We realize that man bears the responsibility for his
actions only when he is free in doing them. But does he have that spiritual
freedom, a freedom of the will which is presupposed here? Recently, a teaching
has spread, which is called determinism. The followers of this teaching
- determinists - do not acknowledge freedom of will in man. They declare that
in each separate action, man acts only in accordance with external causes.
According to their teaching, man always acts only under the influence of
motives and impulses which do not depend upon him, and usually submits himself
to the strongest of these motives. The scholars say, "It only seems to us
that we act freely. This is self-deceit."
The eminent 17th century philosopher Spinoza
defends this opinion. As an example, he spoke of a stone that is thrown. If
this stone could think and speak, it too would say that it is flying toward and
falling upon the spot which it desires. But, in reality, it flies only because
someone threw it and it falls under the action and power of gravity.
We will return to this example later, but
meanwhile, let us note the following: The teaching which is opposite to
determinism, and which acknowledges man's freedom of will is called indeterminism.
This teaching is accepted by Christians, but it is necessary to remember that
there are extreme indeterminists, whose teaching has a one-sided, false
character. They claim that man's freedom is his full authority to act precisely
as he desires. In their understanding, therefore, man's freedom is his complete
free-will, authority to act upon his every desire or whim (the Holy Apostle
Peter speaks concerning such "freedom" - l Pt. 2:15-16; 2 Pt. 2:19).
This is not freedom, of course, this is an evil use of
freedom, a distortion of it. Man does not have absolute, undoubted freedom;
only Almighty God possesses the perfect and highest creative freedom.
In contrast to such false indeterminism, true
indeterminism teaches correctly. Its teaching recognizes that man is
undoubtedly under the influence of motives and impulses of the most varied
types. For example, the surrounding milieu, conditions of life, the political
situation, one's education, cultural development, etc., act upon him. All this
is reflected in the features of his moral countenance. In this recognition of
the action upon man - and sometimes very strongly - of various external motives
and influences, the indeterminists are in accord with the determinists but,
beyond this, there is a deep separation. While the determinists say that man
acts one way or another only under the influences of the strongest motives, but
does not have freedom, the indeterminists recognize that he is always free to
choose any of the motives. This motive does not at all need to be the
strongest. Moreover, man can even prefer a motive which, to other people, seems
to be clearly disadvantageous and unprofitable. The zeal of the holy martyrs
serves as an example of this. To their pagan persecutors, they seemed to be
fools consciously destroying themselves. Thus, in the opinion of
indeterminists, man's freedom is not an undoubted creative freedom, but a
freedom of choice; the freedom of our will decides whether one acts one way or
another. Christianity accepts precisely such an understanding of human freedom,
agreeing with indeterminism. Applying it to the realm of morals, to the
question of the struggle between good and evil, between virtue and sin,
Christianity declares that man's freedom is his freedom of choice between good
and evil. According to learned theological definition, "freedom of the
will is our capability, independent of anyone and anything, of defining for
ourselves concerning good and evil."
Now we can immediately set aside Spinoza's example
of the falling stone. We realize that man possesses a free will in the sense of
a choice of acting in one way or another. Spinoza considers the actions of the
flying stone analogous with man's actions. This comparison could have been made
only if the stone had a freedom of choice - to fly or not to fly, to fall or
not to fall. But a stone, of course, has no such freedom and the given example
is altogether unconvincing.
The insolvency of determinism, which negates the
freedom of the will, is evident from the following. Firstly, not a single
determinist effects his teaching in practical life. It
is clear precisely why. For, if one is to look at life from a strictly
deterministic point of view, there is no need to punish anyone - neither the
thief for thievery, nor the murderer for murder, etc., since they did not act
freely, but were slaves, unwilling fulfillers of whatever
motives commanded them and which influenced them from without. This is an
absurd but completely inevitable deduction from determinism. Secondly, proof of
the freedom of the will is served by the fact of the experience of the soul
which is called to repentance, an experience personally well-known to everyone.
What is this feeling of repentance based upon? It is evident that it is based
upon the fact that the repentant man returns in thought to the moment of the
performance of his wrong action, and weeps over his sin, clearly acknowledging
that he could have acted otherwise, could have done not evil, but good.
Clearly, such repentance could not have had a place if man did not possess free
will, but was an unwilling slave to external influences. In such a case he
would not have answered for his action.
We Christians acknowledge man to be morally free
and the guide of his own personal will and actions and responsible for them
before God's truth. Such freedom is a most great gift to man from God, Who
seeks from man not a mechanical submission, but a freely given filial obedience
of love. The Lord Himself affirmed this freedom, "If anyone wishes to
be My disciple, let him deny himself and take up his
cross and follow Me" (Mt. ). Again,
in the Old Testament He said through the prophet:
"Behold, I have set
before thee this day, life and death, good and evil. If thou wilt hearken to
the commands of the Lord thy God, which I command thee this day, to love the
Lord thy God, to walk in all His ways, and to keep His ordinance, and His
judgments; then ye shall live, and ... the Lord thy God shall bless thee ...
but if thy heart change and thou wilt not hearken, and thou shalt go astray ...
ye shall utterly perish ... I have set before thee life and death, the blessing
and the curse: choose thou life ... to love the Lord thy God" (Deut.