go beyond those boundaries, God punished Him for it, thereby showing His justice. This is what libertarians affirm—that, within specific God-given boundaries, man is allowed to demonstrate freedom. And this is also what Arminians affirm—that God gives man libertarian free will—the right to choose IN THE BOUNDARIES God has established.

So, back to that friend of mine. As I mentioned at the beginning, her response is a typical response from libertarians and Calvinists who want to understand Scripture: they just don’t understand how man could have so much freedom as to walk away from God…

But man did—he “walked away” from His Creator the moment he ate the fruit. In that moment, he decided that he, man, would be the judge of right and wrong. Was the sin worth it? Nope. But thanks be unto God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

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