Does faith in the personal God of Scripture make sense if we acknowledge that we do not have free will? This blog presupposes that we don’t have free will, but argues that far from being a source of anxiety or even a death sentence for faith, our lack of free will may actually be the central point of Scripture and essential to our inherent human dignity.
Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping,
he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said,
"Where have you laid him?"
They said to him, "Sir, come and see."
And Jesus wept.
So the Jews said, "See how he loved him."
Jesus of the Gospels is, honestly, not a particularly warm figure. If he expresses emotion, it is typically
anger and frustration. But for the most
part, he is stoic, controlled, and demanding.
I suspect there was real warmth in his relationship with the apostles,
disciples and those they encountered along the way – there must have been for
him to attract such a devoted following – but it is rarely indicated in what is
written about him.
do well to reflect on the crying, sobbing Jesus of today’s Gospel. The sight of his old friend, Mary (always the
more sensitive of the two sisters) crying at the tomb of her brother Lazarus, together
with Martha and all of Lazarus’s friends, moves him to tears. John’s staccato rendering of the moment produces
one of the shortest line in all of Scripture: “And Jesus wept.” (The shortest
is 1 Thessalonians 5:16, which is, ironically, “Rejoice evermore.”) Obviously,
he is utterly overcome, as those standing around him remark at the depth of his
did John break the custom of depicting Jesus as stoic at this moment? It doesn’t
even make a lot of sense given that he fully knew, according to John, that he was
about to raise Lazarus from the dead. I
suspect the moment survived into the written Gospel because it was genuine, heartfelt
and probably disturbing to those around him. The memory of Jesus crushed and overwrought
simply could not be glossed over.
am fairly certain we have a God Who is not stoic, Who has no expectation that
we can handle it, Who is not closing one door to open another, but Who suffers
it all with us, in all its intensity, not assuaged by anything He may do for us
in the future, so that we never suffer alone.
spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Yahweh.
delight will be in the fear of Yahweh.
will not judge by the sight of his eyes,
decide by the hearing of his ears;
he will judge the poor with righteousness,
decide with equity for the humble of the earth.
will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked.
will be the belt of his waist,
faithfulness the belt of his waist.
wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the young goat,
calf, the young lion, and the fattened calf together;
a little child will lead them.
cow and the bear will graze.
young ones will lie down together.
lion will eat straw like the ox.
nursing child will play near a cobra’s hole,
the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den.
will not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain;
the earth will be full of the knowledge of Yahweh,
the waters cover the sea.
will happen in that day that the nations will seek the root of Jesse, who
stands as a banner of the peoples; and his resting place will be glorious.
will happen in that day that the Lord will set his hand again the second time
to recover the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Egypt,
from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the
islands of the sea. He will set up a banner for the nations, and will
assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah
from the four corners of the earth.
the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
no torment will touch them.
the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died.
departure was considered affliction,
their travel away from us ruin;
they are in peace.
even if in the sight of men they are punished,
hope is full of immortality.
borne a little chastening, they will receive great good;
God tested them, and found them worthy of himself.
tested them like gold in the furnace,
he accepted them as a whole burnt offering.
the time of their visitation they will shine.
will run back and forth like sparks among stubble.
will judge nations and have dominion over peoples.
Lord will reign over them forever.
who trust him will understand truth.
faithful will live with him in love,
grace and mercy are with his chosen ones.
beautiful passage describes heaven. I
particularly like the reference to the souls that, “will run back and forth
like sparks among stubble.”I have never
found any interpretation of this, but I assume it refers to St. Elmo’s Fire –
static discharges in the winter-dry harvested wheat fields that probably mysteriously
illuminated the night in ancient times.
may not be familiar to Jewish and Protestant readers. The Wisdom of Solomon is considered Apocrypha
in those traditions.)
Image: Tim Daniels, Morning. www.lapseoftheshutter.com
Grozinger of Weston is challenging the fundamental religious principle of free
will in his new book, Faith on a Stone Foundation: Free Will, Morality and the
God of Abraham.
believe that we have free will — the ability to make choices from something
other than our nature and our nurture. We believe that our free will
distinguishes us from animals and from computers and gives us dignity,”
after years of religious and theological study, Grozinger said, he came to a
startlingly different conclusion.
will seems like the focus of faith. But science and philosophy are increasingly
asserting that we don’t have free will and that our decision-making process is
exclusively the result of nature and nurture,” Grozinger said.
attorney by trade, Grozinger provides well-researched arguments on both sides
of the subject of free will in his book.
strive to answer whether human dignity is possible if we don’t have free will,
and does belief in the Judeo-Christian God make sense if we don’t have free
will,” he said.
aren’t easy questions to tackle. Grozinger takes on the challenge by citing
examples in theology, Greek and moral philosophy, existentialism, evolutionary
psychology, and pop culture.
also reviews familiar biblical stories, such as the Garden of Eden, Noah, Job,
and Jonah and concludes that scripture is entirely consistent with the idea
that human beings do not have free will.
Labor of love
said the book was a labor of love that took him eight years to write.
graduate of Ridgefield High School and a member of St. Mary’s Church, Grozinger
practices law in Weston, where he lives with his wife, Claire Ingram, and their
“I first came up with the free will argument
while standing on the sidewalk of Catoonah Street in Ridgefield. I then started
taking notes while walking in the Trout Brook Valley nature preserve in Weston.
At first I thought what I had would become a blog post, then perhaps a long
article. Eight years later it has evolved into a book,” he said.
has many interests. He is a member of the board of directors of the Aspetuck
Land Trust, a volunteer firefighter in Weston, where he was twice named
Firefighter of the Year, and a former member and chairman of Weston’s Planning
and Zoning Commission.
also has a deep interest in theology, and for the past six years has delivered
a lecture on the subject of theistic existentialism to the senior class and
faculty of the Convent of the Sacred Heart school in Greenwich.
said his life in Connecticut has given him much to think about on the topic of
central idea in Christianity is that you have to believe in God or in Jesus in
order to be well regarded by God,” he said. “But it’s obvious some of us are
born and raised with every advantage in this regard. I myself grew up so close
to St. Mary’s Church in Ridgefield that it literally filled my bedroom window.
Meanwhile, many others are born and raised in situations where they might never
hear a compelling faith story or that are outright hostile to faith. If God is
fair, how can He reward believers and leave non-believers out?” he asked.
applied the same analysis to morality. “Even people who have left religion
entirely say they are doing what God requires because they are a ‘good person.’
But every parent would acknowledge that how good you are has a lot to do with
how you are raised. We don’t raise our children hoping their free will is good
— we form them and reform them. And whether you commit a terrible crime can be
traced back to whether you were born with a violent temper or were raised in an
abusive household,” he argued.
led Grozinger to conclude that lack of free will was compatible with faith and
we take an individual’s nature and nurture into account when we think about
their bad behavior, we’re led away from anger and hate and into understanding
and forgiveness. That this is a central idea in Judeo-Christianity is no
accident,” he said.
said when he looked at the Bible with this new perspective, he discovered it
was completely consistent with the idea that human beings don’t have free will.
“I realized that I had been misunderstanding some of the most important
narratives in the Bible for decades, especially Jonah, Job and the Garden. Once
I looked at them with new eyes, the message was unmistakable,” he said.
said he hopes his book will spark interest in the subject of free will and he
encourages readers to share their thoughts with him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
on a Stone Foundation is available locally at Books on the Common in
Ridgefield and the Ridgefield Public Library and online at Amazon.com.
Grozinger blogs on the subject of faith at faithonastonefoundation.com. By Patricia Gay
Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him,
"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?"
"Neither he nor his parents sinned;
it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.
We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day.
Night is coming when no one can work.
While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
When he had said this, he spat on the ground
and made clay with the saliva,
and smeared the clay on his eyes,
and said to him,
"Go wash in the Pool of Siloam" —which means Sent—.
So he went and washed, and came back able to see.
His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said,
"Isn't this the one who used to sit and beg?"
Some said, "It is, "
but others said, "No, he just looks like him."
He said, "I am."
So they said to him, "How were your eyes opened?"
"The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes
and told me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.'
So I went there and washed and was able to see."
And they said to him, "Where is he?"
He said, "I don't know."
They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees.
Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a Sabbath.
So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.
He said to them,
"He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see."
So some of the Pharisees said,
"This man is not from God,
because he does not keep the Sabbath."
But others said,
"How can a sinful man do such signs?"
And there was a division among them.
So they said to the blind man again,
"What do you have to say about him,
since he opened your eyes?"
He said, "He is a prophet."
Now the Jews did not believe
that he had been blind and gained his sight
until they summoned the parents of the one who had gained his sight.
They asked them,
"Is this your son, who you say was born blind?
How does he now see?"
His parents answered and said,
"We know that this is our son and that he was born blind.
We do not know how he sees now,
nor do we know who opened his eyes.
Ask him, he is of age;
he can speak for himself."
His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews,
for the Jews had already agreed
that if anyone acknowledged him as the Christ,
he would be expelled from the synagogue.
For this reason his parents said,
"He is of age; question him."
So a second time they called the man who had been blind
and said to him, "Give God the praise!
We know that this man is a sinner."
"If he is a sinner, I do not know.
One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see."
So they said to him,
"What did he do to you?
How did he open your eyes?"
He answered them,
"I told you already and you did not listen.
Why do you want to hear it again?
Do you want to become his disciples, too?"
They ridiculed him and said,
"You are that man's disciple;
we are disciples of Moses!
We know that God spoke to Moses,
but we do not know where this one is from."
The man answered and said to them,
"This is what is so amazing,
that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes.
We know that God does not listen to sinners,
but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him.
It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind.
If this man were not from God,
he would not be able to do anything."
They answered and said to him,
"You were born totally in sin,
and are you trying to teach us?"
Then they threw him out.
When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out,
he found him and said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"
He answered and said,
"Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?"
Jesus said to him,
"You have seen him,
the one speaking with you is he."
"I do believe, Lord," and he worshiped him.
I have generally led an extremely lucky and
privileged life, but in at least a couple of instances, I have been decidedly
unlucky. On one occasion, someone stood at the foot of my hospital
bed and told me with a raised voice and a wagging finger that I
brought my misfortune upon myself. On another, it came later. They meant
to be helpful, but they laid responsibility for my bad luck squarely at my
feet. People don't like to think bad things can happen
randomly. They'll make any adjustment to the narrative they need to in order to
assess blame for every misfortune.
The Beatitudes (“Blessed are the poor, blessed
are the sick…”) are often thought of as a statement about how Christians should
live – a description of what our morality should be. We should bless the poor or strive to be poor ourselves. But this is clearly wrong. The Beatitudes are a description of how God chooses to live
– a description of God’s morality. He
does not dole our blessings for good behavior and curses for the bad, as we so
reflexively assume to this day. It is
when we are at our lowest, in terms of wealth, health, social station, and even
morality, that God cleaves to us the closest. Among academics, a close cousin of this way of reading Scripture is often called "post-liberal theology", but I think we need to go a step further to something I'll call, "post-moral theology" - the acknowledgment that not everything in Scripture is a moral directive and, in fact, most of it simply describes God's morality. And God's morality is characterized by absolute mercy.
This passage is perhaps the most beautiful and
most illuminating in all of Scripture. The story is about a man blind
from birth. Jesus’s disciples (his disciples!) assume either the man is
responsible for his bad luck or his parents. They ask him, “Rabbi, who
sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” There is no
other option in their world view. Bad luck doesn’t exist – just bad karma.
The man's parents hedge under pressure. The Pharisees insist that
his responsibility is obvious. They say, "‘You were altogether born
in sin, and do you teach us?’ Then they threw him out.”
Who is his only defender? Who alone
affirms that God loves him just as much as anyone else? Who alone contradicts
every cultural expectation in his time and ours to defend him? Who
insists that blessed are the sick, blessed are the poor?
the Lord Yahweh says: “Behold, I myself, even I, will search for my sheep, and
will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock in the day that he
is among his sheep that are scattered abroad, so I will seek out my sheep. I
will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the
cloudy and dark day. I will bring them out from the peoples, and gather
them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. I will feed
them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited
places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture; and their
fold will be on the mountains of the height of Israel. There they will lie down
in a good fold. They will feed on fat pasture on the mountains of Israel. I
myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will cause them to lie down,”
says the Lord Yahweh. “I will seek that which was lost, and will bring
back that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and
will strengthen that which was sick.
will set up one shepherd over them, and he will feed them, even my servant
David. He will feed them, and he will be their shepherd. I, Yahweh, will
be their God, and my servant David prince among them. I, Yahweh, have spoken
will make with them a covenant of peace, and will cause evil animals to cease
out of the land. They will dwell securely in the wilderness, and sleep in the
woods. I will make them and the places around my hill a blessing. I will
cause the shower to come down in its season. There will be showers of
blessing. The tree of the field will yield its fruit, and the earth will
yield its increase, and they will be secure in their land. Then they will know
that I am Yahweh, when I have broken the bars of their yoke, and have delivered
them out of the hand of those who made slaves of them. They will no more
be a prey to the nations, neither will the animals of the earth devour them;
but they will dwell securely, and no one will make them afraid. I will
raise up to them a plantation for renown, and they will no more be consumed
with famine in the land, and not bear the shame of the nations any more. They
will know that I, Yahweh, their God am with them, and that they, the house of
Israel, are my people, says the Lord Yahweh. You my sheep, the sheep of my
pasture, are men, and I am your God,’ says the Lord Yahweh.”
balance of this passage indicates that Ezekiel is fairly angry with the priests
of the time, who clearly engaged in a lot of self-dealing and neglected the
needs of their flock. However, today our
interest in this passage is God’s promise that He will take over the
shepherding of the flock Himself.
Nothing will stand in the way of God’s Covenant with us.
theme of God, or God’s chosen, as shepherd reverberates throughout Scripture.
David is tending the sheep when he is chosen to be the next king. Shepherds are called to witness Jesus’s
birth. Jesus refers to himself as a
shepherd looking after the lost sheep (perhaps an oblique reference to this
passage), and as having a voice the sheep of his flock will hear and
recognize. Shepherding today is often
given a moral connotation: the shepherd moves a group of insensate or resistant
creatures along a path of good behavior and appropriate belief. But Scripture generally does not mean it that
way. Shepherding in the Scriptural sense is purely protection. It is the shepherd’s duty to ensure the flock
has abundant pasture in which to browse, and clean water from which to
drink. The Shepherd protects the flock
from predators, and tends to their wounds.
In this case, God will release them from slavery and protect them from
everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven:
time to be born,
a time to die;
time to plant,
a time to pluck up that which is planted;
time to kill,
a time to heal;
time to break down,
a time to build up;
time to weep,
a time to laugh;
time to mourn,
a time to dance;
time to cast away stones,
a time to gather stones together;
time to embrace,
a time to refrain from embracing;
time to seek,
a time to lose;
time to keep,
a time to cast away;
time to tear,
a time to sew;
time to keep silence,
a time to speak;
time to love,
a time to hate;
time for war,
a time for peace.
profit has he who works in that in which he labors? I have seen the burden
which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with. He has made
everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in their hearts, yet
so that man can’t find out the work that God has done from the beginning even
to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to
rejoice, and to do good as long as they live. Also, that every man should
eat and drink, and enjoy good in all his labor, is the gift of God. I know
that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, nor
anything taken from it; and God has done it, that men should revere him. That
which is has been long ago, and that which is to be has been long ago. God
seeks again that which is passed away.
on from yesterday’s existentialist theme, today the Preacher again affirms that
there is little we can do that will persevere.
Additionally, everything has its time, nothing is out of place. I am reminded of the fact that our Creation narrative
is not a creation out of nothing, but rather an ordering of Chaos. God starts with darkness over the Deep, and separates
water from earth, earth from sky, and night from day. When
Chaos returns in the form of the Flood, God puts Noah on a life raft and locks
the door behind him so that he can float safely over the Chaos until it
subsides. God is with us when Chaos returns. It, too, has its place and finally has no
power over us.
has a reputation for gloominess, but for Ecclesiastes, it is all good. God has made everything beautiful and eternal,
regardless of what we may do or not do, so that all of it can be the subject of
reverence and rejoicing.
vain!” says the Preacher. In vain! All is that is done is done in vain. What
does man gain from all his labor in which he labors under the sun? One
generation goes, and another generation comes; but the earth remains forever. The
sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hurries to its place where it rises. The
wind goes toward the south, and turns around to the north. It turns around
continually as it goes, and the wind returns again to its courses. All
the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full. To the place where the
rivers flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness
beyond uttering. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with
hearing. That which has been is that which shall be; and that which has
been done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is
there a thing of which it may be said, “Behold, this is new?” It has been
long ago, in the ages which were before us. There is no memory of the
former; neither shall there be any memory of the latter that are to come, among
those that shall come after.
the Preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my heart
to seek and to search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under the sky.
It is a heavy burden that God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted
with. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and
behold, all is done in vain and a chasing after wind. That which is
crooked can’t be made straight; and that which is lacking can’t be counted. I
said to myself, “Behold, I have obtained for myself great wisdom above all who
were before me in Jerusalem. Yes, my heart has had great experience of wisdom
and knowledge.” I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to know
madness and folly. I perceived that this also was a chasing after wind. For
in much wisdom is much grief; and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.
typical interpretation of this passage uses the term, “vanity,” which distracts
from the true meaning and suggests this is a passage about humility.
fact, this passage and all of Ecclesiastes is an extraordinary study in existentialism. The Preacher notes that everything we can
accomplish in our lifetimes will inescapably be erased. Even the pursuit of wisdom is, ultimately,
not worth anything. Nature itself
reflects this – the sun goes up, but its progress in the sky is reversed as it
goes down; the winds blow one way and then another; the rivers labor to fill
the ocean to capacity but it never happens.
of us define ourselves by our accomplishments – whether it is building a business,
building a family, promoting good, filling our eyes with memorable sights, or
filling our minds with memorable experiences (e.g.: the recently minted term, ‘bucket
list’). If we are asked to say a little
about ourselves, we inevitably start with career, vocation, family or something
else that identifies us with a group or an interest. At
life’s crossroads, especially at the end of earthly life, this can all seem
like an exercise in futility. And it is.
our relationships to each other are not about what purpose we serve for each
other. Our relationships transcend what we can accomplish for one another. This is especially, transcendentally true of
our relationship to God. We are not what
we can accomplish for God, and God is not what He can accomplish for us. We
stand is an existential relationship – He loves us regardless of our
accomplishments on our résumés and regardless of our wisdom, experiences or
is said that faith provides us with meaning and purpose. I don’t think that’s
entirely true. Faith confirms we need
not serve any purpose and still be the beloved of God. And that
infuses our lives with extraordinary meaning.
Image: Tim Daniels, Autumn Leaves. www.lapseoftheshutter.com