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Free will?

"... what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." Romans 7.15

So how free is free will? The apostle Paul outlines the dilemma in the moment of personal crisis he includes in his letter to the church in Rome. Does he not speak for us all in expressing our struggle against sin: we know what we should not do but we do it anyway and the very things that we should do we seem incapable of? And yet...

... we have free will - apparently. This notion is embedded in the story of Adam and Eve, who chose to disobey God, despite having the option of refusing the forbidden fruit and remaining faithful. It is also essential for love to be true, that it is freely given and received. Hence the need for God to allow his creation to take its own course, in order that our ultimate relationship may be one of love rather than inevitability or compulsion.

The English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, tried to square the circle through reference to the way water flows freely but within the parameters of gravity - ie downhill. In like manner, humans enjoy free will but within the constraints of our ability and, some might add, our desires. Like me, some might fall into the trap of confusing Hobbes' insight with the idiom "Hobson's choice"!

"Hobson's choice" is really no choice at all which, on the surface, looks like what Thomas Hobbes might be saying. But that would be stretching the point, which is that humans are not entirely animalistic but we are not as free as we like to think.... So are we free enough to be have responsibly, faithfully, lovingly even?

Back to Paul and it would appear that he urges hedging our bets. We should be capable of doing the right thing but we need the Holy Spirit to help us get there. But we are talking only about ground level existence here. In the greater scheme of overcoming sin and securing eternal life, we have no choice at all. We are utterly dependent on God himself who, in the person of Jesus, overcame sin through his personal and perfect sacrifice and then secured the victory through resurrection to eternal life.

These are the banks, if you like, of Hobbes' river, within which we do enjoy freedom to choose how our lives will flow - even if we still depend on the Holy Spirit to guide us into the faithful choices whenever obstacles loom...

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