Love, Devotion and Free Will

I was in a conversation with someone and the topic eventually turned to why God gave us free will. In his words, “Even if [God] wants us to have supreme happiness out of love for us (and thus declines to soften our hearts), he would surely prefer that we have only half happiness or whatnot instead of eternal suffering. Wouldn’t it be better to have a world where 50% of the people are only a little happy instead of one where that same 50% actively suffer? I would certainly rather be compelled to believe and have “untrue” happiness than to experience neverending torment.”

I didn’t give him much of an answer because I was exhausted and I’m glad. In the clarity that came with the morning, I realized that he’s asking the same question I have asked before. I shoved the question in one of my mental drawers and haven’t gotten back to it since. To answer Collin’s question, I would have been forced to take a stand on a question I have not yet studied and in such cases, I would likely take a wrong stand and find myself unable to drop it when it is proven false.

Collin’s question can be answered once we figure out if beings with free will are better off than those without free will, all things considered. He uses happiness as the criterion here. “I would rather be half happy or falsely happy than be in hell”. He’s right, you know. Heck, I’d rather be unhappy with God than be in hell. So, if happiness were the only factor to consider, God should not have given us free will. But there are others. Is it morally right to create beings without free will? Can beings without free will actually be moral? If a person would not freely serve God, are they still guilty of sin (even if God forces them to serve him)?

First, state the problem: We are sinners. When given the choice, a lot of the time, we choose to do the wrong thing, the thing we want rather than what God wants. A lot of the time, this brings us pain and suffering, like it brought Adam and Eve. We would be better off if we listened to God. God gave us free will, despite the knowledge that we could hurt ourselves with it. I’ll try to figure out how free beings are different from beings whose thought, feelings and actions are determined in an attempt to understand that.

First, there are free beings

  1. Free beings can think and come to their own conclusions without restraint.
  2. They can have wishes, wants and desires of their own and make their own plans.
  3. They can search and discover things without constraint, so they can know the joy of learning and growing.
  4. They can know the pleasure of freely submitting themselves to someone.
  5. Experience pain, frustration, etc. when their actions (or someone else’s) are wrong.
  6. Run the risk of permanently separating themselves from God as a result of their wrong actions.
  7. If they do not want to be with God, they can be given what they want.

There is another class of beings which I will call “semi-free” because not all of their thoughts, feelings and actions are determined. They can do a lot of things freely (choose between chocolate and strawberry ice cream, for instance), but when it gets to certain other things (choosing whether or not to hit your sister) they cannot choose, want to choose or even think about choosing the wrong one.

  1. They can think, learn, grow, plan and discover, but with restraint. As a result, any pleasure gained from those things is less than for free beings.
  2. They experience God differently because cannot know the joy of seeking and finding him. They will not know the experience of bringing their thoughts in line with his i.e. learning to love and giving themselves to him in that free, whole, unrestrained way.
  3. Will not suffer hardships due to wrong decisions because they cannot make wrong decisions.
  4. They cannot want to not be with God

Class three is what I will call ‘robots’ (‘cause that’s what they are). Every move they make, word they speak, etc. is determined by God. They cannot do differently. It seems intuitive that it is better to be ‘semi-free’ than a robot, but it might not be so. The robots

  1. Cannot think, plan, search, discover, or do anything that makes use of the will.
  2. Will not suffer hardships due to wrong decisions.
  3. Cannot experience God at all in the way that free and semi-free beings do. They do not search for his wants and desires and choose to fulfill them. Their knowledge of him is not discovered by them, but has to be put into the by God. Think of the ‘knowledge’ downloaded into a computer and the knowledge gained through research and experience. The second is called learning and the first is… well, I don’t know.
  4. They cannot want to not be with God

I think of this class of beings as somewhat like the programs I write. The way they choose is:

If A and not-A are functionally equivalent, do A.


If A, do B, then do C

If not-A, do D

These distinctions give rise to very interesting scenarios and scenarios are a wonderful way of evaluating concepts.

For instance, Jane and Billy are semi-free beings who have lived all their lives on earth, joyfully doing God’s will. They cannot even conceptualize disobedience. Whatever God wishes, they do.

Note 1: This seems to be rape – slavery even. It is God’s right to have our devotion and service, but this action does not seem to befit a being of his goodness.  If forcing these things on beings who are not guilty of anything is morally wrong, that throws out the question of why God gave us free will (even if such slavery would benefit us). God will not act in an immoral manner.

One day, Jane and Billy run into each other in the cafeteria. Billy feels attracted to Jane and asks her on a date, specifically to eat ice cream with him. Billy gets the ice cream while Jane waits. To Jane’s disappointment, Billy fails to ask for her preference and gets her strawberry ice cream, which she does not like. Jane feels sad and disappointed.

Note 2: This seems like a perfectly plausible scenario. If valid, it would show that things like sadness and disappointment can exist in a world with semi-free beings, just like it can in a world with wholly free beings. No difference there.

Billy realizes his mistake and fixes it. He gives her his vanilla ice cream and eats hers. This makes Jane happy again. She is pleased that Billy

English: Strawberry Ice Cream with Strawberrie...
English: Strawberry Ice Cream with Strawberries Deutsch: Erdbeereis mit Erdbeeren (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

cares about her feelings. Unbeknownst to her, however, Billy would not have given her his ice cream if he could do different. He hates strawberry ice cream too and the trip back to the ice cream shop is long. He would have apologized and told her to make do. God, knowing this made him give her his ice cream. Billy is now eating ice cream that he doesn’t like. This makes him sad. God can fix this by making him happy with a flick of his magic wand. He does and now, Billy is happy.

Note 3: Because the beings can want, they can experience disappointment. God can fix this unhappiness by controlling their feelings and wants, bringing them closer to the ‘robots’. Or he can let them feel. Perhaps this won’t even be a problem. Maybe living so close to God would make his dislike of strawberry ice cream so insignificant that Billy won’t be unhappy.

And then there is love. Jane’s happiness because she feels cared for by Billy would likely change if she knew that Billy could not fail to treat her in the way he did. It would change even more if she knew that if he had free will, he would in fact, not care what she thought of the ice cream. Ice cream is a small matter. If Billy and Jane were to go on to get married, and Billy treated Jane with the utmost care, and professed to care deeply for her, but she knew that if he had free will, he would despise her, she would likely not feel cared for at all. Wintery told me that if his computer printed out “I love you”, it would not mean what it does when his cockatiel seeks his affection and I think he makes a valid point. The willingness with which one professes love is important to the receiver. In fact, the receiver would likely see love that is forced as a lie.

Jane might never know that Billy does not willingly love her, but God would because Billy does not willingly love God either. And God would likely see that love as a lie, just like Jane.

Note 4: If God sees forced love as a lie, his disdain for falsehoods would most likely keep him from forcing us to love him.

A lot more can be said about this, I’m sure. My groups can be split into smaller groups, my list of notes on the groups can be expanded and some of the points are probably wrong or incomplete. But I’m tired and hungry so this is as far as I’m going right now. This exercise has given me a slightly more comprehensive understanding of the free will issue than before and I hope it helps you too.


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I’m Tracy

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