In my last post I talked about why God would allow bad things to happen to people. I said that one of the biggest reasons is to show people that there is sin and that it brings about pain and death. So the next logical question is then, “Why would God allow sin in the first place?”
Basically, sin exists as a result of having free will. Still, I have been told “But God could give us free will without letting us sin.”
No, not really. Free will is the ability to do something by choice instead of, well, not having a choice. Any person on Earth will be pulled towards the center of the planet whether they want to or not. There is no free will in that - despite my willpower, I cannot make the law of gravity simply stop applying to me while I am sitting here. But to do or not do something that I have the ability to do - for instance, posting this - requires choice. I could post, I could also not post. To say that I have free will but am no longer able to not post this means that I have no choice in the matter - I must make the post. There is nothing else I can do. There is no free will there.
Then there are those who would ask me to definitively prove the existence of free will. This leads us down the path of free will versus determinism, which states that we do not choose our choices, but that all circumstances leading to the moment of decision make the choice for us, that if someone had complete knowledge of the circumstances leading up to a moment, the decision could be correctly predicted 100% of the time. We had this debate in my Philosophy class, where free will was presented as the ability to choose equally between any potentiality.
The thing is, there's no way to definitively prove one way or another, as we can't know everything, which would be the only way to prove determinism true or false.
Now I must clarify: I do not agree with the way free will was presented in the debate. Just because two ideas are different does not mean that they must be presented as extreme opposites.
See, humans are largely creatures of habit. When faced with a decision where we do not know or even care enough to make a decision, we often take the route that is (most similar to) the one that we would usually take.
There are also things that influence our decisions. Past experience colors our impression of things - getting sick once at a fast food restaurant often ruins the entire chain for people, while, on the other hand, freshly baked muffins or cookies beckon us with their smells, tempting us to take just one…
A bad mood makes a person more likely to choose a negative path: seclusion, self-harm, aggression.
It is therefore possible to predict with a reasonable accuracy what a person will choose to do, unless that person has learned self-control. Then that person can pull themselves out of the rut of habit and emotion and choose to do something other than what they want to do, like how a person with anger problems can learn self-control and be able to not react in anger to something that angers them - the previously violent person can restrain himself and respond kindly instead. See, out of every possible choice we could make, we also have the choice of not making that choice. I could eat a muffin, or I could go without. I could lash out at the person who bumped into me, or I could choose not to and move on.
Already in everyday life we operate under the assumption that people have free will. Consider for a moment the United States legal system. It operates under the assumption that people are ultimately able to choose to follow the law or not. Fines are given to the guilty party to their actions. Yet if we have no choice in our decisions and are simply victims of circumstance, why should the so-called “guilty” party pay for something that they had no control over? Instead, the fair thing to do would be to use tax money to pay for damages, as both sides are the victims. But if a person makes their own choices, then they are truly the guilty party and should pay reparations.
So what does this all mean, if God gave us free will? First and foremost, it means that we are ultimately responsible for what we do. Thus, whether we like it or not, if we do something that is considered sinful, we are guilty of sinning.
But let me backtrack: why would God even give us the option to sin? Why give us free will at all?
Now, I do not make the claim to fully know the mind of God and every reason behind what he does - I suspect that, if I did, my brain would either explode or collapse into a black hole. What I do know is that God's intention for humankind is for us to be in loving relationship with him and with each other. That is why Jesus said:
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments. – Matthew 22:37-40 NET
So if all of God's commands depend on us loving, then love must be God's ultimate purpose for us, as there is no greater command than to love.
I'll end up talking about love in-depth some other time, but it needs to be made clear here that love here is a choice that requires free will. Love is not just a feeling, it is action that may be born of the feeling and is a behavior that doesn't go away even when the feeling does.
So for those who may disagree with me, let's think about it. Those of you who have someone who loves you, whether family, friend, boy/girlfriend, or spouse, how do you know that they love you? Because they said the words “I love you” to you? Yet we know that people are capable of lying and will sometimes give the expected response even if they don't mean it - I know I've done that before. Is it that they do things for you? As a kid, I would go to my grandma's house and help clean up her yard. Not because I wanted to, but because mom told me to - and you don't disobey mom. So I didn't do it out of love, but perhaps out of fear (as bad as that sounds). For some, they are motivated by greed - if I get in good with you, what can I get from you?
Everybody wants to slap your back Wants to shake your hand When you're up on top of that mountain But let one of those rocks give way Then you slide back down Look up and see who's around then Somebody's gonna drop everything Run out and crank up their car Hit the gas, get there fast Never stop to think “What's in it for me?” Or “It's way too far” They just show on up With their big ol’ heart – Find Out Who Your Friends Are by Tracy Lawrence
I love that song for its message: your true friends are the ones who love you, and you'll know that they love you because the only thing on their minds in what they do is you, not themselves, whether that be wondering what they will get in return or thinking that it is too inconvenient for them. Instead, they “hit the gas, get there fast” when there is no obligation to do so, they just do so for your sake.
That's more of a topic for another post, though. The point right now is that love is an action performed willingly, that is, without any kind of obligation forcing me to do so (like my mom making me clear my grandma's yard), so if there were no free will, then loving actions wouldn't be loving anymore. Instead, they would be a poor facsimile of love, like a robot programmed to always “love” its owner.
That's a scary thought.
So, free will exists so that we have the opportunity to love God and love each other. I said earlier that sin is the result of having free will, and that is true. But now I also say that sin is another name for not loving, whether not loving God or not loving our neighbor.
Let me end with an analogy: like a lightswitch, free will decisions can be simplified to two choices with two ways to think about them: the light (“on”) is action, the dark (“off”) inaction, or, as I like to think of it, light is love, while darkness is sin. In both cases, the “dark” is simply the absence of the “light”.