Monday, August 05, 2013

The Shocking Alternative

God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.

Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk. Perhaps we feel inclined to disagree with Him. But there is a difficulty about disagreeing with God. He is the source from which all your reasoning power comes: you could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can rise higher than its own source. When you are arguing against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all: it is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on. If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will—that is, for making a live world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings—then we may take it it is worth paying.

When we have understood about free will, we shall see how silly it is to ask, as somebody once asked me: "Why did God make a creature of such rotten stuff that it went wrong?" The better stuff a creature is made of—the cleverer and stronger and freer it is—then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong. A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better and worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of genius, still more so; a superhuman spirit best—or worst—of all.

~ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity


mmicmichael said...

So much for C.S.Lewis. I guess he never read The Bondage of The Will.

David Garner said...

I'm not sure what C.S. Lewis refers to as free will and what you reference in Luther's fine work are the same thing. For one, Lewis is quite obviously talking about the state of man before the fall ("(w)hy did God make a creature of such rotten stuff that it went wrong?"), and I don't think Luther or anyone who follows his reasoning thinks Adam and Eve had a bound will before the fall (i.e., before it "went wrong"). Lutherans certainly do not think we are automatons. For another, and this is coming from an Eastern Orthodox perspective, saying the natural will remains essentially free and saying we as persons can use that will freely are two different things. The former simply affirms the Sixth Ecumenical Council's decrees, whereas the latter would be to deny the effects of the fall.

Which is to say, I don't see in Lewis' fine quote here anything a good Lutheran ought to quarrel with. But one has to read him rightly, and charitably.

mmicmichael said...

A look at Luther’s Heidlberg Disputation might give an answer. Gerhard Forde sums it up in theses 13-18 of the Disputation.

On pages 51-52 he explains that “if we are to use the term ‘free will’ at all, we should limit it to our everyday freedom in those things that are below us but not attempt to extend it to those things that ‘above us.’ What does this mean? It is simple, once again, an attempt to give account of the way things are. In our daily life and affairs we do relatively what we please and God does not noticibly interefer, whatever we may believe about Him. We come and go as we will; we decide what to wear, what to eat, what to do, what to do or not to do, and so on. We may even decide to be moral or religious. We may even decide that Jesus is a wonderful person and a stirring example, and so forth. We may supposedly, even decide whether or not or go to church. All of that is ‘below’ us. This is Luther’s way of recognizing that we actually do exercise what we call free choice in such matters. That is just the way things are. It also indicates that Luther has no particular interest or concern about what philosophers call ‘determinism’ becase in actuality it makes no difference. We go ahead and do what we please in any case, whatever we may hold philosophically.

When we come up against God, however, the living one who is really and truly above us, we encounter a fundamentally different problem…”

Luther lays out thesis 13-18:

Thesis 13. Free will, after the fall, exists on name only, and as long as it does what it is able to do it commits a mortal sin.

Thesis 14. Free will, after the fall has power to do good only in a passive capacity, but it can always do evil in an active capacity.

Thesis 15. Nor could free will remain in a state of innocence, much less do good, in an active capacity, but olny in its passive capacity.

Thesis 16. The person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin so that he becoems doubly guilty.

Thesis 17. Nor does speaking in this manner give cause for despair, but for arousing the desire to humble oneself and seek the grace of Christ

Thesis 18. It is cetain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.

mmicmichael said...

Forde notes on page 57 and 58, “Even, or perhaps we should say especially before the fall there is no active capacity either to stand or to progress in righteousness. Such an active capacity could only mean that the creatures makes a move to be independent of the creator and sets out to create its own goodness. No good is done by the claim that without an active capacity of free will the creature cannot be held responcible because the problem is precisley that the fallen creature is blind to the true state of affairs…”

“…the creature only has a passive capacity for the good, not an active one.”

Lewis says: “A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight.”

I am not convince that Lewis makes the distinction between active and passive capacities.

Forde answers the puppit objection: pg 55, “The will is not nothing and is not forced or determined, and if, as we might say, we are not puppets, how then may the power of the will be described? If the claim is that that are to “do what is in us,” then the question quite naturally follows: What then is in us? What sort of capacity do we have? To get at the question Luther here uses a distinction current in his day betreen what our translation has called a “passive capacity” and an “active capacity” What does this mean? In it passive capacity the will can do good when it is acted upon from without but not on its own, not in an active capacity…. Water has a passive capacity to be heated, but it can’t heat itself. It has no active cpaacity to do that.”

Soooo… Lewis doesn’t get it. Considering the baggage connected with the term “free will” and the theological confusion around it. I choose not to go there.

David Garner said...

"I am not convince that Lewis makes the distinction between active and passive capacities."

And I'm not convinced you're reading him charitably. As noted before, from our perspective (EO), the ability to exercise a will freely is wholly distinct from having a will that is capable of being so exercised. And the distinction you note in Forde between active and passive capacity seems to square well with how we (EO) view righteousness, in that pre-fall, we contend that Adam was righteous due to the communion he had with God and not intrinsically so. I wouldn't term this "passive" righteousness, because an exercise of the will is a personal act, not a natural one, and so ultimately the person with the will is the one who has to put it to use. But because of this distinction between person and nature, neither do we believe that having a free will means that Adam's capacity for righteousness was something intrinsic to his nature, such that it could be said that apart from this communion with God he could be righteous. So there is at least a sense where we (EO) would agree with such a distinction as Forde makes, though it is doubtful we would term it that way.

Reading Lewis' quote, and knowing he was a good Roman Catholic and knowing what they believe about righteousness and the fall, it seems to me you are taking a view of his words that helps your condemnation of what he wrote, but it also seems to me that is not the only, or even the most likely, meaning Lewis himself would apply to the words he used. You can choose to do that if you like, but I'd think quotations to Lewis (rather than Luther and Forde) would be helpful to establish it.

David Garner said...

I'll also note that the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord ascribes a freedom to the will post-regeneration that would presumably square with the state of man pre-fall, or at least would not be a higher state than man had pre-fall. Since the Formula is a confessional document, I'd think it supersedes Luther's non-confessional writings and anything Forde has to say that would be contradictory.

"From this, then, it follows that as soon as the Holy Ghost, as has been said, through the Word and holy Sacraments, has begun in us this His work of regeneration and renewal, it is certain that through the power of the Holy Ghost we can and should cooperate, although still in great weakness. But this [that we cooperate] does not occur from our carnal natural powers, but from the new powers and gifts which the Holy Ghost has begun in us in conversion, 66] as St. Paul expressly and earnestly exhorts that as workers together with Him we receive not the grace of God in vain, 2 Cor. 6:1. But this is to be understood in no other way than that the converted man does good to such an extent and so long as God by His Holy Spirit rules, guides, and leads him, and that as soon as God would withdraw His gracious hand from him, he could not for a moment persevere in obedience to God."

This squares roughly with our belief that our capacity for righteousness is found only in communion with the Godhead and not in our own nature or ability. I could quibble here or there with Lutheran distinctives on the will, but that's not my point and I have no wish to do so as a guest on Pastor Beane's blog so I'll decline. My point is simply that as I understand it, Lewis takes a very similar view to ours on righteousness and the will, and so as one who reads his words with a particular understanding, it seems to me you are misunderstanding him.