Friday, March 7, 2014

"City of God" V.10-11

Chapter 10:
In the previous chapter Augustine explored the personal aspects of the predestination/free will discussion. Here he explores the practical implications of these Christian doctrines.

First, Augustine points out that "necessity" is a boogeyman conjured up by Stoics which we do not need to fear--it poses no threat to our free will, whatever definition we give it. For if we think of 'necessity' as 'things that happen to us,' like death, then necessity by no means obliterates free will. We can still choose how we will live and what we will do in the face of death. (Others of course would disagree.) This is a fairly lightweight definition of necessity in any case.

The more subtle definition of 'necessity' is the idea that our nature determines our will. This is truly frightening to some people, since it seems to end any idea of freedom.
And yet, Augustine argues, we know that this is a truth about God.
I know not why we should have any dread of that necessity taking away the freedom of our will.  For we do not put the life of God or the foreknowledge of God under necessity if we should say that it is necessary that God should live forever, and foreknow all things; as neither is His power diminished when we say that He cannot die or fall into error,—for this is in such a way impossible to Him, that if it were possible for Him, He would be of less power.  But assuredly He is rightly called omnipotent, though He can neither die nor fall into error.  For He is called omnipotent on account of His doing what He wills, not on account of His suffering what He wills not; for if that should befall Him, He would by no means be omnipotent.  Wherefore, He cannot do some things for the very reason that He is omnipotent. 
To put it another way (and I'm stealing from Edwards here), God is perfectly good and is therefore incapable of sinning. But could we without gross impiety accuse God of a lack of free will just because he cannot sin? He can do whatever He wants--the fact that He never wants to do evil such that we say He is incapable of it in no way impinges on His freedom.
The same is true of us:
So also, when we say that it is necessary that, when we will, we will by free choice, in so saying we both affirm what is true beyond doubt, and do not still subject our wills thereby to a necessity which destroys liberty.  Our wills, therefore, exist as wills, and do themselves whatever we do by willing, and which would not be done if we were unwilling.
We will nothing contrary to what we want in exactly the same way that God does. The fact that we sometimes will evil rather than good does not remove our culpability but rather establishes it. (An extended reflection on this subject is available here.)

Augustine goes on to point out that this is not to deny that things happen to us beyond our control--no one wills to be struck by lightening or get a terminal disease--but those events are beyond the question of determinism vs. free will. Such things are found within the will of God, but should not be seen as inhibiting our own wills. ("Therefore, whatsoever a man suffers contrary to his own will, he ought not to attribute to the will of men, or of angels, or of any created spirit, but rather to His will who gives power to wills.")

At this point, Augustine does a bit of verbal dancing to emphasize that God's foreknowledge does not destroy our free will (and so destroy our moral culpability). He argues that as we've just seen, the fact that our will is tied to our nature does not obliterate free will any more than being struck by lightening does (my example, not Augustine's). Therefore, our wills have power in our lives, and are not nothing. If our wills were nothing, then God's foreknowledge would be a foreknowledge of nothing, and that would be absurd because foreknowledge implies that something is known, not nothing. "Therefore we are by no means compelled, either, retaining the prescience of God, to take away the freedom of the will, or, retaining the freedom of the will, to deny that He is prescient of future things, which is impious.  But we embrace both.  We faithfully and sincerely confess both."

This is not perhaps Augustine's strongest logical point, but he has excellent pastoral reasons for pursuing it:
We faithfully and sincerely confess both.  The former, that we may believe well; the latter, that we may live well.  For he lives ill who does not believe well concerning God.  Wherefore, be it far from us, in order to maintain our freedom, to deny the prescience of Him by whose help we are or shall be free.  Consequently, it is not in vain that laws are enacted, and that reproaches, exhortations, praises, and vituperations are had recourse to; for these also He foreknew, and they are of great avail, even as great as He foreknew that they would be of.  Prayers, also, are of avail to procure those things which He foreknew that He would grant to those who offered them; and with justice have rewards been appointed for good deeds, and punishments for sins.  For a man does not therefore sin because God foreknew that he would sin.  Nay, it cannot be doubted but that it is the man himself who sins when he does sin, because He, whose foreknowledge is infallible, foreknew not that fate, or fortune, or something else would sin, but that the man himself would sin, who, if he wills not, sins not.  But if he shall not will to sin, even this did God foreknow.
In other words, the doctrine of Divine foreknowledge, or 'necessity,' does not destroy our moral responsibility. We are still to be reproached, exhorted, praised, and punished by the law, and we are still to pray to the Lord to ask for His blessing, and to resist sin with all our might. We find that the more we explore the sovereignty and providence of God as He reigns over creation, the more we desire to turn our wills to obedience to Him and conformity to His character.

I think it's fascinating that one of the perpetual charges against those who hold to an Augustinian (heck, let's be honest, a Biblical) view of predestination is that it leads to inaction, passivity, and even open laziness--to say nothing of a failure to evangelize and witness to others. And yet, time and time again we find that those with the highest views of God's Providence and Sovereignty are spectacular at prayer, continuously pursuing holiness and virtue, and champions of declaring the Gospel. The doctrine of 'necessity' (if we must use that word--'Providence' is better) does not squash free will but instead sets us free to delight in the salvation that comes through Christ despite our sinful rebellion.

Chapter 11:
The reign, sovereignty, and providence of God extend to all of creation. Abraham Kuyper echoed this sentiment when he declared "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'"
God owns and rules it all, and we small human beings only make a mockery of ourselves (and a sinful one at that) when we reject this idea and try to hoist ourselves up by our own free wills into His throne.

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