ON FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOM
At the start of the year I made a resolution to post some original content on this blog once a month. It’s the last day in May and I’m burned out from finishing my second PGCE placement, so here’s something typed up from the archives. It may form part of a final draft of a manuscript about freedom one day, or it may not.
Freedom is the deepest mystery I know. I can get to, and am in, a place of believing that Christianity is true, that God is invisibly looking after everything, even that Heaven will somehow make up for all the evil and suffering in the world and that one day “every tear will be wiped away”. The idea of freedom can, I believe, be used to a good extent, though not completely, to help explain why much of the evil and suffering in the world exists, because free people choose to reject God and choose to propagate it.
But the question then becomes “Why did God create people with this freedom when he knew the potential for us to misuse it and do wrong?” This is I think the most fundamental unanswerable question in Theology and Philosophy. An answer that I used to be fond of was “Because he knew the potential good that could come of it as well, and thought that it would be worth it all in the long run.”
There are many things that are possibly unsatisfactory about this answer, but one us that it raised the subsidiary question “Did God have to make us free?” The argument is that genuine freedom is a necessary precondition for genuine love, and God wants people to love him, but again the problem is why God should be constrained by the preconditions which give rise to love.
As with most ideas to do with God, the Euthyphro dilemma can be applied to this idea. The Euthryphro dilemma runs: “Did the gods create the laws of morality or are they subject to them?” If they created the rules of morality, then those rules are arbitrary and the gods may have well ruled that rape is morally right, which seems counter-intuitive and repugnant. But if the gods are subject to the laws of morality, then it seems that there is an external standard which is “higher” than they are, so maybe they are not “gods” at all.
Similarly, we might ask “Did God decide that freedom is a necessary prerequisite for love, or is this a law to which he himself is subject?” If it is the former, then God could have decided otherwise and he could equally well have created beings who are not free but who universally love (this is what J.L. Mackie thinks in his debate with Alvin Plantinga on the subject). If it is the latter, then there is an external standard which God is subject to and he appears to be less than God.
My solution to this and to the Euthyphro dilemma was always to say that there is a law which God is subject to, but this law is derivative from God’s own being, personality and character as he exists in himself. So it is a standard to which God is subject, but an “internal” and not an “external” one. In other words, because of the nature of who God simply is, reality must by necessity be a certain way. Because God is by his Trinitarian nature freely given love, by being who he is he defines what love is, and the fact that love can only be given freely. At the bottom of the Universe, we find freedom and love.
This might be a helpful way of thinking about the problem for some, but it does not solve it. After all, it is only a theory; our words “love” and “freedom” are only metaphors—on this understanding—for realities which are greater and higher in God, and he remains beyond our understanding. What if God freely chose to be something different, to act out of accordance with his personality? Could he? Would he? Should he?
Like I said, freedom is a mystery, and the deepest one I know.