One Calvinist explains: “Can God sin? If not, then he does not have a libertarian free will, and thus a libertarian free will is not necessary for a person to be genuinely free.”
Here you have a Calvinist denying that God is sovereign over His own morality! What kind of freedom does God possess, if it does not operate in the arena of moral choices, between good and evil? What is the moral merit and praiseworthiness of God’s choices for good, if that’s all He’s capable of choosing?
Question: Can God sin?
Answer: Recall that little George Washington could not
tell a lie, and therefore confessed to chopping down the
cherry tree. This was a matter of moral preference, since
he was quite capable of lying, should he wish it, which
brings us to the present question. The Bible states that
God “cannot lie.” (Titus 1:2) If it is impossible for God
to lie due to preference, then it would be because it
would go against His will.
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians: “If God decreed in eternity past, ‘I choose to always tell the truth and never lie,’ and this self-fixed attitude then constrains Him to tell the truth, and not lie, every time that He is faced with the choice of speaking truth or falsehood, is that not His free action?”
Concerning Joseph’s brothers, Genesis 37:4 states:
“His brothers saw that their father loved him more
than all his brothers; and so they hated him and
could not speak to him on friendly terms.”
Obviously they could have spoken to their brother
on friendly terms, and should have, but they chose
not to. This was also due to choice. So it is not
uncommon to say that we cannot do something,
which is a “cannot” merely because of free choice,
rather than actual inability.
Indeed, Calvinism teaches that God does not freely weigh between choices of good and evil, and choose good. Rather, Calvinism teaches that God’s volitional choice for good, is just as fixed as His omniscient nature to know all things, such that God can no more choose evil, than He could choose not to be omniscient. Here is a sample quote:
Calvinist: “The truth is, the divine volitions were no more caused, whether by God himself or by any other cause, than the divine existence was. The divine volitions are the divine holiness uncreated and self-existent. And one attribute of God is not more caused or created than all his other attributes, or than his existence.” (Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, p.261-262, emphasis mine)
Thus, according to necessitarian Calvinism, God is not free to either tell the truth or to lie, but rather necessitated to tell the truth (by an unnecessitated cause, of course). Arminian, Daniel Whedon, sees this as an assault on the freeness of God, as “putting the Eternal under necessitarian bonds for good behavior.” (Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, p.263) I also see it as an assault on logic. How can God’s nature be the result of a necessity without an necessitation? The only basis for the morality of God, that I know, is God Himself, whose own will is the cause of His morality.
Daniel Whedon: “If from his physical substance, or from
his necessary attributes or disposition, surrounding motives
necessitatively cause the divine volitions to be right; if by
dynamics as fixed as physical dynamics, the divine choice
and action are absolutely limited to a certain unit, then the
divine being is an infinite, excellent machine, good
because he cannot help it; and because he cannot help it,
without moral deserts.” (Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan
Response to Jonathan Edwards, p.260, emphasis mine)
Daniel Whedon: “We, in opposition to all this, suppose the God of the Universe to be an infinitely free, excellent, meritorious Person. …we Arminians hold that God is freely good from eternity to eternity...God’s wisdom and holiness are an eternal volitional becoming; an eternal free, alternative putting forth of choices for the Right. … God’s wisdom and holiness are self-made, or eternally and continually being made. … God is holy therefore not automatically but freely; not merely with infinite excellence, but with infinite meritoriousness. …God renders himself eternally holy by his eternal volition preferring good from the motive good, the same good being both motive and object, preferred for itself.” (Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, pp.262-263, emphasis mine)
Arminius: “So false, indeed, is it that God is freely good,
that it is not much removed from blasphemy. God is, what
He is, necessarily, and if He is freely good, He can be not
I disagree with Arminius on this point.
Question: If God’s character is necessarily good, rather than freely good, then exactly what settled His character?
Answer: It is a non-answer to say that His nature settled His nature. Ultimately, either God is free or God is being controlled. (I think that God’s volition comes from His libertarian freedom and willpower to “make His own way.”)
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians: “To say that God does not have free will is necessarily to fall into panentheism; the world becomes necessary. It is also to fall into determinism in which everything, including God’s own decisions and actions, are automatic and not freely chosen. Everything is as it must be. How is that different from Stoicism except for the added claim that God is somehow ‘personal?’” Whenever you place the word “necessity” before God, it means that God is not sovereign over it, unless you assert that the “cause” and “necessity” originates from within God Himself. The alternative, by stating that God is in any way necessitated by something outside of Himself, is either panentheism or polytheism. So if you can establish agreement that God is necessitated by only that which is within, then you have crossed the first major hurdle. Now you are left with the source of God’s own necessitation, as either being His physical nature or His emotional nature, and I contend for the latter, because the only known cause identified in Scripture from God’s emotional state: “He [Jesus] is the radiance of His [the Father’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.” (Hebrews 1:3)
The opposing view insists that God is necessarily good because of His “nature,” but then insist that His nature is necessary too, and then when pressed for a necessitation, all you are offered is that it comes from within His “substance,” which is essentially saying His physical state, insomuch that the physical is the cause of the emotional, and of course, I argue for the reverse. I attribute the necessity of God to the will of God, which is the same thing as saying that God is necessarily good because He is “freely good.”
Before we address why God is freely good, and where “good” comes from, let’s address a few other questions first:
Question: Is there any diminishment of God’s omnipotence or goodness to say that He is necessarily good, rather than freely good?
Answer: Yes, since “the power of contrary choice” is the basis for all moral merit:
Daniel Whedon: “The fundamental Arminian maxim is: power to the contrary is prerequisite to all moral merit. ...if we hold to the merits of Jesus we must hold to the free moral agency of Jesus.” (Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, p.253, emphasis mine)
Daniel Whedon views God’s Son with the same, unnecessitated voluntary goodness, when he speaks of Christ as a real, free moral agent:
Daniel Whedon: “If Christ were not a free agent, even between alternatives of good and evil, then he can be of no example for human free agents.” (Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, p.252, emphasis mine)
Question: If God is capable of only choosing between alternative good choices, rather good and evil choices, does that give a basis for God having a Libertarian Free Will?
Answer: It would be liberty without respect to morality, and God would be amoral.
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians: “Libertarian free will does not seem worth too much if it does not operate in the area of moral choices (good and evil). Libertarian free will seems meaningless for moral praiseworthiness if there is only the possibility between good choices.”
To say that God is not free in regard to moral matters, has the following drawbacks:
1) God is a necessitated Being, necessitated without a necessitation.
2) It results in a violation of the Law of Non-Contradiction.
3) It suggests Determinism, in which “everything is as it must necessarily be.”
4) It means that God is not a free “moral” Being.
5) It means that creation possesses a greater moral capacity than the Creator.
6) It means that God’s faithfulness is not by choice.
7) It means that for moral choices, Jesus can be of no example for mankind.
8) It means without the power of contrary choice, divine moral merit is forfeit.
Question: If God is freely good, rather than necessarily good, then doesn’t that imply that there could be a time in which God might freely choose not to be good?
Answer: If the source of God’s morality is His Word, and if His Word is eternal (John 1:1), then no, who God is now, is who God is and was and will ever be.
I suspect that given the state of our own world, and in lieu of the fall of man and some angels, that we tend to have a superstitious fear of a God who possesses a Libertarian free will, as a free moral Being, and thus we wish to simplify Him, and place Him within a box of pre-set parameters which guarantees our well-being. Does God really have to be an amoral machine in order to be trusted?
Question: In terms of cause & effect, if the effect is fixed, so too is its cause, and therefore, doesn’t it logically follow that since God is perpetually good (the effect), that it must be by necessity (the cause)?
Answer: This reasoning does not consider that the cause of the guaranteed effect may be fixed by volitional fortitude rather than simply the absence of freedom.
Question: If God is freely good, rather than necessarily good, then can God be tempted?
Answer: When we speak of being tempted, it carries the implication of actually “giving into” that temptation (James 1:14), and based upon the view that God’s volitional will is exclusive to perform good perpetually, then no, in that sense, God cannot be tempted. However, that does not mean that God is incapable of being tempted. It simply means that God cannot be tempted because He will not be tempted, which obviously speaks of moral preference through volitional will-power. The temptation of Christ in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), is therefore a test of God’s volitional resolve, which is perpetually impeccable, and which serves as an object lesson for humanity in choosing good and shunning evil.
Question: If God is freely good, rather than necessarily good, then how can you maintain the moral impeccability of God?
Answer: If we are told to “keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27), how is God stained if He should do this perpetually? Moreover, potentiality is not incriminatory. As an example, James 4:17 states: “To one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” So if good, left undone, is evil, how is evil, left undone, evil? If evil, left undone, is good, how is God’s character stained if He should perpetually leave evil undone?
Question: If God is freely good, rather than necessarily good, why does He choose good over evil?
Answer: It is agreeable to God, since God sees it as wisdom.
First of all, it is a mistake to suppose that goodness and holiness are simply the consequence of whatsoever God happens to do, so as to suggest that God’s actions, whatsoever they may happen to be, define goodness and holiness. Supposing such a thing, would also suppose that if God were to lie, cheat and steal, that lying, cheating and stealing would therefore be, by definition, goodness and virtue. This view would forfeit that God is a moral Being, since God would not be choosing between moral matters, but instead just arbitrarily defining moral matters.
God’s choices do not define what is goodness and virtue, but instead, God’s choices align with goodness and virtue, and it is completely His unnecessitated, Libertarian free prerogative to do so. Good and evil must be external to God in order for Him to be a moral Being.
Question: If God is a free moral Being who chooses between good and evil, then where does “good” come from?
Answer: Moral good comes from the moral freedom to perform it.
The principle of logic exists, and only has relevance and meaning, to the extent that God exists, and exists as an intelligent Being.
The principle of morality exists, and only has relevance and meaning, to the extent that God exists, and exists as an emotional Being. If God was not a free moral Being, then moral good would not exist. Morality is a term which has meaning only because God has the freedom to perform, and because His creation was created with it.
Genesis 3:22-24: “Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold,
the man has become like one of Us, knowing good
and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and
take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’
--therefore the LORD God sent him out from the
garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he
was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of
the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the
flaming sword which turned every direction to guard
the way to the tree of life.”
Even before this, Adam and Eve knew only one thing
about good and bad, and that it was bad to disobey
one simple rule. Freedom, then, moral freedom, is
what gives rise to moral good and evil.
Question: If God does not define goodness, but instead, His morality simply aligns with goodness, then does the concept of goodness reign like a dualistic deity in judgment over God?
Answer: Good and evil, including logic itself, don’t even exist without God. Only because God is, and is a free moral Being, does good and evil have meaning.
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians: “I don’t think posing an objective morality creates a ‘god’ or some facet of dualism that God is subservient to. I think morality can be conceived in the same way logic can be conceived. God is not ‘beyond’ logic, nor does he ‘serve’ logic as if it were his master. He is simply logical by nature--he does what is logical. Similarly God is good--he does what is good by nature. Moreover, the moral argument for God’s existence does not need to conflate moral ontology with God’s nature itself. All it needs to do is say that our epistemology of objective morals is dependent upon God’s existence, for by his creation and his revelation do we come to understand what these morals are. I think this is why we can know the rules of logic and basic rules of morality without revelation.”
Jesus states, “There is only One who is good.” (Mark 19:17) James 1:17 states, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”
Question: If good and evil are something that God chooses between, rather than simply defines, then why should one person’s opinion matter any more than another, as in a case of moral relativism?
Answer: Because God is on the throne. There are many opinions, but only One who gets the final word.
Question: Did Jesus possess libertarian free will? Could He have chosen not to go to the Cross? Was the choice His own to make?
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians: “When it comes to seeing what ‘free will’ looks like, I say start with the issue of whether or not God Himself has a free will? I would say that it is obvious that He does. The great and clear example of this is the creation of the universe. Did God have to create it? No. Was His action necessitated by some factor so that He had to create and could not do otherwise? No. Did God create for reasons? Yes. Was there some factor outside of Himself that caused Him to make the choice? No. So starting with God, we see that free will is not irrational (God acts for reasons), nor luck or chance (God does His actions intentionally, as He does not flip a coin, but is intentional and done for a reason. We also see that God both had a choice (to create the world or not create the world) and then made a choice (He in fact did create this world). So starting with God and his intentional action of creating the world, we have a very good model of what free will looks like. Once we’ve establish this, Scripture says that God created man in Him image (which I take to mean that in some way, we resemble God, including being persons, having a mind, having a will, having and making choices/free will, being moral/capable of knowing-understanding good and evil). Now you ask specifically about whether or not Jesus had libertarian free will? Well, first of all, He was/is God, so He definitely freely chooses to do His own intentional actions. His actions are not chance or luck, but are done for a reason. Jesus also had a choice, and made a choice. The Bible explicitly presents Him as saying things which indicate (if you take His statements at face value without trying to explain them away) that He sometimes had a choice in matters. One clear example is when the soldiers came to arrest Him, and He said that He could call a legion of angels to deliver Him. That was a choice, which He chose not to make, so that He would allow Himself to be arrested. In fact, if you look clearly at the Gospels, it seems that the writers, and Jesus Himself, emphasize that Jesus allowed or permitted His arrest and crucifixion. This permission or allowance language makes no sense if everything was necessitated, and Jesus never had any choices. Jesus also explicitly said that He would voluntarily lay down His life, and not that anyone would take it away from Him, as if to be out of His control. We also have the famous Gethsemane words from Jesus, wondering if there was another way, and seemingly agonizing about it, actions which make no sense if His choices involved free will. So it seems clear to me that Jesus, as God, and by His own words and actions, claimed to have libertarian free will. Now one thing that may be helpful here is to distinguish ‘have to’ as having two senses. I can ‘have to’ because my action is part of a plan, in which the action needs to be done for the plan to be accomplished. I can also ‘have to’ out of necessity. I ‘have to breath’, meaning that it is necessary for me to breath at some point or I will eventually die. I can also say that I ‘have to breath’ when under water because I plan to go scuba diving so I ‘have to’ get some scuba equipment and inspect it in order to ensure that it operates correctly. Scuba diving is a choice that I might choose to do or not choose to do (it is not necessitated at all). God came up with a plan of salvation (in that He did not have to do so, but chose to do so) in which Jesus ‘had to’ die on the Cross, as part of the plan. In order for that plan to be accomplished, Jesus ‘had to’ choose to allow Himself to be arrested, choose not to be delivered by the angels, and choose to allow evil men to crucify Him. These were all choices that Jesus ‘had to’ do, not in the sense that His actions were completely necessitated and had no free will over, but in the sense that in order for God’s plan of salvation to be accomplished, He had to choose to make these choices. Can you be acting freely and choosing to do so when you have to do so? Yes, if you are making choices that are part of accomplishing a plan. Jesus made His choices in order to accomplish God’s plan of salvation. Were His actions necessitated? No. Were His actions done for reasons? Yes. Were His actions a matter of luck or chance? No. They were all freely chosen actions done for reasons (meaning that the whole thing involved libertarian free will from start to finish).”
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians: “In terms of the power of contrary choice, it should be pointed out that we go against inclinations all the time. Yes, God could have chosen NOT to create, even though He was inclined to. My question is why didn’t God create earlier, or later, than He did? Was there some inclination that suddenly prompted Him to create exactly when He did? Is it a matter of Him not being able to resist doing it right then? If not, why then? The answer is that we all have inclinations, and we all delay in acting upon them, for various reasons. For those who insist that we must always act upon our strongest inclinations, inevitably renders creation as a necessity to God. You see, if God created, exactly when He did create, because of some inclination, then creation becomes a necessity, rather than a free choice, and ultimately, then, Determinism of all stripes, makes God into a robot, who cannot act otherwise than His inclinations dictate.”
Another member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians: “The issue is not whether or not we have inclinations when we choose, but whether these inclinations necessitate our actions. Inclinations provide impulses, but do not necessitate.”
We frequently act against our strongest inclinations when stronger inclinations are prompted by God.
If you can only do what your strongest inclination tells you [assuming Determinism, in that your inclinations are inherited and unchangeable], then all choices would become necessary and predictable, but this doesn’t address: 1) where inclinations originate [that is, from within or from without, whether being unchangeably predetermined by an immutable script or something that we decide for ourselves] (something which Calvinists often retreat into “mystery” for the sake of not wishing to impugn God, yet while simultaneously affirming Determinism), and 2) whether inclinations are dynamic, in that it can change over time, based upon present conditions and prior choices and experiences.