The extent to which we are free to act independently of the will of God is a central concern in Christian theology. I have recently been listening to some Calvinists really struggling to defend a position that to me makes no sense – that God is in control of our lives and yet we have free will.
I stumbled upon a discussion where a Calvinist was trying to explain the so-called free will paradox in terms of primary and secondary causes. I’ll let you read what this person had to say on the matter, and will offer a few comments in response.
Though God is the primary cause, of things, he is not the direct agent of things. He works in a secondary cause according to its nature and properties. When a dog barks, God has decreed that the dog bark at that moment, and works in the dog to have it bark. He doesn’t have it meow, or chirp, because it is in the nature of a dog to bark. He created the dog with properties such that it barks. So, he works with things according to their nature. But his “working in the dog” is such that the dog’s action is from itself, of it’s own volition, and properly ascribed to the dog. So when a dog barks, we can say that it is both from God, and from the dog, but is performed only by the dog. God doesn’t bark, the dog barks. [bold added]
While I believe it’s appropriate and logical to make a distinction between primary and secondary causes, I would simply point out that the existence of secondary causes doesn’t in any way negate the control of God. To say that God is working in the dog to have it bark and at the same time that the bark happens by the dogs own volition, is a blatant contradiction. If the primary cause of the bark is God, then God is causing the bark, there are no two ways about it.
The reason why this is important is that central Christian ideas such as the fall of man, sin, judgment, salvation, etc, only make sense in a world where we have freedom to act independently of the will of God. For example, if we don’t have free will, this means God is the author of all of those choices we make for which He will subsequently judge us. I hope you can see why this is illogical.
It’s obvious to me that an omnipresent God is necessarily in control of every aspect of His creation. As God is boundless, there can be no freedom from God, as His presence extends to every atom in existence. The fact that God is in control of His creation should cause us to rethink the way we understand the central doctrines of Christianity and the other Abrahamic religions.