Category Archives: free will

Did God Fix the Outcome of the Seahawks/Packers Game?

The Seattle Seahawks (my team by the way, go ‘Hawks!) have been in the news recently because of their improbable last minute win over the Green Bay Packers.  With four minutes left in the game, the Packers had a 99.9% statistical chance of winning.  But the Seahawks pulled it out.

Russell Wilson, the QB for Seattle, is a vocal Christian.  After the game he prayed and gave glory to God (which is awesome).  He also seemed to imply that God caused the improbable outcome of the game.

“That’s God setting it up, to make it so dramatic, so rewarding, so special. I’ve been through a lot in life, and had some ups and downs.  It’s what’s led me to this day.”(link)

Some other Seahawks gave credit to God too, but without implying God determined the outcome.

“We fought.  Playing football it’s awesome.  God is so good.  It don’t get no better than this.” – Earl Thomas, Facebook.

“To God go the glory!” – Richard Sherman, Facebook

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Aaron Rodgers, QB for the Packers (and also a Christian) had a different view.

“I don’t think God cares a whole lot about the outcome, He cares about the people involved, but I don’t think he’s a big football fan.”(link)

Here’s what I think:

It’s really cool that so many football players are vocal about their Christian faith, and that they give God the glory.  I admire that in their character.  Through their platform they can be a positive witness for Christ.

And God certainly does help us to do our best in all we do as we honor him.  In  the case of athletic events, he does that for Christians on both teams.

But there are some problems with the idea that God fixes the outcomes of games.

First, God can be glorified with either outcome of a sports event.  God didn’t need the Seahawks to win in order to bring about his plan. If the Packers had won, God would be equally glorified.  It is really a small view of God to think that he has to make sure a certain team wins.  God is bigger than that.

Second, it implies that God honored the request of players and fans of one team, but not the players and fans for the other teams.  Does God love Russell Wilson more Aaron Rodgers?  No, he loves them both.  And for a player to claim that God favors him over others is a little selfish.

I agree with Aaron Rodgers.  God cares less about the outcome of a game than he does the people who are involved in it.

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Filed under determinism, free will, God's love

Letting the Dog Out and Compatibilism

This morning I slept in.  It was delightful.  Unfortunately while I was sleeping in, our dog Largo was following his nature.  He needed to be let outside so that he could take care of business.  But no one let him out.  So, he went into the corner of the basement and…well you can probably guess what he did.

So, the question arises, whose fault is it that Largo made a mess in the corner?  Was it his  fault?  Or was it my fault?  The compatibilist and libertarian answer this question differently.

The compatibilist says that free will lies in following one’s nature, thus it was Largo’s fault.   Largo  has been commanded to do his business outside.  Largo broke the command, and “chose” to relieve himself  in the basement instead.

The libertarian says that free will lies in having genuine choices, thus it was my fault.  Largo could not have done other than what he did.  He was not culpable for breaking my command because (without my assistance) he did not have the option to keep it.

Who do you think is right?  Was Largo’s mess his fault, or mine?


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The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart

The LORD said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. -Exodus 4:21 NIV

A recurring theme in Exodus is the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Pharaoh repeatedly goes back on his word and refuses to release the Israelites as he promised. At first Pharaoh hardens his own heart. Then God hardens Pharaoh’s heart. Each time after God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, Pharaoh changes his mind and refuses to let the Israelites go.

God hardening the heart of Pharaoh is referred to in Exodus 4:21, 7:3, 10:1, 11:10, 14:4, 14:8, 14:17. It is also alluded to by Paul in Romans 9:17-18.

This “hardening ” of Pharaoh is of particular concern to the Arminian. On the face it seems to indicate that that God was coercive and changed Pharaoh’s heart to cause him to do something that he wouldn’t have done otherwise. If God worked in a coercive manner with Pharoah, He could presumably act in similar ways towards others. This seems to contradict the notion that God’s character is intrinsically good. If God is good in a sense that we can begin to grasp, He wouldn’t arbitrarily change a person’s heart to make him do evil things.

Thankfully, we really can trust God. He is good, and His character is above reproach.

To better understand the “hardening” of Pharaoh , it is important to note that the Hebrew word chazaq (translated as “harden” in English) does not carry the same connotation in Hebrew that it does in English. Chazaq is usually translated as “encourage”, “strengthen”, “repair”, “fortify” and “assist”. In God’s Strategy in Human History, Forster and Marston note that:

The English phrase hard-hearted carries to many people overtones of cruelty or unrepentance. Thus “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” could be taken to mean that God prevented him from repenting. We are not saying that those who translated the AV RV and RSV intended this, but rather that the ordinary English reader could get this impression- and in our experience often does! This puzzles him, for the Bible clearly teaches that God is not willing that any should perish, but desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth…God, we may be sure, would rather that Pharaoh had repented than perished in the Red Sea…The paradox need not arise if we remember that a phrase in one language should not be simply equated with a phrase in another.

Forster and Marston provide a chart that documents occurrences of the word chazaq. It is a term that is frequently used in the Old Testament (They document 55 examples outside of Exodus). The only time chazaq is translated as “harden” is in reference to Pharaoh in Exodus. In all other occurrences, chazaq is translated as “strengthen”, “encourage”, “repair”, “fortify”, etc.

Here are a few examples:

In the passages above, chazaq describes assisting or encouraging someone with a course that they have decided on. It means helping someone to do what they already want to do.

The same is true of God in his dealings with Pharaoh. God did not change Pharaoh’s heart to make him want to kill the Hebrews. Pharaoh already wanted to kill them. What God did was give Pharaoh the courage to follow through with what he already desired to do. Pharaoh was an evil man, but he was also timid and fearful of the Hebrews and their God. God simply gave Pharaoh the tenacity to follow through with the desires of his evil heart.

Understood in this sense, we can see that God’s dealings with Pharoah were above reproach. As a result, we can be confident that God’s dealings with us will also be good and trustworthy.

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Essay by Roger Olson – Arminianism is God-centered theology

Here is a long but excellent essay by Roger Olson: Arminianism is God-centered theology.  Olson addresses and refutes the complaint often made by Calvinists that Arminian theology is man-centered.

Update: The Society of Evangelical Arminians has a pdf of the essay here.

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What’s Wrong With Calvinism? by Jerry Walls

Here’s a good article from the Society of Evangelical Arminians, comparing compatibilism and libertarian free will: What’s Wrong With Calvinism? By Asbury Seminary professor Jerry Walls.

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Wired Article on Free Will

Wired Magazine has an interesting article on libertarian freedom: My First Act of Free Will.

The author Jonah Lehrer addresses the problems of scientific determinism – or having a purely mechanical view of freedom.

He notes that:

There’s a certain frivolousness to all these eloquent arguments over free will. The fact is, we are deeply wired to believe in our freedom. We feel like willful creatures, blessed with elbow room and endowed with the capacity to pick our own breakfast cereal.

The question is, why do we feel free? Why are we “deeply wired” to believe in our freedom? Perhaps it is because as creatures created in the image of God we really do have genuine freedom.

The article also referenced a study that correlated libertarian freedom with ethics. People who don’t believe in libertarian freedom are more likely to engage in unethical behavior. In the study “the amount of cheating was directly correlated with the extent to which the subjects rejected free will.”

What we believe about free will actually impacts the decisions we make.

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God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Free Will

I found these illustrations helpful. They explain two different ways of understanding God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. The illustrations and quotes come from the book Foundations of Wesleyan-Arminian Theology, by Mildred Bangs Wynkoop. Illustration “A” represents the Calvinist / Reformed view. With this view, any genuine freedom that man has takes away from God’s sovereignty. Therefore, free will must be rejected in order to protect God. Illustration “B” represents the Wesleyan / Arminian view. With this view, man has genuine (though limited) freedom. Man’s freedom is not a threat to the sovereignty of God.

“When a problem is encountered relative to God’s sovereignty and man’s will, it probably lies in thinking of man’s will as standing over against God’s will, challenging and defying God so as to constitute a threat to God’s will and purpose in His creation. No evangelical Christian would tolerate such an idea. And yet both the full measure of God’s sovereignty and a genuine moral responsibility in man must be accounted for and included in one system without absurd reasoning to explain it.”

“The unsatisfactory concept of man’s freedom in relation to God’s sovereignty could be likened to a set of balancing scales with the weights set against each other. In this view, God’s will is thwarted by man’s will or mans will is thwarted by God’s will. In either case, one of the two is victor, the other vanquished.”

“It seems to be more in keeping with biblical teaching to illustrate the proper relationship by a large circle typifying God’s sovereign will. The small square contained within the circle is the real though limited freedom which God has given to the man He created. In God’s sovereign love He has created morally responsible beings. But man’s freedom is strictly limited by God. God makes the rules. Man is
genuinely free within the limits set by God. God controls nature, the universe, the major lines of history. The natural order is absolute (God is Creator). But there is a vastly different kind of order in back of the natural order, namely the moral order-and the rules are moral rules. God has given man the power of discrimination and the ability to make decisions between alternatives. God’s will and mercy sustain moral freedom in man. In fact, God has made man in such a way the he is under constant necessity of making decisions. He is not free not to make constant moral decisions.”

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