Rambling and vague thoughts:
My late systematic theology professor back in Ohio commented on the beginnings of the process of forming a systematic-theological perspective. He said that most people who actually produce a systematic theology (very few!) default the beginning of their system to the point of faith that seems most important to them. My professor, a Lutheran theologian, for example, began his system with the Ascension. So, since that class I’ve thought about where I would begin my system (of course, I am completely unqualified to do any thing vaguely resembling systematic work!!!).
1. My system, I think, would need to begin with “Free-Will.” I’m obviously not a Calvinist (low or high). For me, I cannot get around believing that we have true potential for independent choice. Lots of things hinder and impinge upon our realization of the potential for making honest/real choices, but I have to believe that we have it. Without the ability to make free choices – the ability to choose contrary to what was chosen – then to me we are all simply automatons. What’s the point? I don’t think being made in the image of God results in a completely determined life without recourse.
I’m a synergist, and thus not a monergist. Chalk it up to my Arminian upbringing.
My understanding of the ideas of “free-will” for Calvinists is that God has already instilled in us our desires. So, when we act we act “freely” because we act according to our desire. Yet, our desire is determined for us already by God even before Creation. I don’t think that results is “free-will.” To have true “free-will,” I think it a necessity to be able to choose contrary to what might be or has already been chosen.
If I go to an ice-cream parlor and I am confronted with 31 flavors of ice-cream, a Calvinist might claim that I freely choose chocolate from all the other flavors. The first visit, I choose chocolate because I desire it. The other flavors are there to “choose” from, but I “freely” choose chocolate because I love it so much. My second visit, well, I choose chocolate because I desire it and love it so. The third visit, well, I choose chocolate, of course. God determined that I love chocolate ice-cream and while I “freely” choose it, it is determined so that I can choose no other.
An Arminian might describe such a situation thusly: I go to an ice-cream parlor and am confronted with 31 flavors. In my God-given make up, I just love chocolate ice-cream and desire it. My first visit, I look at all the flavors and choose chocolate. My second visit, I choose chocolate, but then “decide” to change my mind and get strawberry instead (or Jamoca Almond Fudge!). My third trip, I choose chocolate. I have the ability to choose something other than what my desire dictates. I understand that a Calvinist might suggest that God already predetermined that I would choose strawberry that second time, but I just don’t buy this seemingly determinist explanation of “free-will.”
2. Well, I think about what it means to be made in the image of God. There are lots of people throughout the ages who have postulated all manor of explanations of what that might mean. To me at this point, being made in the very “image” of God connotes “attributes” of God. For me, this suggests the ability to Create and the ability to “Decide” freely between honest choices. To be made in the image of God is to have true potentiality for Free-Will decision making and to Create (obviously not ex-nihilo). In these two aspects, I think we can find poignantly God’s image in us. All of this has been corrupted by our free-will decisions to choose contrary to our own well-being and the continued suffering of the consequences of our wrong/bad decisions.
I’m not convinced that the whole episode of the Garden and Adam and Eve’s eating from the Tree of Good and Evil is as we commonly assume. I’m sure there is a heresy somewhere in these thoughts of mine, but they are what they are at the moment. In giving us honest free-will, we have to have honest choices – to do or not to do, between opposing things. The eating of the fruit of the Tree was not the downfall. There had to be true choice. We had to “exercise” that choice to realize that aspect of being made in the “image” of God.
God knew already that we could choose contrary to our own wellbeing. God risked being rejected by and rebelled against by His creation (Open-Theism?). I’m sure he well realized that in giving us that ability that humanity would choose to walk in ways contrary to our wellbeing and against God’s desire for us. That we would sin. That we would estrange ourselves from God and His ways.
The downfall occurred in our rejection of the wisdom of God and thinking that we knew better what to do – we were seduced into thinking that we knew what was best for us. We rejected God, and we bear the consequences to this day. We are no longer innocent, by a long shot.
Yet, because we are created in the image of God, God allows us to continue exercise our ability to freely choose between good and evil, right and wrong, what is good and healthy for us individually and collectively and what is not good and healthy – between killing and forgiving, between gluttony and caring for the hungry. God allows us to choose whether we will take up what is right for us: “To love mercy, to do justly, and to walk humbly with our God,” or not.
To me, this gets at the heart of the problem of Theodicy. Yes, God could well stop all this evil, but in so doing He would work contrary to His creative intent for humanity – that we would bear His image. We would be left as automatons. I get frustrated by those who fight against Christianity by using the issued of evil in the world – “if there really was a God and if this God was really good, then why does this God allow all this evil and killing and destruction? I can’t believe in a God like that.” Well, if God ended all that kind of stuff arbitrarily and unilaterally, then we would no longer have free-will. What would be better, truly?
Would most of the people who raise the problem of theodicy as the reason why they refuse to or can’t believe be willing to forfeit their free-will (whether realized or only in potentiality) to end the suffering caused by the wrong decisions of fellow human beings? Would they be willing to have their lives “determined” for them by God? I don’t think so. They might wish the way things worked in the world or in us were different all together, but what is the actual end result of the demand that a truly good God, if one existed, would not allow evil or harm or destruction to exist at all?
I realize that this is very complex stuff, but we could stop human suffering caused by famine, war, etc., if we wanted to. We could mitigate the suffering caused by natural disaster. We don’t want to badly enough. We chose that which is not the good, the beautiful. We choose to be selfish. We choose sin. This is why we are in need to atonement, a savior, forgiveness, and why we needed a way to be made for reconciliation with God, one another, and all of Creation. I think it really is up to us, and I do believe that those who do not know God have the ability to what is right – feed the poor, forgive, do no harm. That doesn’t mean they earn their way in the afterlife. It simply means that on this planet, those without knowledge of God still bear the image of God and because of this they can choose to do what is right, even if doing what is right does not result in salvation. I’m not a Pelagian or a semi-Pelagian. It is only by the first work of God through the Holy Spirit that we are able to understand our need for God’s salvation and can we realize right relationship with God.
Just random, incomplete thoughts. I think I need to start with the honest ability to made choices between even contrary things. This, I think, is part of the “image” of God within us – to freely choose.
Rambling and vague thoughts: