Free Will

Free will is one of the most extensively discussed topics. There are many theories in various fields from theology to philosophy to natural, social, and human sciences.

One of the starting points is that there is a free will and determinism distinction. And in this meta-perspective, there are two positions: compatibilism and incompatibilism.

The former is a stance that both free will and determinism can be compatible. The latter is that both can’t. Even between two, several variations exist depending on how we define each of them.

For example, the following matrix is well-known. Interestingly, our ideological perspectives could be more or less among these patterns. And the basis here is a seer and seen dualism, or a controller and controlled dualism.

In this dualism, there is the universe on the one side. What or who is in charge of this universe? And there is our free will that sees this universe on the other. What extent and how can our free will could influence this universe and ourselves?

If nothing or nobody is in charge of anything, the universe would be completely chaotic. In reality, however, it seems something or someone could be in charge of all possible changes.

There are a set of physical laws and logics. These could cover the realm of “how,” but not “why.”

We don’t know why there is “something” in the very first place instead of “nothing.” Why is there such universe we can perceive and experience within this universe? And who are “we” doing so in this specific universe? We don’t know why. We don’t know who we are.

In theology (and perhaps other religious, contemplative traditions) it could be treated as an issue of dualism and non-dualism. In particular, it could be between our free will and God’s will. And we also see His will as an unfolding, upholding process towards the Omega point.

Non-dualism represents the realm where both seer and seen (controller and controlled) would be merging with no clear distinction anymore. If the universe is merely a process of explosion from the Big Bang, then in this process, how can we see the involvement of our free will?

If the universe is the constant process of God’s (or evolving) creation, then, how can our free will on earth get involved in this process?

We are a tiny part of the universe. Being so, it seems there would be no room at all for us to will, influence, and change this creation process. It is an illusion that we can stand outside of this universe.

We never see God because we never stand outside. Our free will is an illusion. At most, we could be part of His consciousness; one of His dreams. We erroneously feel that we have our free will. The truth is that His will is alone, which is the Alpha and Omega.

Is that so? Are we merely a robot controlled by the central system called God’s (or evolving) will?

No, we’re not a robot, and yet His will is the Alpha and Omega. How could this be so?

God’s universe is not a closed static system. It is the creation of all possibilities unfolding and upholding. Furthermore, it is not just God’s will, but His will that’s ongoing; the process of His willing.

In His willing, then we are in His image. We see our free will in our consciousness and reflexivity.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him.

Genesis 1:27

While being a tiny particle of the universe, we could place our free will in the realm of His willing. In this faith (specifically in a Judeo-Christian tradition) we could see God gave us our free will. We can make choices for our life and must be responsible for it.

God does not entirely control us but rather love (agape and charity) us. In this recognition, we would be aware of our special conscience.

Immanuel Kant calls it the Good Will. Because of God’s love, we have choices in our life. Because of His love, we are categorically autonomous; therefore, we are responsible for the special duty of this Good Will, which is categorically imperative because of the nature of His love.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

In this merge of God’s will and our free will, we are completely free; at the same time, we are completely dutiful. This ultimate contradiction could be one variant of Kant’s antinomy. I’d like to call it the ethical Singularity.

In all possibilities unfolding toward His ultimate consciousness, we have to take care of our life, where we can make our choices for our life. In this perspective, we have our free will. We’re not a robot.

Most of the cases, however, our choice is based on our desires. Our desires (believing them as our free wills) control us. The paradox is that our free will makes us unfree. Our free will deceives our free will.

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage… This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

Galatians 5:1,16-17

We are supposed to align ourselves with this unfolding, upholding creation of God’s willing, but we can never do it entirely since our perspective is so limited, self-centered, and carnally instinctive, even destructive against the Good Will. Paul the Apostle also confessed:

For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me… O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

Romans 7:19-20, 24-25

In our human history, our free will has created a series of bloody, cruel activities with constant conflicts, murders, wars, even genocides. We love and hate one another destructively. Our desires always control us destructively, while we falsely call our actions free wills. In the midst of destruction we falsely believe we are free, without knowing such erroneous free wills are indeed the cause of all pains and sufferings.

There are also a lot of tragedies that we can never understand why they took place in the first place.

A newborn baby died without experiencing any joy of his or her life. Or, in her delivery, a mother died without seeing her survived baby. Various illnesses and natural calamities killed a vast number of innocent people. There are countless traffic accidents every day; one of them suddenly ended the life of one happy family with children. There are a lot of these tragedies that we never understand why.

If God controls our universe, why can’t He avoid them? Where is God’s will? In the process of open-ended, unfolding, upholding possibilities, how should He control everything? How should our free will be aligned with His will or willing?

What we could say is that it is indeed beyond our comprehension. Nevertheless, or perhaps because of that, we could see God’s undeserved love even through these tragedies.

Can we see it?

Paradoxically enough, through these tragedies, both God’s will and our free will are no longer in the distinctions of controlling and controlled. Beyond all of these dualistic distinctions, we would instead embrace His infinite, undeserved love, where our tragedies are actually His. In our pains and sufferings, there were only one’s footprints, which were actually His.

We thought we encountered pains and sufferings alone. The truth was that both God and we were in them. Moreover; He was in them. At this very moment, our free will would disappear, so does even His will, but His love alone.

Image by Arek Socha

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