As I noted in my previous post (On Free Will and Fault Lines), I believe the gift of free will to be one of the most potent witnesses of God’s love. The idea of truly unfettered choice is a subject of much debate, however, and not just in Philosophy 101 but in the Christian Church as well.
Mega-watt thinkers from antiquity have determined a variety of “free wills”: incompatibilism (hard determinism, metaphysical libertarianism, and hard incompatibilism), compatibilism (lack of physical restraint, levels of decision, unpredictability).
Other options include free will as an illusion, and as “moral imagination.” And yet more definitions arise from Eastern thought as well as from the fields of physics, genetics, neuroscience, psychiatry, and psychology. 
In the Church, apologists, theologians, and religious thinkers of all sorts explain variations on the free will theme coming from a variety of “isms”: Calvinism, Arminianism, Lutheranism, Anabaptism, and Roman Catholicism, to name a few. 
And the rest of us ponder (inevitably and ironically): which to choose?
When my mind and spirit get stuck in the mud of “he says/she says” on this topic, I think of “Mabel” and I think of Steven Hawking, two thinkers on opposite ends, you might say, of the intellectual spectrum, but still able to choose.
I met Mabel when she was in the sixth grade and I was a reading tutor in the resource room of her school. Due to the luck of the genetic draw, Mabel, a slip of a girl with several developmental challenges, labored her way through a workbook several years below her grade level. What would be little achievements for other students were big for her. She was, however, exceedingly patient. One day, she came to the tutor session very excited.
“I met my missionary!” she exclaimed, clapping her hands. “He talked at church last night and I knew he was the one I am supposed to pray for!”
She explained that of all the missionaries who had visited her church since she heard her pastor say it is a good idea to pray for missionaries, she’d been waiting for “hers”. I asked her how she knew he was the one, how she chose him?
“I just KNEW!” she exclaimed. That. Was. That. She made her choice due to promptings of her very own.
Heaven alone will reveal the effects of Mabel’s decision. And the cause? The power of suggestion, say some; the power of God, say others. The reader be the judge. Or maybe she just had her own, unique “Mabelesque” reasons for choosing the man. But with certainty, she did.
Stephen Hawking, another recipient of the luck of the genetic draw but in a completely different way, has been laboring of late with existential musings. In his and colleague Leonard Mlodinow’s book, The Grand Design, Hawking holds forth on “new answers to the ultimate questions of life” .
One would think that highly intelligent people would have greater capacity to know God as they are able to understand the complexities of creation so much better than the rest of us. But even Hawking, arguably one of the world’s most intelligent, still operates choice. And his response to the question of the origins of the universe, the “theory of the universe,” as he calls it, verifies this. He came to his own “Hawkingesque” conclusion. As he puts it:
“(The theory, called “M”) is the only candidate for a complete theory of the universe. If it is finite—and this has yet to be proved—it will be a model of a universe that creates itself. We must be part of this universe, because there is no other consistent model” (181).
Exploring in a quantum theoretical way around popular options (Intelligent Design, Creationism, Big Bang), Hawking has come up with yet another idea that seemingly defies one-size-fits-all explanations for essential queries by (ironically) suggesting yet another “size”.
But the door is not entirely shut, even in the halls of academe. “If the theory is confirmed by observation,” he closes, “it will be the successful conclusion of a search going back more than 3,000 years. We will have found the grand design” (181).
Despite his own intellectual proclivities, quite different from Mabel’s but still, like hers, allowing options, Hawking keeps the door of quantum theory ajar, enjoying the freedom of conjecture within even his high realm of thought.
For reasons of his own, like Mabel’s own reasons for her choice, Hawking heard the call to the search and after gathering information selected a conclusion. And, like Mabel, who may have chosen another missionary to pray for at some point, Hawking, too, pending scientific observation, may change his mind.
However, Hawking may still reject the theory of an intelligent Creator who not only shaped certain “quantum theories” into realities at the sound of His voice, but also crafted the human intellect, a multi-universe in itself, with bends and curves and structures we’ve not yet dreamed of awaiting discovery and exploration, a physiological “machine” with seemingly limitless choices, or at least capable of the idea of limitless choices.
ASIDE: this reminds me of how, due to technological discoveries, the farther we are able to explore the physical universe on both macro and micro levels, the more “populated” by matter we discover they are. We are continually having to invent new names and paradigms within which to link the extraordinary to the astonishing.
To declare at one pinprick of discovery that “there is no other” whatever it is, is, in my humble view, rather arrogant. I’ve often wondered if Darwin had had the power of microscopic sight that exists today, for example, he would still, with regards to his theory of evolution, have concluded, like Hawking on his theory, that “there is no other consistent model.” Because so much more has been discovered since the nineteenth century.
Although, of course, for completely different, even non-scientific reasons, The Father of Evolution might still maintain his stance.
Which would be his choice, of course.
What prompted all this was listening to an interview of an apologist I admire wherein he declared “I hate the term free will.” A spattering of the usual arguments followed and then the interview took a different direction.
But I was stuck there.
Hate free will?
In my view, free will, as noted in my previous post, is the epitome of God’s love.
But it is a sticky subject, especially in the Church. All manner of mayhem has resulted from one “ism” fighting another “ism” over this issue, arguments alloyed with secular thought that incorporates conjecture about the abilities of those fully capable of choice and those not so capable for various reasons, and every notion in between. So variations on the “free will theme” will continue miring us in debate, I am sure, while we (more irony, here) choose sides, isms, and even design new thoughts on the subject.
But meanwhile, and all along, I believe there is another “call.” An invitation not muddied in argument but uplifted by faith. Not just riding the intellectual spectrum but emanating from another plain altogether. Consider:
Timothy 2: 4 “Who (God) will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”
Mabel, with her mental limitations, may realize fewer options in life just as Hawking, with his mental gifts, may have as close to unlimited intellectual choices as it gets for humans. But each hears prompts and responds in each her/his own way. Mabel searches for missionaries to pray for. Hawking ciphers the algorithms of the universe. And, conversely, I think we can all think of both lesser-abled and more-abled individuals who chose/choose paths not so edifying.
But when I think of free will, I think of a different “call,” an invitation. One not so focused upon the call-ee but more on the Call-er.
I think of the invitation to salvation offered by the One Who paid the price for it, thus answering that other “ultimate question” that surfaces in us when we look honestly into the mirror of our mortal choices and see our own brand of mayhem. I think of One, Jesus Christ, Who calls us to receive the solution for this dilemma: His substitutionary sacrifice (see John 3:16), which is actually His choice for us. Pending our response, of course.
Like my student’s and Hawking’s motivations to pursue their interests, how each of us receives the call to faith and to salvation is probably individualized, too, delivered by a God Who, as noted in the Timothy passage, wills all to be saved and to come to truth.
To achieve this God must, I believe, have a plan for each, a plan for both “abled” and disabled, confident and fearful, strong and weak, hopeful and desperate, fortunate and unfortunate, young and old, rich and poor, famous and obscure, well and sick—and for those mired in the arguments over ultimate meanings and those completely unaware of them or, like Mabel, incapable of comprehending them.
Otherwise, it seems, Jesus would have to have qualified His dying words: “It is finished.”
God, I believe, has a plan to reveal to each of us the truth in the Word and the Word Made Flesh. And the plan reaches the spectrum of humanity in ways we may not have even dreamed of yet, that we cannot even imagine given the limitations of the mind, no matter the I.Q., and the complexities of the heart, no matter the intentions.
But none can argue this: people in the remotest, oddest, most unusual and unpredictable of ways perceive and respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ every day—isms, philosophies, theologies, apologias and debates notwithstanding—be it by sermon, treatise, song, or “still, small voice.”
Or perhaps because of some newly discovered, multi-hued filigree of cosmic splendor lacing the skies that “witnessed” to just one, on a particular day, who happened to be on the receiving end of a telescope…
Whatever the mechanism, I believe Love prepares,
“But as it is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9, KJV).
“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).
 Book jacket notes. Hawking, Stephen, Mlodinow, Leonard. The Grand Design. New York: Bantam. 2010.
Photos from the public domain.