Saturday, August 8, 2009

Helm's Defense, Part I-D: Thomas Aquinas on Free Will

I’m still at work on Paul Helm’s defense in the book “Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: Four Views.” For those of you that may not have read the other posts on Paul Helm, Paul Helm represents one of four views in the book—the Classical Calvinist view of the Doctrine of God. There are three other views that stand in opposition to Helm’s: Modified Calvinist (Bruce Ware), Classical Arminian (Roger Olson), and the Open Theist view (John Sanders).

Helm quotes Aquinas:

“God does not act on the will in the manner of one necessitating; for HE DOES NOT FORCE THE WILL BUT MERELY MOVES IT, without taking away its own proper mode, which consists in being free with respect to opposites. Consequently, EVEN THOUGH NOTHING CAN RESIST THE DIVINE WILL, OUR WILL, LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE, CARRIES OUT THE DIVINE WILL ACCORDING TO ITS OWN PROPER MODE. Indeed, the divine will has given things their mode of being in order that His will be fulfilled. Therefore, some things fulfill the divine will necessarily, other things, contingently; BUT THAT WHICH GOD WILLS ALWAYS TAKE PLACE” (Paul Helm quoting Aquinas, in “Perspectives on the Doctrine of God,” page 19).

Aquinas makes some interesting statements here: first, “He [God] does not force the will but merely moves it…” I agree with Aquinas: God does not override the human will.

But Aquinas’s further statements pose problems. Notice that he states, “Our will, like everything else, carries out the divine will according to its own proper mode.” Now our will is placed alongside of “everything else,” which is the rest of creation. But the problem with this is that mankind IS NOT LIKE THE REST OF CREATION. Bardesanes on the issue of freewill and predestination, writes,

“On the contrary, men are not governed like [the plants and animals]…in matters pertaining to their minds, THEY DO WHATEVER THEY CHOOSE—AS THOSE WHO ARE FREE, ENDOWED WITH POWER, and IN THE LIKENESS OF GOD” (Bardesanes, c. 222, E, 8.726, printed in “A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs,” by David W. Bercot, Editor. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, page 288).

The plants and animals do whatever God has laid out for them. As the Lord writes regarding creation in His speech to Job,

32 Can you bring out the constellations [i] in their season
and lead the Bear [j] and her cubs? (N)
33 Do you know the laws (O) of heaven?
Can you impose its [k] authority on earth?
34 Can you command [l] the clouds
so that a flood of water covers you? (P)
35 Can you send out lightning (Q) bolts, and they go?
Do they report to you: "Here we are"? (Job 38:32-35, HCSB)

And the Lord speaks further regarding animal life:

39 Can you hunt prey for a lioness
or satisfy the appetite of young lions (S)
40 when they crouch in their dens
and lie in wait within their lairs?
41 Who provides the raven's food (T)
when its young cry out to God
and wander about for lack of food? (Job 38:39-41, HCSB)

The Lord tells Job that He “leads the Bear and her cubs” and “hunts prey for a lioness” and “provides the raven’s food when its young cry out to God.”
But the Lord says something different about man:

36 Who put wisdom (R) in the heart [m]
or gave the mind understanding? (Job 38:36, HCSB)

What I find fascinating is that, in Job chapter 39, this is what God says of the female ostrich:

13 The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully,
but are her feathers and plumage like the stork's? (E) [d]
14 She abandons her eggs on the ground
and lets them be warmed in the sand.
15 She forgets that a foot may crush them
or that some wild animal may trample them.
16 She treats her young harshly, as if [they] were not her own,
with no fear that her labor may have been in vain.
17 For God has deprived her of wisdom;
He has not endowed her with understanding. (Job 39:13-17)

The ostrich takes risks because “He [God] has not endowed her with understanding.” The Lord gave wisdom and understanding to human life; but He did not give this capacity to animal life.

And, what about Psalm 8? Surely we find there that man was placed ABOVE all plant and animal life:

5 You made him little less than God [c] [d]
and crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You made him lord over the works of Your hands;
You put everything under his feet: (G) [e]
7 all the sheep and oxen,
as well as animals in the wild,
8 birds of the sky,
and fish of the sea
passing through the currents of the seas. (Psalm 8:5-8)

Man was created to be OVER the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, the fish of the sea, and everything that passes through the seas. Even in God’s endowment of blessing and responsibility upon man, God distinguished man from the rest of His creation. There is also the Genesis creation account, in which we find that, while God told the plant and animal life to bear seed and creature, what I call “The Great Council of God” came together when it was time to create man:

24 Then God said, "Let the earth produce living creatures according to their kinds:
livestock, creatures that crawl, and the wildlife of the earth according to their kinds." And it was so. 25 So God made the wildlife of the earth according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and creatures that crawl on the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, "Let Us (P) make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. (Q) They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the animals, all the earth, [f] and the creatures that crawl [g] on the earth." (R) 27 So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female. (S) 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, (T) and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls [h] on the earth." 29 God also said, "Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the surface of the entire earth, and every tree whose fruit contains seed. This food will be for you, (U) 30 for all the wildlife of the earth, for every bird of the sky, and for every creature that crawls on the earth—everything having the breath of life in it. [I have given] every green plant for food." (V) And it was so. 31 God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. (Genesis 1:24-31, HCSB)

God’s announcement of making man in the image of God stands out from the rest of the creation account. Then notice that, in verse 28, God tells both male and female, “subdue it [earth]. RULE the fish of the sea…” In addition, God tells the human couple in verse 29, “I have given you EVER SEED BEARING PLANT ON THE SURFACE OF THE ENTIRE EARTH, and every tree whose fruit contain seed. THIS FOOD WILL BE FOR YOU.” God also gives the green plants to all of creation (including the animals), but He pronounces this to His human creation first.

And last but not least, as if it isn’t obvious, let’s not overlook the fact that God TALKS to Adam and Eve! They are so like God Himself that He engages in dialogue with them! Does He do that with the rest of creation? NO!

So, like everything else, we SHOULD obey Him; but the truth is, there are times when we go against His will and do that which is displeasing to Him. I read the section of “Irresistible Grace” in the book “The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented” by authors David N. Steele, Curtis C. Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn. While reading this section, I was hoping to find ONE VERSE that would tell me that a person CANNOT resist the will of God: but I looked in vain. The section spans TWELVE PAGES LONG, and yet, I found NO VERSE including the words “can not resist” in regards to the will of God. There are no verses regarding “not resisting” the will of God. However, Jacob Arminius had a reference for his doctrine of “Resistable Grace” in Article Four of the Remonstrance:

“That this grace of God is the commencement, progression, and completion of all good, also in so far that regenerate man cannot, apart from this prevenient or assisting, awakening, consequent and cooperating grace, think, will or do the good or resist any temptation to evil; so that all good works or activities which can be conceived must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. BUT WITH RESPECT TO THE MODE OF THIS GRACE, IT IS NOT IRRESISTIBLE, since it is written concerning many that they resisted the Holy Spirit. Acts 7 and elsewhere in many places.”

Acts 7:51 says, 51 "You stiff-necked (AY) people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! (AZ) You are always resisting the Holy Spirit; as your forefathers did, so do you.” (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

So we see that Arminius had a reference; but I find that Calvinist theologies fail to give an example of where the grace of God CANNOT be resisted.

According to Aquinas, everything that God wills happens; but, as we see, what God wills is the choice of man, not man’s evil actions. This then, proves that every little event does not go as God intended it to; however, “all things work TOGETHER” (Rom. 8:28) for good for those who love God. All events, including the evil ones, lead to the end goal, which is GOOD for those who belong to the Lord. In this way, we see that truly, God is in control.

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