A Dogmatic Fealty to Free Will

“Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message:
“‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord.  This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place.  Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!”  If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever.  But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

  • Jeremiah 7:2-8

And though the Lord has sent all his servants the prophets to you again and again, you have not listened or paid any attention.  They said, “Turn now, each of you, from your evil ways and your evil practices, and you can stay in the land the Lord gave to you and your ancestors for ever and ever.  Do not follow other gods to serve and worship them; do not arouse my anger with what your hands have made.  Then I will not harm you.”

  • Jeremiah 25:4-6

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.  We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

  • 2 Corinthians 5:16-20

“Johann Gottlieb Fichte was an 18th-century German philosopher and student of Immanuel Kant.  He examined how it is possible for us to exist as ethical beings with free will, while living in a world that appears to be causally determined, that is to say, in a world where every event follows on necessarily from previous events and conditions, according to unvarying laws of nature.
“The idea that there is a world like this ‘out there’, beyond our selves and independent of us, is known as dogmatism.  This is an idea that gained ground in the Enlightenment period, but Fichte thinks that it leaves no room for moral values or choice.  How can people be considered to have free will, he asks, if everything is determined by something else that exists outside of ourselves?
“Fichte argues instead for a version of idealism similar to Kant’s in which our own minds create all that we think of as reality.  In this idealist world, the self is an active entity or essence that exists outside of causal influences and is able to think and choose freely, independently, and spontaneously.
“Fichte understands idealism and dogmatism to be entirely different starting points.  They can never be ‘mixed’ into one philosophical system, he says, there is no way of proving philosophically which is correct, and neither can be used to refute the other.  For this reason one can only ‘choose’ which philosophy one believes in, not for objective, rational reasons, but depending upon ‘what sort of person one is.’”

  • Sam Atkinson (senior editor), The Philosophy Book, Big Ideas Simply Explained

“What sort of person one is” ties into the Scripture above.  Jeremiah prophesies that the people should worship God and not worship false idols, but the people continue in their evil ways.  Paul tells the Corinthians that when they accept Jesus, they become new creations.  We still have a sin nature, and confession and repentance are still required, but we have Jesus and the Holy Spirit within us to guide us and help us, even in letting us know what needs to be confessed or of which needs to be repented.  Indeed, we are not the person that we used to be before Jesus entered our hearts.  Thus, with our free will, we can make the right decisions based on the “sort of person” we are.

And C. S. Lewis addressed this concept of choice in Mere Christianity.

“Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad.  And free will is what has made evil possible.”

  • C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) is onto something here.  The determinism of the dogmatism crowd, part of the Enlightenment period (1715-1789) left us as mere pawns drifting from the effect of one cause to being the cause that leads to the next effect.  Note in previous posts, Voltaire doubted everything, other than the concept that nothing can be known entirely, and he left some ground for math and science “knowledge.”  Now, Fichte builds upon Kant Idealism to account for free will.

Within the Christian community, we can easily see how people can lapse into Dogmatism.  God is all powerful.  God is all knowing.  God is sovereign and His will is “going to be done.”

Wait!  Let’s pump the brakes a bit.  God’s will is done within the framework of us, the fallen people in this fallen world, making proper or stupid decisions.  As Lewis states, we have choices that we can make.  Some choices are between good, better, and best.  Some choices are between bad, worse, and worst.  And yes, some are between good and evil.

So, what happens when we make a wrong move, ignoring the road signs that God placed in our path?  We can look at Scripture and how God treated His chosen people.  His chosen people disobeyed at seemingly every opportunity, but God did as He threatened to do, He sent them into exile.  That means that God, as Ezekiel even describes, brought up a nation even more vile than the naughty Israelites to overpower them and send them into exile.

And what happened much before that?  The tower of Babel was being built.  The people ignored God’s command to spread throughout the earth and subdue it.  God scrambled their speech and they scattered.

In another example, Jesus tells His disciples to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  What do they do?  The apostles first did as they were told, “Stay in Jerusalem until the gift of the Holy Spirit came upon them.”  They received the Holy Spirit and spoke to the crowds gathered for Pentecost, but now they had a 3,000+ member church to manage.  They stayed in their upper room and prayed, leaving on occasion to spread the Gospel around Jerusalem.  They probably covered the ends of Jerusalem, but not the ends of the earth.  Then Stephen was stoned.  In Acts 8, the people (those 5,000+ by this time) scattered, but Acts 8:4 says that the apostles stayed put, other than short trips.  The spread of the church persecution led to the apostles eventually leaving Jerusalem after new believers had already started spreading the Gospel.  Of course, Paul was already on his journeys, taking the Gospel to large crowds, especially to the Gentiles.

So, regardless of all the wrong moves that we humans make due to our free will, there is an overall correction factor made by God to redirect us back into His sovereign will, and for the true believers that seek to serve God, God guides us back to His perfect will for our lives.  In that respect Fichte was partly correct, but also wrong.

A total determinism as put forth from Dogmatism is incorrect due to free will.  As such Dogmatism and Idealism cannot be mixed, but before we make a hard line in the sand, God’s sovereign will is going to be done while free will exists.  At some point, the events of Revelation (as seen as a distant future prophecy when the Apostle John wrote it) are going to happen.  It is all on God’s timing.

But for each of us, our free will means that we have choices.  Not everything is determined, even in households where one person tries their best to determine every aspect of everyone else’s lives.  Even if our rebellion is only in our imagination, due to the dire consequences of straying from the one who holds absolute power.

And in totalitarian states where Christianity is seen as a threat to the government, the church grows, but it grows in people’s houses and in back alleys, away from the prying eyes of “Big Brother.”

I hope people can now see the apparent contradiction in the title of this essay.  Dogmatism and free will seem to have no common ground, but under God’s loving supervision, the two have room in which to coexist.

But, regardless of philosophy, Fichte asks an important question, “What sort of person will you choose to be?”  Only in making that choice does the world begin to align before you.

If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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