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What is the point of life from a Christian perspective?

October 29, 2016
Free will

The other day, I was reading some conversation on the Problem of Evil. As usually happens, one of the responses was that evil exists because of human free will that defies God’s completely good plan, but human free will itself is something God wanted, so that’s why he allowed for it.

This led me to think about a series of questions, beginning with: what is the point of this life (with our free will and fallen natures and the risk that so many of us will end up in Hell for [possibly] eternity) from a traditional Christian perspective?

I know the basic way to answer this question from a Mormon perspective. In Mormonism, mortality is a proving ground — it is necessary for development, and such development gives one the possibility to advance to Godhood. In Mormonism, the fall isn’t entirely a bad thing…it’s a necessary part of the plan. In Mormonism as well, however, God has a more limited role in terms of creating the universe — he is more of an organizer who’s already part in the process, and we — rather than being created ex nihilo — are eternal intelligences organized to create our more corporeal selves.

But I don’t have to be an exmormon to realize that you can’t assume this answer will work for traditional Christianity. So, based on what I have learned about traditional Christianity, that led me to a series of questions and explorations.

The basic idea around the free will argument against the problem of evil are the ideas that God didn’t want humans who were coerced to loving him — He wanted people who would love him out of their own volition. Secondly, there is this idea that free will must include the real possibility of acting in evil/sinful/ungodly ways.

Who has free will?

So, one of my followup questions was: does God have free will?

This isn’t a certain premise. Some people have pointed out that due to divine simplicity, one can’t say God has parts, so it’s not that God “has” will but that he “is” will.

Still, when I asked this question on the Christianity subreddit, most people seemed to want to say that God does have free will (or is free will). They wanted to say that God can do anything logically possible, and there isn’t anything logically impossible about God performing evil acts. However, God never acts in evil ways because his nature is good. So, though he can act in any way he wants, he only acts in accordance with his nature, which is good. (I don’t want to run afoul of the Euthyphro Dilemma here).

Even if someone wasn’t really comfortable with talking about whether God has free will, I tried to get at a similar question from a different aspect: is there free will in heaven?

Again, people on r/Christianity seemed to agree that people still have free will in heaven. This was something easier for people to admit, as we can talk about humans relatably (even if God is very difficult to discuss.)

So, that led to my next question: is there sin in Heaven?

This brought some very interesting responses on r/Christianity that I hadn’t really thought about. Firstly, many people raised up the idea of angels who rebelled as support for the idea that there is sin in heaven. This isn’t really something I had considered, so I had to refine my question: after we die and are judged, is there sin in Heaven?

Here, people seemed to agree that there isn’t sin. When someone goes to heaven, they are there for eternity and would never do anything to jeopardize that.

People then would explain how they could reconcile free will in heaven with the lack of sin in heaven. They would frame it in different ways, but ultimately, the way most arguments went was that people have the capability to sin in heaven (it is an option available to them), but their natures are such that they will never choose that option. In other words, it’s not that it’s impossible, but that one never wants to, so one never does it.

To me, however, if we can think of a situation where people have free will yet only effectively make certain choices, then that casts into questions assumptions about what is needed for free will in mortality.

Compatibilism and free will

I didn’t really understand Calvinism very well until I read a particular article that discussed the Calvinist view of free will. This article pointed out that what Calvinists reject is libertarian free will, but not compatibilist free will. From the article:

…Does a person have free will? Well, what do you mean by “free will”? This must always be asked.

Do you mean:

  1. That a person is not forced from the outside to make a choice?
  2. That a person is responsible for his or her choices?
  3. That a person is the active agent in a choice made?
  4. That a person is free to do whatever they desire?
  5. That a person has the ability to choose contrary to their nature (who they are)?

Calvinists, such as myself, do believe in free will and we don’t believe in free will. It just depends on what you mean.

When it comes to the first three options, most Calvinist would agree that a person is not forced to make a choice, is responsible for their choices, and is the active agent behind those choices. They would reject the forth believing that a person is not free to do whatever they desire (for example, no matter how much one desires, he or she cannot read the thoughts of another person, fly without wings, or transport from one location to another just by thinking about the desired location).

It is important to note at this point, there is no conflict. No matter what theological persuasion you adhere to, most of historic Christianity has agreed that the first three are true, while the fourth is false.

It is with the fifth option there is disagreement.

The article goes into more detail on problems with thinking a person can choose contrary to their nature, so please read when you have time to. I’ll just say that the compatibilist notion of free will can probably be best summarized by Arthur Schopenhauer’s quote: “Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.” What this means is that compatibilists would say that we are free when we can act in accordance with our own natures. Coercion or a lack of free will means having our choices limited by external factors.

To take a lighthearted example, let’s say that in front of me I have vanilla and chocolate ice cream. I strongly prefer vanilla ice cream. I choose vanilla because that is what I want, and whenever vanilla ice cream is available, I choose it.

The compatibilist would say that no one is forcing me to choose vanilla. The fact that my choosing vanilla is determined by my nature (my strong preference for vanilla) and that I did not choose my nature (I did not choose to prefer vanilla over chocolate) does not defeat free will. I *could* choose chocolate, but I don’t want to. (You’d have to appeal to some other aspect of my nature to get me to choose chocolate.)

Ultimately, when people speak of free will for God or free will for humans existing post-mortally in heaven, they intuitively get at a compatibilist conception of free will. No external force is compelling their actions, but their natures are such that they always choose the good.

So, then, the question is: why didn’t God have created us with such natures in the beginning?

There has to be a difference in natures for mortal man and post-mortal man if both have free will, but one can choose sin. Mortal man must have been given a nature that included an effective potential for rebellion. And yet we say that post-mortal man is still free with only a hypothetical potential that never becomes effective.

Why was this?

We cannot respond: “God wanted people to love him out of their own volition” because people still think that in post-mortality, people are loving him out of their own volition. To get back to the ice cream analogy, I choose vanilla out of my own volition, even though my preference for vanilla was not chosen.

My suspicion is that ultimately, Christianity’s creation narrative is just a post-hoc explanation to attempt to describe why mortality is the way it is (I suspect that it works so well because we are beings evolving morality but still dealing with an evolutionary history of baser instincts and desires. [and you know, I think I heard one Christian explain the fall narrative allegorically in terms of evolution, but that was only ONE person I’ve ever heard it from]), rather than something that can explain why it had to be this way. In this sense, one might say, “Well, however it happened, we do have fallen natures, yet we can voluntarily choose to accept God’s grace or not.”

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20 Comments
  1. God is will. Nietzsche might be pleased, but I’m not sure what that means. Did anyone say how that works?

  2. keithnoback,

    So, the basic idea is about divine simplicity. One shouldn’t think of God as like, say, a bearded man in the sky. Rather, God is incorporeal because matter is contingent and has parts, whereas God is necessary and has no parts.

    For divine simplicity to work, God has to be equivalent to his traits. So, God doesn’t “have” ultimate power — he *is* ultimate power. God doesn’t *have* will. He *is* will. And so on.

    One person sent me this link on twitter: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/god-does-not-existwhat-atheists-and-christians-both_us_58106ce3e4b06e45c5c70075

    From this:

    God is not like us. God cannot, for instance, tell a joke. This is not because God does not have a sense of humor, which is clearly false (just look at the platypus). This is because the moment God says, “Your momma’s so fat,” your mom becomes HUGE!

    God is. God does not have a mind, like we do. God is mind. God does not have a will, like we do. God is willing. God does not make decisions, as we understand it. God does what God has always decided to be in and for Godself. God does not have parts.

    God creates not because God chooses to create. Rather, creation is the consequence of God being God (a God who relates). We human beings think about things, make up our minds, ask questions, and choose some options over others. For God, there are no options in any meaningful sense of the word.

    I’m not an expert at that sort of thought process, so I can’t really go much further there, but what I can say is that I’m familiar enough with this sort of theological thinking that I’m aware there has been a lot of thought historically into it.

    • I was afraid of that. I always hope for something better, but this is the stock answer: God isn’t ‘X’, but God is ‘X-like’; now that we’ve established that God can be spoken of as ‘X’…
      A mind that is not about anything is not a mind at all, for example, and such contrasting analogies (e.g. saying that God is mind, but unlike actual minds, lacks a defining quality of minds) amount to saying that God is incomprehensible.
      You can’t walk the assertion of incomprehensibility back to a series of explanations based upon the subject in question. The explaining is all done with the assertion.
      Those engaged in this narrative are almost always offended by the suggestion that they may be mystics, pantheists or panentheists – all of which might salvage the incomprehensible God.
      Then again, I guess it would be awfully hard to pass the offering plate in the name of panentheism.

  3. keith,

    Interestingly, I actually had another question on r/Christianity asking what it means for God to be love (rather than to say God is loving, or that God loves perfectly), and one person did note:

    Christianity is somewhat panentheistic. The holy spirit is everywhere and fills all things. However, he is not the world itself, so panentheism doesn’t fully work.

    In this discussion, the opposition to panentheism was really to any attempt to identify the creation as essentially God or essentially part of God — again, there is a divide between God as uncreated (which is part of God’s essence, only held by the members of the Trinity) and universe as created. So, there is this tension: yeah, the Holy Spirit fills all creation, yeah, God is said to be the ground of all being (so everything created relies on his will and energies), but God does not rely or require creation to be sustained in the same way that creation relies or requires God to be sustained.

  4. Of course, the problem is with identity not dependence. Or having your aseity and violating it too. 🙂

  5. You write, “Still, when I asked this question on the Christianity subreddit, most people seemed to want to say that God does have free will (or is free will). They wanted to say that God can do anything logically possible, and there isn’t anything logically impossible about God performing evil acts. However, God never acts in evil ways because his nature is good. So, though he can act in any way he wants, he only acts in accordance with his nature, which is good.”

    Getting back to the idea that God “is” his will, it’s also true that God “is” good in the same way. For him to act evil would contradict the proposition that he is good of his very essence. For us, whether we’re good or evil is accidental: It’s changeable and depends on how we’re acting at a given time. Whereas with God, good is not an accident but is his very essence. He can’t act evil any more than he could cease to exist.

    Furthermore I would argue that this is a strength and not a weakness: He’s impervious to evil as Superman is impervious to a sword thrust. Does Superman’s imperviousness to harm limit his freedom?

    You write, “There has to be a difference in natures for mortal man and post-mortal man if both have free will, but one can choose sin. Mortal man must have been given a nature that included an effective potential for rebellion. And yet we say that post-mortal man is still free with only a hypothetical potential that never becomes effective.”

    The pertinent difference between Adam and Eve and the souls in heaven, is that the blessed in heaven see God “face-to-face”, whereas Adam & Eve did not.

    St. Thomas Aquinas writes,

    “The first man did not see God through His Essence …. The reason is because, since in the Divine Essence is happiness itself, the intellect of a man who sees the Divine Essence has the same relation to God as a man has to happiness. Now it is clear that man cannot willingly be turned away from happiness, since naturally and necessarily he desires it, and shuns unhappiness. Wherefore no one who sees the Essence of God can willingly turn away from God, which means to sin. Hence all who see God through His Essence are so firmly established in the love of God, that for eternity they can never sin. Therefore, as Adam did sin, it is clear that he did not see God through His Essence.”

    ST I, A. 94, Q. 1

    In case the meaning of this isn’t immediately obvious, I’ll explain. (If it is immediately obvious, feel free to ignore my explanation.)

    The reason people in heaven can’t sin is rooted in the fact that all men desire happiness. Everything we do, we do ultimately for the sake of happiness, because we think it will make us happy in one way or another. It may be only a momentary happiness, like the enjoyment of vanilla ice cream, and it may be only a subjective happiness, as some people think money will make them happy, and therefore strive their whole lives to make money. They may be wrong, since happiness ultimately doesn’t come from riches, as so many wise men have pointed out. Nevertheless they do it because they think it will make them happy.

    We can debate this point, but nevertheless it is one of the premises underlying the inability of the blessed souls to commit sin.

    Another premise is that the blessed in heaven will see God face to face. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12.)

    St. Thomas again writes, “since in the Divine Essence is happiness itself, the intellect of a man who sees the Divine Essence has the same relation to God as a man has to happiness”. When you’re face-to-face with God, you’re face-to-face with happiness. And this is true, everlasting, objective happiness. And you know it without the shadow of a doubt. You’re not confused about what will make you happy, nor subject to perverted notions of happiness, nor confusing happiness with mere pleasure or riches. You’re looking happiness in the face.

    This is a state in which Adam and Eve did not find themselves. They were on earth in their natural bodies and not in God’s direct presence. So, turning away from God was not the direct, blindingly obvious turning away from happiness that it would have been had they been in the situation of seeing him face-to-face.

    St. Thomas argues that the fact that Adam and Eve sinned, is the very thing that proves that they did not see God “in his essence” (what I refer to as face-to-face); since if they had, they could not have sinned. The reason being, again, that it’s against the very nature of human beings to deliberately, and with full awareness, turn away from happiness. We can’t turn away from happiness when it’s staring us in the face, any more than God can commit evil.

    This is not a difference in nature, per se, between Adam and Eve and the blessed in heaven. It’s a difference in the situation in which they find themselves.

  6. That’s an interesting variant on the theme, Agellius but then I guess the question would be: Why didn’t/doesn’t God engage Adam and Eve/humans in general face-to-face?

    • “Why doesn’t God engage humans face-to-face?”
       
      And that’s a variation on the theme, Why didn’t God just create us in heaven? since seeing God face-to-face is, in fact, heaven. But that question boils down to, Why did God create a material universe at all?

      One of the attributes of the material universe is that everything happens via processes. We don’t come into existence as fully formed adults, but must go through a process of development, beginning as microscopic organisms and growing, physically and mentally, into mature adults. And then we don’t suddenly die but, barring illness or accident, undergo a slow process of decline.

      I agree that to say we are on this earth in order to exercise free will in choosing God or not, isn’t a satisfactory answer in light of the fact that the angels have free will, and were allowed to choose God or not, without having to go through life in a material universe. God could have made us the same way — if he wanted more angels, i.e. unembodied intellectual beings. But if he wanted physical creatures, then a physical universe in which to live and develop is part of the deal; and so are the processes through which things must happen.

      It seems that if growing into a mature adult human being requires a process, then becoming a resurrected human being does too. If God’s goal was not more unembodied intellectual creatures, but embodied ones capable of seeing him face-to-face, then the process of living and dying in a material universe may be a necessary part of the process of creating such beings.

      It’s important to recall that after the resurrection, we won’t simply be floating around in the ether, surrounding the glowing ball of light that is God. Rather, the Bible speaks of “a new heavens and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1). St. Paul also says “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” So it’s not only us but the entire material creation that will be “redeemed” and “resurrected” in a new form of some kind.

      The objection to living on this earth in order to reach heaven and see God face-to-face, seems to be an objection to process. But an objection to process is an objection to materiality, implying that purely spiritual creatures in a spiritual realm — in which things may happen instantly — would have been the way to go.

  7. Agellius,

    I’m not sure if the objection to process is an objection to materiality, if the “new heavens and new earth” spoken of in Revelation 21:1 are also material.

    If there is a material place where humans are face to face with God (e.g., the “new heavens and new earth”), then that cuts against the idea that material existence necessarily involves not seeing God face-to-face.

    So, I guess one question is: do the new heavens and new earth involve materiality? It seems that you’re saying they do when you reject the idea that life after the resurrection is about “floating around in the ether surrounding the glowing ball of light that is God.”

    But as soon as you have set up a system whereby man can interact with God face-to-face in a material setting, it gets right back to the question of why that couldn’t have been the case in the first place (and I totally understand why that would be interpreted as an objection to process. I think of it more as a questioning about process — if there’s a reason, I’d like to hear it. But I suspect that this may be a post hoc way of trying to explain the status quo.)

    Ultimately, I think that objections to process (to the extent they are objections rather than just questions) get at the idea that the way the basic Christian system works, there are at least theoretically some folks who won’t make it back. The way the basic Christian system works seems quite lossy – God doesn’t get everything/everyone out of the system that he put into it. And it seems like the explanations attempting to address this (free will, the goodness of material creation, etc, God’s ways are mysterious, etc.,) don’t really quite address that.

  8. I didn’t say “material existence necessarily involves not seeing God face-to-face”. What I’m saying is that seeing God face-to-face is the equivalent of heaven, and it may be that getting to heaven — which also involves being resurrected — requires undergoing a process.

    “[D]o the new heavens and new earth involve materiality?”

    The new heavens and new earth, and also our resurrected bodies, do involve materiality of some kind. But we don’t know precisely what kind. St. Paul writes,

    ‘The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam [Christ] became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. … For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”’ (1 Cor. 15:42-49; 53-54.)

    A few key points: St. Paul says that there are natural bodies and spiritual bodies; corruptible and incorruptible; and that the natural body must come first, and afterward the “spiritual” body. He also implies that we will have the same kind of body as Jesus after his resurrection.

    Jesus’ body after his resurrection was apparently different from before. There’s no doubt that it was physical (Lk. 24:39). But we see him suddenly appear in a room where the doors and windows are locked. (Jn. 20:19.) He appears to his disciples on the road to Emmaus without their recognizing him; but at a certain point they suddenly do recognize him, and then he disappears. (Lk. 24:13-30.) You may say that Jesus was God and did a lot of things that normal people don’t do. Nevertheless we don’t see him doing these kinds of things, involving appearing and disappearing, and altering his appearance, before he is resurrected.

    So we will be material, and yet incorruptible. In the universe as we know it, materiality equals corruptibility; everything corrupts eventually, particularly living things. So how is it that living, embodied beings will be incorruptible? We aren’t told exactly how. But all I’m saying is that reaching that state evidently requires undergoing a process. God could have made fully mature men by snapping his fingers, but instead he made them through natural material processes. I don’t think it’s a valid argument to say that if God existed, he would only have created men through the snapping of fingers. By the same token it’s not a valid argument against Christianity to say that God would only have created resurrected men capable of seeing him face-to-face, through snapping his fingers.

    “God doesn’t get everything/everyone out of the system that he put into it.”

    Except that he made everything out of nothing, so he’s not putting anything into it, nor losing anything. He simply makes a system in which people can undergo a process culminating in heaven, and some of the creatures within that system put themselves through the process and some don’t; which does arise directly from the free will that is given them within the system.

  9. But all I’m saying is that reaching that state evidently requires undergoing a process. God could have made fully mature men by snapping his fingers, but instead he made them through natural material processes. I don’t think it’s a valid argument to say that if God existed, he would only have created men through the snapping of fingers. By the same token it’s not a valid argument against Christianity to say that God would only have created resurrected men capable of seeing him face-to-face, through snapping his fingers.

    If the first line quoted here is true, then wouldn’t the second line not be possible? In other words, if incorruptible bodies require a process of being corruptible first, then wouldn’t it not be possible for God to make fully mature men by snapping his fingers?

    I mean, that would be one answer.

    But if it’s possible for God to make fully mature men by ‘snapping his fingers’ as it were, then the issue is not that God *would only* do that, but why he would do the corruptible -> incorruptible rather than just snapping his fingers.

    There can be answers for that too. I am just saying that I’m not getting that so far.

    (Like, the entire free will theodicy is basically an argument to say that God could not have accomplished his ultimate goals without the possibility of evil arising from free will…that there are things about free will and the attendant possibility of evil that are requisite parts of that plan. So the question is how well does that work out?)

    Except that he made everything out of nothing, so he’s not putting anything into it, nor losing anything. He simply makes a system in which people can undergo a process culminating in heaven, and some of the creatures within that system put themselves through the process and some don’t; which does arise directly from the free will that is given them within the system.

    I guess there is a presumption that God wants everyone to go to heaven which may be incorrect. If that is what he wants, then a system that he makes out of nothing where some people don’t get there raises questions.

    • Agellius permalink

      >>If the first line quoted here is true, then wouldn’t the second line not be possible? In other words, if incorruptible bodies require a process of being corruptible first, then wouldn’t it not be possible for God to make fully mature men by snapping his fingers?

      You seem to be taking “fully mature men” as synonymous with “resurrected men capable of seeing God face-to-face”. But by “fully mature man” I was only referring to a man in his natural state.

      Reconsidering the notion of God “snapping his fingers”: Even if a man must normally be born and develop in order to reach maturity, it doesn’t follow that God isn’t doing this by snapping his fingers. Genesis says that God created by saying “Let there be light,” etc., “and there was.” There needn’t be any conflict between this and the natural development of the cosmos into their present state. God being eternal, all time is present to him. He doesn’t sit there drumming his fingers, waiting for the results of his snapping. The result is present to him instantly, even if not to us who are working our way through time moment by moment.

      So God both creates him instantly (from his own perspective) and makes him live in space/time/matter. It should be born in mind that a material being is always in process, virtually by definition. Every movement, every word, every thought is a process, beginning at one moment in time and ending at another. So God decides to snap his fingers and create resurrected men, and he does, and result is the world we find ourselves in.

      >Like, the entire free will theodicy is basically an argument to say that God could not have accomplished his ultimate goals without the possibility of evil arising from free will.that there are things about free will and the attendant possibility of evil that are requisite parts of that plan.

      I want to say first that you’re right in a sense, that Christian revelation is something of a post hoc explanation. In other words it begins with God creating the world and everything in it, but doesn’t tell us what happened before, or what other options God considered. So really all I’m offering here is theories.

      That being said, my answer to this has to do with our being made in God’s image. The Mormons take this literally, saying that we have bodies just like God’s. Traditional Christians most commonly would say that we’re made in his image by having a mind and will. But another thing that makes us godlike is being “co-creators” with him.

      The most obvious way that this takes place is procreation: We can decide whether or not to bring another eternal soul into being, and raise him to know God and attain heaven. It is also left to us to build up the Church on earth and preserve and protect it, and participate in it. Neither can be done without God, but we are enabled to participate in the process. A third way in which we are co-creators is that we get to make ourselves into the kinds of beings we will ultimately be, through our free will in cooperating with or rejecting God’s grace. All these things make us “like gods” in the sense that we get to “create” ourselves and others, or at least have a hand in it. Which might be the whole point of creating us in a material universe.

      Now if we had no say in procreation, but rather God simply made all the human beings he wants, all at once; and if God simply put the Church on earth fully formed, with no need for evangelization; and if he places us all in heaven at the moment of our creation, so that we simply wake up and there we are, all worshiping God together and having nothing to do with having gotten there, then so much the less are we “like gods”; so much the less are we made in God’s image.

      Perhaps being “like gods” requires that we go through the process of creating ourselves and others, via procreation and building up the Church and spreading the Gospel, so as to make ourselves and others into the kinds of beings capable of seeing God face-to-face.

      If it were merely a matter of God putting us through a period of testing (pass or fail) or weeding out (good or bad), then you may well ask, Why only make some of us capable of passing the test? But if it’s a matter of co-creating ourselves and others, in order to be in God’s image, to be the kind of being God is, even to some small degree, then there has to be the possibility of failing or neglecting to co-create, or of perverting ourselves and others.

      This does have to do with free will, but free will per se is not the whole story. If God’s ultimate goal is not merely to have us living in heaven, but having us be as fully like him as possible, then having a hand and a choice in making ourselves (and others) what we end up being may be indispensable. Indeed this would even apply to those that don’t make it to heaven, since what they end up being is their choice as well. Maybe the goal is not necessarily to make creatures all of whom end up in heaven, but to make godlike creatures, who make of themselves whatever they want to make of themselves, given all the options.

      • “Now if we had no say in procreation, but rather God simply made all the human beings he wants, all at once; and if God simply put the Church on earth fully formed, with no need for evangelization; and if he places us all in heaven at the moment of our creation, so that we simply wake up and there we are, all worshiping God together and having nothing to do with having gotten there, then so much the less are we “like gods”; so much the less are we made in God’s image.”

        Since God did not have to do anything to get to where he is, to suppose that humans would need to do such to be like gods or to be made in God’s image doesn’t sound right to me. If anything, that just shows how ontologically unlike God we are. (This explanation works more in Mormonism for me because Mormonism’s God is not ontologically different in this way.)

        “Why only make some of us capable of passing the test? But if it’s a matter of co-creating ourselves and others, in order to be in God’s image, to be the kind of being God is, even to some small degree, then there has to be the possibility of failing or neglecting to co-create, or of perverting ourselves and others.”

        I am still not following. Like, if we can say that man in his nature would freely choose to follow God if face to face, I’m not following why not being face to face is a proposed requirement for co-creation (with the attendant change in scenario that allows people to choose against that ultimate end goal.)

        But to approach things in a different way, why couldn’t God simply have made the people who would co create themselves? This shouldn’t violate free will. God wouldn’t have to force this to occur. Rather, per your view, God’s not waiting on some uncertain outcome. He’s not limited by time. It’s already happened for him and he already knows what happened. To him, it’s a snap of the fingers, even if to us, it’s a long and drawn out process.

        “Maybe the goal is not necessarily to make creatures all of whom end up in heaven, but to make godlike creatures, who make of themselves whatever they want to make of themselves, given all the options.”

        Would you say, under this line of reasoning, that God ultimately intended for some folks to go to hell, and thus, for this to happen is not a violation or failing of his plan, but part and parcel of it?

        And would you say that even those who go to hell are more godlike for having the experience of mortality? To me, that doesn’t sound right (because it doesn’t sound right to say any thing in hell could be “godlike”). To me, that sounds again precisely like something that highlights how utterly unlike god humanity is in the Christian scheme of things.

  10. Agellius permalink

    >>Since God did not have to do anything to get to where he is, to suppose that humans would need to do such to be like gods or to be made in God’s image doesn’t sound right to me. If anything, that just shows how ontologically unlike God we are. (This explanation works more in Mormonism for me because Mormonism’s God is not ontologically different in this way.)

    God is utterly self-sufficient, eternal and infinite, and the cause of all that exists (unlike the God of Mormonism in the scenario you paint). When I say we can become like gods, obviously I don’t mean in that way. It’s too late for us to have always existed and to be the cause of all that exists, since we ourselves have already been caused (and our existence continues to be caused) by God.

    The sense in which we become like God is, as I said, in having intellect and will, and in being enabled to co-create with God.

    That we’re not like God by nature is exactly the point. Being eternal, God is all that he is, all at once. Being temporal, we become all that we are, one moment at a time. Just as our physical being is extended in space, our identity and spiritual state are extended in time. In order for us to make of ourselves what we wish, we need to be able to change directions in time. One difference between us and the angels is that the angels know all that they know, all at once, and therefore never change their minds. On the other hand, we learn new things and grow in experience and maturity, and are able to change our minds constantly. Those angels who chose to serve God were confirmed in righteousness immediately; we are confirmed in righteousness only when our minds are finally made up once and for all, which occurs at the moment of death.

    >>Like, if we can say that man in his nature would freely choose to follow God if face to face, I’m not following why not being face to face is a proposed requirement for co-creation

    That’s not exactly it. Those who have been resurrected will love to see God face-to-face, and will recognize it as perfect happiness, and would never turn away from it. But those who don’t love God or choose not to serve him, will not find happiness in seeing God face-to-face, and this is why they are said to choose hell, hell being nothing more than life apart from God for eternity.

    I believe I told you before about a quote from Cardinal Newman, where he said that people who don’t like church will not like heaven, since church and heaven have the same primary purpose of worshiping God. Those who don’t wish to worship God will find no joy in seeing him face-to-face.

    >>Would you say, under this line of reasoning, that God ultimately intended for some folks to go to hell, and thus, for this to happen is not a violation or failing of his plan, but part and parcel of it?

    I wouldn’t say he intended for it to happen, but that he intended for it to be possible to happen. Obviously this brings up the whole free will argument — can we be said to be free when God knew in advance which choices we would make? The answer is, if God only allows the choices and resulting outcomes that he himself approves of, then we really don’t have free will. But if he allows choices and outcomes that are either for or against his will, then free will truly does exist.

    The fact that he allows some to end up in hell (of their own choosing) demonstrates his commitment to letting us freely choose and create our own fate. If he were to create some knowing they would choose heaven, and others knowing they would choose hell, and then obliterate those who would choose hell, then he is eliminating the consequences and thus the possibility of choosing hell, and this really would be to deny us free will. As you said in the OP, “if we can think of a situation where people have free will yet only effectively make certain choices, then that casts into questions assumptions about what is needed for free will in mortality.”

    >>And would you say that even those who go to hell are more godlike for having the experience of mortality? To me, that doesn’t sound right (because it doesn’t sound right to say any thing in hell could be “godlike”).

    Not for having the experience of mortality, but for having made themselves what they wanted to be.

    I’m not sure why you would say that nothing in hell can be godlike. Satan himself is godlike in the ways in which we say that human beings are “in God’s image”: In having intellect and will. Assuming my theory is correct, he would also be godlike in having made himself the kind of creature he wished to be, and enjoying the fate that he chose for himself. Obviously he is unlike God in that he

    I suppose your aversion to saying that anything godlike can be in hell is due to your Mormon upbringing, since in Mormonism becoming a god is associated only with the highest level of heaven.

  11. Agellius,

    The fact that he allows some to end up in hell (of their own choosing) demonstrates his commitment to letting us freely choose and create our own fate. If he were to create some knowing they would choose heaven, and others knowing they would choose hell, and then obliterate those who would choose hell, then he is eliminating the consequences and thus the possibility of choosing hell, and this really would be to deny us free will. As you said in the OP, “if we can think of a situation where people have free will yet only effectively make certain choices, then that casts into questions assumptions about what is needed for free will in mortality.”

    I think you’re misunderstanding what was cast into question…My point in the OP is that if we can think of a situation (heaven) where people have free will yet only effectively make certain choices (following God), then that calls into question about how valid the argument is that people should be allowed to end up in hell for free will to exist. That is, it doesn’t make sense to say, “Well, some people should be able to choose hell for free will to exist” if we can say, “well, these people will of their free will only choose heaven.”

    I think over the conversation, this has been nuanced a bit more by pointing out the difference between the temporality of the material world vs. the non-temporality of the spiritual world, but I still think this is a question.

    I still don’t get why free will needs the possibility of anyone going to hell.

    Elsewhere in your comment you say:

    One difference between us and the angels is that the angels know all that they know, all at once, and therefore never change their minds. On the other hand, we learn new things and grow in experience and maturity, and are able to change our minds constantly. Those angels who chose to serve God were confirmed in righteousness immediately; we are confirmed in righteousness only when our minds are finally made up once and for all, which occurs at the moment of death.

    and also:

    Those who have been resurrected will love to see God face-to-face, and will recognize it as perfect happiness, and would never turn away from it. But those who don’t love God or choose not to serve him, will not find happiness in seeing God face-to-face, and this is why they are said to choose hell, hell being nothing more than life apart from God for eternity.

    I believe I told you before about a quote from Cardinal Newman, where he said that people who don’t like church will not like heaven, since church and heaven have the same primary purpose of worshiping God. Those who don’t wish to worship God will find no joy in seeing him face-to-face.

    I want to talk about angels for a moment. So, if I understand your view correctly, angels aren’t subject to time and so they aren’t subject to change. They have all the knowledge they will have, and thus they make one decision (freely) and do not change from it.

    So, my question might be: what determines if an angel follows God or rebels from God? (side question…were rebelling angels always in rebellion, per the non-temporal setup?)

    One possible answer would be that angels through sheer force of will can choose whether to follow or rebel no matter what. Thus, given all the knowledge and understanding they have, they are equally likely to choose one way or another.

    I think this is how some people’s understanding of free will works, but to me, that doesn’t make sense. Essentially, it separates freedom from reasons. It makes freedom unresponsive to knowledge.

    To me, however, the reason I had that section in my OP on “casting into question assumptions about what is needed for free will in mortality” was to instead segue into that Calvinist section.

    Because I do think that it makes more sense to speak about natures. And in this case, I would say that what makes an angel decide to follow or rebel is their nature — is their nature to “like” church or heaven or worshiping God? Is their nature to recognize God as perfect happiness? If so, then they follow. If not, then they rebel.

    …but do the angels choose their natures? (I would say no, but yet still say they have free will.)

    Do you disagree with anything so far?

    If you don’t have any disagreements, I would say, based on my current understanding of what you’re saying about the difference between humans and angels, is that how things change for humans is that time is introduced in the mix. So, we humans don’t start with all the data, don’t start with all the knowledge, and so on and so forth.

    When you say that “we learn new things and grow in experience and maturity, and are able to change our minds constantly,” this sounds to me like you say that will is responsive to reasons. That is, *because of* the things we learn and the things we experience, we change our minds. (Alternatively, you could argue that we could change our minds regardless of what we learn or what we experience, but then it seems like it would be superfluous to mention the first part of that sentence.)

    But to me, the basic pattern still holds in that we have natures — Some people like church, while others don’t.

    To me, I think that there is one additional complication. As you say, the angels start off with everything they are going to know. Humans, obviously, do not. But not only that; we aren’t necessarily assured to gain every piece of knowledge we could, and in fact, perhaps it’s fairer to say that it is impossible for us to gain all knowledge we could.

    Like, my choice to go to Texas A&M and become an accountant meant that I couldn’t go to Howard University and become an architect at that same time.

    So, this suggests to me that the following situation could occur: Person X doesn’t like church. However, if X had experiences A, B, and F, he would change his mind and begin to like church. Person X is not guaranteed to have experiences A, B, and F while in mortality, however.

    To me, there are several questions:

    1) Do you think person X is able to like church/follow God/choose heaven regardless of whatever they experience or learn in mortality, and that the situation I described isn’t even sensible?
    2) Are there or could there be some folks who won’t like church/God/etc., no matter what?
    3) Are there some folks who will only like church/God/etc., if certain criteria are met?
    4) If there are people in 3, then would it deprive them of their free will to place those criteria in their ways? Would it deprive them of their free will not to? Would it say anything about their individual free will if those circumstances were left up to chance?

  12. Agellius permalink

    >> My point in the OP is that if we can think of a situation (heaven) where people have free will yet only effectively make certain choices (following God), then that calls into question about how valid the argument is that people should be allowed to end up in hell for free will to exist. That is, it doesn’t make sense to say, “Well, some people should be able to choose hell for free will to exist” if we can say, “well, these people will of their free will only choose heaven.”

    I did understand that point, and thought I was responding to it. People in heaven of their free will only choose heaven, but this is after they are “confirmed in righteousness”, which doesn’t happen until after having lived a mortal life and made of themselves the kinds of beings who can and who wish to see God face-to-face. Someone who is not confirmed in righteousness may or may not wish to see God face-to-face, and seeing him may or may not make them happy. But those who are confirmed in righteousness do wish to see God face-to-face, and recognize that doing so is their ultimate happiness, and for that reason would never turn away from it.

    Speaking of nature, I agree with you that certain things are ours by nature, which we can’t help, and one of those is that we want to be happy more than anything else, because it’s our nature to desire happiness. So given that we must desire happiness, and in fact do desire happiness, and that we recognize that seeing God face-to-face provides ultimate happiness, fulfillment and satisfaction of all our desires, those who are confirmed in righteousness in heaven in a sense cannot sin. This doesn’t mean that anyone is forcing them not to sin.

    (I realize now that this is what you were getting at in your section on compatibilist free will; pardon my slowness.)

    You ask in the OP, “why didn’t God have created us with such natures in the beginning?”

    My answer is that God did create us with that nature, i.e. the nature which desires happiness above all things and is capable of recognizing that happiness ultimately comes from God, and once having recognized that, can never turn away from it. But man’s will needed to enter into it as well. I am suggesting that he didn’t want our destiny dictated by our nature, nor by mere information (X is objectively better than Y, therefore X), but to be chosen by us. This, as I said, is one of the things that makes us godlike.

    How could we possibly make such a choice? By being put into a situation wherein our ability, not merely to choose X over Y, but even to see the objective superiority of X over Y in the first place, is not a mere matter of being fed information, but is also a matter of choice. In a sense, we can choose whether or not to recognize truth itself, even when it’s staring us in the face (concrete examples of which, in my opinion, we see around us constantly).

    Were God to have simply made us such that we innately recognized the superiority of X over Y and had no choice but to choose the better of the two, where would the godlikeness have come in? We would already be what we are and would have had no hand in making ourselves that way.

    >> When you say that “we learn new things and grow in experience and maturity, and are able to change our minds constantly,” this sounds to me like you say that will is responsive to reasons. That is, *because of* the things we learn and the things we experience, we change our minds.

    But as we have discussed before, I don’t agree that reasons automatically result in changed minds; or as I would put it, we can choose to recognize the truth or not. Many things can enter into that choice, among them being, whether or not recognizing the truth will require anything of us, and if so, whether it’s a thing we are willing to give. But there are also other factors such as prejudices and past experiences. And I would say that how we deal with prejudices and past experiences is also largely a matter of will.

    There is no situation in which you can put someone which will guarantee that he is either saved or not saved. Raise him in a brothel or in a monastery, and he may turn out to be either a saint or a reprobate, in either situation. I’m not saying that salvation is equally likely in a brothel as in a monastery, but that good or bad influences, and true or false information, are not decisive, but rather how we respond to them.

    The exact same experiences don’t cause people to respond in exactly the same way. Growing up in the South might make a white person more likely to be racist due to the cultural influences there, but nevertheless not all Southerners are racists, and not even all children in the same family will necessarily have the same attitudes about race. Part of that is due to the slightly different experiences and the different temperaments of each of them, but part of it also is simply the choices that each of them makes as to how to respond to the world around them.

    One thing that enters into those choices are the virtues, or lack thereof. Someone with the virtue of courage may be more willing to resist submitting to the dominant racist paradigm in the home, school or town, whereas someone with less courage may not be willing to pay the price of such resistance. Someone with the virtue of charity may be more willing to assume the best about people of color, while one who lacks that virtue assumes the worst. Of course you will ask, why is one person given those virtues while another one lacks them. The answer is, that the virtues themselves are a matter of will: one may choose whether or not to cultivate and exercise virtue in oneself.

    There are an infinite number of ways we can respond to the infinite number of influences we encounter, which helps to convince me that God intended the field to be wide open for each and every one of us to go in any and every direction we may choose, every single day. And every choice contributes to who and what we ultimately become, in infinitely varying degrees.

    (By the way, for the sake of clarity I wanted to say that “nature” in traditional Christian theology refers not to who someone is, but what a thing is. A nature is shared by all members of a species, since it’s what makes them members of that species. Using “nature” to refer to the unique characteristics of each individual (such as preferring vanilla to chocolate), as opposed to a species, is sort of a loose way of speaking, to my mind. I might refer to that as a person’s temperament or personality or personal preferences, but not his nature, since his nature is that of a human being and is shared by all human beings. I’m not trying to dictate how you use words, but wanted to say what the word “nature” connotes to my mind.)

  13. Agellius,

    I guess in your latest comment, what I’m still not getting is how hypothesizing an ability for humans to do something that God himself could not do (he could NOT, for example, “choose whether or not to recognize truth itself”) is in any way “what makes us godlike”. you say having a hand in making ourselves what we will be is correlated to being godlike, but God didn’t do that. He is what He is and has never changed from that. Is that not so?

    I can follow your distinction between how you would use “nature” vs “personality/temperament/personal preferences”, but I would say this:

    if it’s in our nature (not just individual personality/temperament/personal preferences) to desire happiness, and God is happiness (– and — per previous conversations, you think these sorts of things are objective, so you couldn’t say “someone can desire happiness that doesn’t come from God”, could you?), then in what way can we say people can be motivated to will contrary to that?

    Like, if we are now on page for compatibilist free will, then why insist on a model of will outside of that (e.g., “making ourselves what we will be”)? Do you think that the “making ourselves what we will be” part is more important than the “free will” part (and thus, compatibilist free will — of the sort that people would have after “being confirmed in righteousness” — is NOT sufficient for the point of mortality)?

    Like, let me try to break out what I’m seeing in the latest comment:

    1) By nature, we desire happiness. This is not just a personality thing. This is not just a temperament thing. This is not just a “we have to choose this” thing.

    2) God is happiness.

    3) So, for us all to naturally desire God and choose God would not be a violation of free will. That is, after all, how we will be after we are confirmed in righteousness, right?

    4) Yet, somehow, in mortality, you say we don’t necessarily *by nature* desire to see God face-to-face. instead, it is only by personality, temperament, or experience that some folks desire this (or, perhaps differently from the others, only after “being confirmed in righteousness”.) (And since that is not true of all people, that is not part of our “nature”)

    5) But if God is happiness, how can we all desire happiness as an objective part of our nature yet not desire to see God face-to-face?

    I think this is going to get into whether free will outside of a compatibilist sense allows us to do things we don’t desire, or that we don’t want.

    If our nature is to desire happiness, does free will not being constrained by nature mean that we can choose to do what we we don’t desire? But where is the motivation? You can’t even say, “Because we wanted to do that” because we’re now defining that in terms of doing what we *don’t* want to do.

    are you tracking with any of this? The thing I appreciate about the calvinist sense of compatibilist free will/free will according to personality/temperament/personal preferences at the very least, is that it gives meaning to choices. If I’m doing something because that is what I want to do, then that makes sense. If I’m doing something because I don’t want to do it…how does that really give meaning to the idea of freedom and choice?

  14. Agellius permalink

    >> you say having a hand in making ourselves what we will be is correlated to being godlike, but God didn’t do that. He is what He is and has never changed from that. Is that not so?

    Most people don’t have a problem understanding how being an artist is godlike, in that God created the whole universe and filled it with beauty. When an artist makes something beautiful, he is like God in that sense. He is being creative and is bringing beauty into existence. Does this make any sense to you?

    Obviously you can always point out flaws in the analogy between us and God, because there are ways in which we are essentially different. Nevertheless the differences don’t erase the similarities. Any time we talk about God willing something or saying something or blessing or punishing or creating, we are acknowledging the various ways in which we are made in his image, by the very fact that these are things that we can understand and relate to and even do ourselves.

    >> if we are now on page for compatibilist free will, then why insist on a model of will outside of that (e.g., “making ourselves what we will be”)? Do you think that the “making ourselves what we will be” part is more important than the “free will” part (and thus, compatibilist free will – of the sort that people would have after “being confirmed in righteousness” – is NOT sufficient for the point of mortality)?

    When I talk about making ourselves what we will be, I don’t mean changing our nature. Our nature is given by God and we have no choice but to act within its confines. But within those confines there are various directions we can go, and we get to choose the directions we will take.

    >> 1) By nature, we desire happiness. This is not just a personality thing. This is not just a temperament thing. This is not just a “we have to choose this” thing.

    We do have to desire happiness. We don’t always choose it. Sometimes we choose something that will make us unhappy, or that will harm us, for the sake of some other perceived good or for more long-term happiness.

    >> 2) God is happiness.

    God is the ultimate source of our happiness, and ultimate happiness is to be found only in him.

    >> 3) So, for us all to naturally desire God and choose God would not be a violation of free will. That is, after all, how we will be after we are confirmed in righteousness, right?

    True. I don’t think I said this would be a violation of free will; only that if he were to make us such that we can’t help seeing the superiority of X over Y, and therefore can’t help choosing Y, then we would have no hand in making ourselves what we are.

    >> 4) Yet, somehow, in mortality, you say we don’t necessarily *by nature* desire to see God face-to-face. instead, it is only by personality, temperament, or experience that some folks desire this (or, perhaps differently from the others, only after “being confirmed in righteousness”.) (And since that is not true of all people, that is not part of our “nature”)

    To paraphrase St. Augustine, each of us is made with a “God-shaped hole”, that is, a need or longing that only he can fill. Each of us needs God to be finally and ultimately happy, fulfilled and satisfied. This is objectively part-and-parcel of our nature. But not all of us see this, or are willing to see it or acknowledge the fact for what it is.

    >> 5) But if God is happiness, how can we all desire happiness as an objective part of our nature yet not desire to see God face-to-face?

    See response to 4.

    To be honest, I lost the thread of your argument in your last two or three paragraphs.

  15. Most people don’t have a problem understanding how being an artist is godlike, in that God created the whole universe and filled it with beauty. When an artist makes something beautiful, he is like God in that sense. He is being creative and is bringing beauty into existence. Does this make any sense to you?

    This makes sense to me, but it would make sense to point out that to the extent someone is not capable of producing art or fails to make something beautiful, then that is not godlike.

    In other words, we would only describe one side of the equation as godlike. We wouldn’t say the either choice — making something beautiful or making something not beautiful — is godlike.

    You yourself have very strong opinions about artists who don’t make things you would find beautiful. Would you still say they are being godlike for using their choices to do so?

    We do have to desire happiness. We don’t always choose it. Sometimes we choose something that will make us unhappy, or that will harm us, for the sake of some other perceived good or for more long-term happiness.

    I can agree with this, but in this scheme of things, one still acts according to one’s desires. It’s just that desires can be prioritized and reprioritized. I want to be healthy, but…I also want eat cookies. Which one wins out is a factor of which desire is highest priority.

    The issue, though, is that Christians want to say that God is not just happiness, but also every other good. So, if we are choosing something that will harm us for the sake of some other perceived good, then the question again is: why would we be made in such a way to get us to incorrectly perceive goods when the only “real” goods are God?

    I want to focus on this prioritization of desires thing, because I think this gets to my last two paragraphs on the other comment (where you lost track). Free will makes sense in compatibilism as us freely following our personality/temperaments — thus, we do what we desire. We choose to do what we desire. The challenge is only that we can have several different desires in any given situation.

    If God is what fills the ultimate longings we have, then it would make sense that we would by nature (not just some people by temperament/personality/etc.,) choose God because that ultimate longing would be the ultimate priority.

    So, when you imply (at least, if I’m understanding you correctly) that the ability to “make ourselves who we are” requires the ability to “choose whether or not to recognize truth” and other such things, then that implies that you’re saying being able to “make ourselves who we are” means being able to choose against our desires and choose against our personality, temperament, etc., But even more, to choose against our nature (since you’re saying that all humans have that longing for God)

    How is choosing against one’s desires and longings indicative of them making themselves who they are? Why wouldn’t we see that as inconsistent/arbitrary behavior that is ‘not’ who they are.

  16. Agellius permalink

    >> You yourself have very strong opinions about artists who don’t make things you would find beautiful. Would you still say they are being godlike for using their choices to do so?

    I suppose I would say that they are still being godlike insofar as they are acting creatively.

    >> why would we be made in such a way to get us to incorrectly perceive goods when the only “real” goods are God?

    I would not say that “the only ‘real’ goods are God”. The Bible says that God looked upon what he had made, and called it good (Gen. 1:31), and we believe creation really is good. The difference between created goods and the good that is God’s essence, is that created goods are not ultimately satisfying, they don’t provide perfect happiness and complete fulfillment.

    In light of this, I will rephrase your question as, “Why would we be made in such a way to get us to incorrectly perceive created goods as the ultimate good, when the ultimate good is found only in God?”

    But isn’t this really just another way of asking what you’ve been asking all along, which is, why not just make us already confirmed in righteousness, seeing God face-to-face, so that we will be immune from sin and yet still free? Although in this instance it also has the connotation of, “Why didn’t God make us so that we could perceive him [the ultimate good] infallibly?”

    As I said before, our perception of the good and the true (and the beautiful too, I suppose) “is not a mere matter of being fed information, but is also a matter of choice. In a sense, we can choose whether or not to recognize truth itself, even when it’s staring us in the face (concrete examples of which, in my opinion, we see around us constantly).” This is why faith is such a big deal in Christianity: because faith is the choice to believe the Gospel (and act accordingly).

    What God did (in my theory) is put us in a situation in which we are free to see and acknowledge and believe the truth, or not. If he had put us in a situation in which we could see the truth infallibly, could we still be free? Maybe but, as I said, we would then have had no hand in making ourselves what we were; free but not creative.

    You may think that this is a scant benefit. But I have no problem imagining that it might make a huge difference in the type of beings we end up being. Again we see analogies to this all around us: Which is more satisfying and fulfilling, to have worked to earn your own money, or to have had it handed to you on a platter? Why is the former more satisfying? It’s hard to say exactly, but I would say that it’s something to do with the relative merit involved in each scenario. It takes virtue to be willing to work hard to earn money (or to accomplish any other worthwhile goal); there is no virtue or merit in simply receiving it.

    My son had a hard time in college. He hated his school and the town it was in, had no idea what he wanted to do afterwards. Despite that, he worked hard and graduated magna cum laude. He then worked a few part-time jobs which he also hated, and was interviewed and rejected for countless full-time jobs. Finally he decided on the type of job he wanted, eventually landed an internship in that field, and got hired permanently when the internship was over. Now he has a foot in the door with a good company and his future looks bright.

    It took courage (a virtue) for him to work his butt off while he was uncertain what, if any, reward he would receive. Thus there is merit and a great deal of satisfaction in his having gotten where he is. But not only does it feel good for him, I think the experience has changed the kind of person he is. He is *better* for having undergone it.

    Some might argue that it would have been better for God to have created a world in which food, clothing and shelter are guaranteed, so no one has to worry about what he will do for a living. But maybe a bunch of soft, comfortably contented people, are not what God was going for. Maybe he wants us to be capable of failure so that we can exercise the virtue required to succeed. Maybe virtue, in turn, doesn’t just feel good but really changes the soul.

    >> I want to focus on this prioritization of desires thing, because I think this gets to my last two paragraphs on the other comment (where you lost track). Free will makes sense in compatibilism as us freely following our personality/temperaments – thus, we do what we desire. We choose to do what we desire. The challenge is only that we can have several different desires in any given situation. … How is choosing against one’s desires and longings indicative of them making themselves who they are? Why wouldn’t we see that as inconsistent/arbitrary behavior that is ‘not’ who they are.

    You seem to be speaking as if there is some fixed, objective “me” that I need to be true to, or else I’m not being myself. But our selves are malleable, as you acknowledged when you said that a conscious, deliberate racist can change. People do undergo conversions. And I submit that those conversions are will-driven.

    I am realizing the longer this discussion goes on, how much of your argument rests on your idea of compatibilist free will. To be honest, I sort of skimmed over that part in the OP because I’m not interested in Calvinism. I was more interested in explaining how people on earth differ from people in heaven, in an attempt to resolve your difficulty from that angle.

    In a previous comment I said that I was finally grasping what you meant by compatibilist free will, but now realize that I wasn’t getting it after all. Because the author of the article used the word “nature”, and due to my understanding of “nature”, I was thinking that compatibilist free will meant being able to make choices within the limits set by our nature — “nature” meaning human nature, but not individual nature/personality/preferences.

    I have now read the entire article that you linked to. I think I now get this particular author’s take on compatibilism, but I’m not sure that view jibes with other online articles that I have read. From my other reading, I have formed the view that compatibilism is a way of reconciling the apparently conflicting ideas that (1) God’s providence controls all things and (2) human beings are responsible for their own choices. The compatibilist reconciles those two ideas basically by saying that yes, we’re free to make our own choices, but nevertheless God made us the way we are knowing that this would make our free choices, in a sense, inevitable.

    It appears that Compatibilism is not strictly speaking a Calvinist doctrine or a Calvinist understanding, since not all Calvinists agree with it, but a view that arose within Calvinism as one way of addressing a difficulty raised by other Calvinist doctrines. Some who disagree with that view say that God having made us such that we cannot choose otherwise than we do, undermines free will.

    (http://www.examiningcalvinism.com/files/Articles/whatisit.html) (https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/qna/sovereignfree.html)

    Compatibilism seems (if I were to adopt that view) to undermine my argument that we make of ourselves what we will. But it does fit in with your previously expressed view that we can’t help our choices since they are controlled by our likes and dislikes (beyond our conscious control) and also the information that we happen to come into contact with, combined with our individually varying ability to process that information in the light of previous information with which we have come into contact, etc.

    I don’t necessarily disagree with this. But again I would add the additional layer of will: That our virtues and vices (habits affected by the will) also have an effect on our likes and dislikes, as well as what information we will allow ourselves to come into contact with, and how we process that information (the ease with which we will accept or reject it, and on what basis).

    So it seems to come back to a continued discussion of our previously unresolved disagreement on whether and to what extent we can choose what to prefer or not prefer, want or not want, believe or disbelieve. If we can’t (your argument seems to go), then hell seems unjust and unnecessary, since God could have made us any way he chose, including with built-in desires and preferences that coincide with his own, thus guaranteeing our eternal happiness.

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