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THEOLOGY > Sin > The Problem of Evil > View's of Man's Will


In every system of theology, therefore, there is a chapter De libero arbitrio. This is a question which every theologian finds in his path, and which he must dispose of; and on the manner in which it is determined depends his theology, and of course his religion, so far as his theology is to him a truth and reality (C. Hodge, ST, II, 278).

The options for the theologian are not many; there are basically three views regarding man’s will: Indeterminism, Self-determinism, and Determinism.

Indeterminism – events and decisions are not determined in any manner; all choices are uncaused; position is opposed to causality, the idea that everything—effect—has a precedent cause; affirms existential autonomy; an absolute freedom (freedom of indeterminacy) which means that the will is free of all conditions; denies the fundamental rational principle; there is no purpose or plan, and no prediction of the future can be made.

Self-Determinism – for man to be man he must be free; freedom is not doing what one desires but what one chooses or decides; a freely chosen action when another action could have been chosen; power of contrary choice; acts of the will are undetermined by outside influence and are indifferent to them; all actions are contingent, with none being certain; claims that this position is the only one that establishes moral accountability; responsibility is, therefore, anchored in ability; for the Theist free choice is a given by God; an alternative choice must be possible for liberty to be a valid concept; the future is uncertain, causing prophecy to be impossible and foreknowledge to be unfeasible; some self-determinists do not discount the influence of natural causes like environment and heredity.

Determinism – actions are determined; decisions are the result of prior causes; two kinds: Naturalistic (Skinner) and Theistic (Teaching of the Bible; articulated by Augustine and Calvin).

Naturalistic Determinism takes several forms; everything thing that happens must happen according to some sort of necessity that governs all, whether it be a force, chance, the stars, environmental and cultural characteristics, or natural laws; all that happens is the result of an unintelligent cause; man makes no decisions that arise independently out of his will; called Fatalism, Scientific or Physical Determinism;

Theistic Determinism defines freedom as doing what one desires and God determines the desires; actions are said to be free because they arise from within and are not forced from without; opponents claim that this position destroys responsibility; if God is not the source and cause of evil, then there is something in the universe that is outside God’s will—it is an alien element that introduced itself into the order of things; God is the efficient cause of all events but not the immediate cause; the Sovereign Creator directs the affairs of His creation.

Does God have free will? If so, how is it to be defined? Must God be good of necessity? If this is true, is He still free? If the answer is in the affirmative, then God’s actions are both free and reflect the necessity of His nature? Then can it be maintained that man is both free and that his actions indicate necessity? If the actions reflect necessity, then what is disagreeable with the word “determined” with reference to man? See Acts 4:27-28; also 2:23.


In a discussion of any topic the Biblical Revelation regarding God must be the decisive point of reference; the discussion must begin with God, because a variant starting point dooms the discussion to erroneous reasoning and conclusions (see: Foundations and Perverted Thinking).

Without equivocation the Bible teaches Theistic Determinism, not a partial determinism but a full determinism—not some events but all events (see: God is Sovereign, Theistic Determinism, and All Things).

All events, both personal and cosmic, must be understood on two levels: the horizontal and the vertical. The horizontal speaks of natural causes as the explanation of events; the vertical affirms that God is ultimately and finally the sole arbiter of the ebb and flow of natural causes. He made them, He controls them, and He directs them to fulfill His immutable will; He is the Primary Cause, Ultimate Cause, or Absolute Cause.

Logically and semantically determinism and free will are irreconcilable, with the terms themselves explicitly conveying opposing concepts; those who attempt to reconcile the two will dilute by definition one or the other, or sometimes both, of the terms in order to create a supposed harmony between the concepts.

Free will (ability to take a contrary action) is considered by many to be a non-negotiable concept, for man would not be man without free will; for unbelievers and for some believers free will is the epitome of what it is for man to be man.

Some desire to make a suppose freedom of the will the supreme trait of human nature; and, according to this reasoning, without this total self-determination man would not be man; but freedom should not be interpreted in terms of man but in terms of God; freedom is not man’s ability to make contrary choices but the ability to serve God; freedom is the release from bondage, the bondage of sin.

True freedom is not the ability to do what one desires, but to desire the right thing; true freedom is not the freedom to sin but the freedom to live separate from sin; true freedom is not the freedom to choose between good and evil but the state in which one only chooses the good; true freedom is the freedom of heaven, which is a state apart from sin.

If man has absolute free will then God cannot be omniscient.

Free will creates a myriad of potential futures whereas determinism postulates a single future; omniscience requires necessity, thus determinism; the future cannot be that which is inconsistent with what God knows it to be.

Regarding the question of foreknowledge, foreknowledge does guarantee, or makes necessary, an action, for the action cannot be contrary to foreknowledge; this makes impossible any fortuitous events, that is, there are no chance or accidental acts unknown to God; therefore, certainty and foreknowledge are companions; foreknowledge does establish the certainty of the thing, and certainty requires necessity; thus there is the need for causal efficiency, for how can an event be foreknown definitely to occur and yet that event be considered contingent? If God knows what is to be than it must be.

Worded differently, God knows what will be because He has determined what will be.

If actions have a cause, then the concept of a free will that is uncaused evaporates.

If the will has the ability to make contrary choice, then it would seem that God could be frustrated, which brings into question God’s power, His knowledge of the future, and His prophecy.

Man’s will is not the power of contrary choice; he does not have “free will”; his will is bound—he is a slave to sin; he cannot make decisions inconsistent with his nature and the inclinations of his nature. But he does make decisions, and in this sense has a functioning will. Man chooses, but his choices are limited to his nature. It is in this manner that man’s actions can be said to be self-determining. Calvin: man has two legs for walking but both are broken (Institutes, II, 2-5).

The will is not some autonomous entity of the individual that determines disposition and deeds; the will reflects and acts consistently with the state or nature of the individual—that is all it can do.

Will is the ability of man to act, the volitional quality in man; it is not the ability to choose between options, but the ability to take action—decision making is the purpose of the mind. The will's action is determined by the function of the mind, the thoughts/convictions/affections/inclinations/desires, which in turn arise from one’s state or nature and would include and be affected by genetics and circumstances; the state is the state of the person and the affections belong to the person, so, in this sense, the choice is a self-decision—it arises within and comes forth from the person; in the action of the will is a manifestation of the person.

But the ability or will is not autonomous; it is not an independent quality that has power to operate without parameters. The will always operates in a manner consistent with its inclinations or its nature, never contrary to either. The will also always operates in a manner consistent with the determination made by God, with the determination being made effectual by God through secondary causes, such as genetics and circumstances mentioned above. In this sense God directs, manipulates, or determines the actions of His creatures, but God does not perform the actions of His creatures.

The will wills just as the mind thinks; it is impossible for the mind not to think and it is impossible for the will not to will; the will does not decide, it acts; the will carries out the decision of the intellect; the will is the servant of reason and deliberation; the will is not an independent entity that decides on its own and, therefore, has the power of contrary choice or the freedom of indifference or independent self-determination; the will is the mind acting out of its deliberations.

Man is free in the sense that his acts are his own (actions are self-choices; some writers refer to this concept as self-determination), meaning that there is nothing external to him that causes his actions to be what they are; the reasons or grounds for his actions are within; they arise from his character and nature, meaning his thoughts and feelings; man’s actions arise from what he is when the actions appear; this is to affirm that man is the immediate cause of his actions, while God is the efficient cause of his actions.

Man’s will is not free but is bound by what man is; this means that man cannot act contrary to what he is, anymore than God can act contrary to what He is; if man is by nature a child of wrath, then all of his actions reflect this nature, as God is thrice holy and cannot sin; thus there is a certainty involved in the actions—God surely must be free and yet His actions are certain; man is sinful and therefore his acts will be sinful; the will is not an independent entity that can choose contrary to what the individual is at the time of choosing; uncertainty of any event is not necessary for there to be freedom of the event.

God does not coerce people to sin—in this sense man is said to be free; sin arises from within, from a sinful heart that is set on sin; in the words of James: “each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (1:13).

Will chooses based upon its ability and state, which includes inclinations and biases; because of sin man cannot choose the good; he is free only to sin; freedom resides in the ability to do that which is consistent with the nature, thus, the will has power to decide, a power which is voluntary; man is responsible for his inclination as well as his volition; the great change took place at the Fall: man turned from God to self.

Responsibility for evil is established in the doing of evil; accountability is established by God who sees fit to hold man responsible.

Man is the author of his own sin in the sense that his sin is within him and arises from within him; God is not therefore, the author of sin but sin is not inconsistent with His perfect will; so God determines the actions of man but man is accountable for his actions.

Decisions we make have a cause or causes; there is a reason for the decisions we make; the reason is the cause, an immediate cause and an efficient cause; decisions reflect the inclinations/affections/desires of the individual; but God so orders circumstances that we will choose that which we most desire; thus, God’s will is done by us but the decision is ours; moral responsibility resides in the fact that we choose what we desire, and sin is in the self-satisfaction.

If God merely permits evil, then there is something outside of His control; it operates as it will, and to what extent does God allow it to operate and how far does God allow it to go; in what sense is God sovereign if there is autonomous freedom?

Biblical Sovereignty and autonomous freedom are incompatible concepts.

If God ordains evil, then its inception, continuation, and conclusion are all under His control and are following His will; if this is so, then evil has a purpose; and if evil fulfills God’s purpose, then, in that sense, evil is right; some even speak of evil as being good to the degree that it accomplishes God’s purpose.

God causing a man to sin is not sin; there is no law above God that commands God; He is law; there is no law that God must obey; He establishes law. Whatever God does is right, and it cannot be questioned.

How can God rule over the general order of things and not the particular of things? The particulars make up the general.

In his natural state man can only do evil; in the glorified state the believer can only do good.

The ultimate outcome of all things is the doing of God!

Paul: “Who can resist His will?”

The human will does not obtain grace by freedom, but obtains freedom by grace (Augustine, On Rebuke and Grace to Valentinus);

Free agency is the power to decide according to our character; ability is the power to change our character by a volition (Hodge, ST, II, 293);

To act according to its nature is the only liberty which belongs to any created being (C. Hodge, ST, II, 254);

Man chooses not of necessity but freely (T. Aquinas).


God permits – II Chron. 32:31; Ps. 81:12; 106:14-15; Acts 14:16; Matt. 26:53;

God prevents - Gen. 20:6; Ps. 19:12-3; I Cor. 11:30; I Jo. 5:16;

God ordains – Isa. 10:5-6; Gen. 50:20; Acts 4:27-28;

God limits – Gen. 8:21-22; 9:5-7; Job 1:12; 2:6; II Thess. 2:3-6;

God causes – Gen. 45:5-9; 50:20; see: Story of Joseph;

God hardens - Ex. 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17; Ex. 8:15, 32; 9:34; Ex. 9:16 (Rom. 9:17-18; Ps. 105:25);

God delivers – Acts 2:23;

God foretells – Acts 3:18;

God prepares – Rom. 9:22;

God sends – II Thess. 2:11.

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