Lately I’ve been doing some reading about predestination and free-will. I think theology is utterly important – after all, how can you have a relationship with someone without knowing about them? So in the search for a church in the Santa Clarita, CA area my wife and I are definitely re-evaluating our theological positions. (It’s kind of fun to disagree on a few points as well.)

So I read a good selection out of Martin Luther’s On the Bondage of the Will. One sentence particularly caught my eye. In the context of the relationship between Adam’s sin and God’s will, Luther wants to establish that God’s will has “no cause or ground (which) be laid down as its rule and standard.” Unless one is careful with this, the ramifications are fairly frightening.

Luther goes on to write: What God wills is not right because He ought, or was bound, so to will; on the contrary, what takes place must be right, because He so wills it.

This implies that goodness is not good because it is inherently good, but that it is so due to the will of God. A consequence is that adultery is wrong because God willed it to be so and could, if He wished to, make it just fine tomorrow.

Now I think Luther has got himself in a corner on this one. I think that God created the world and moral actions good because it flowed naturally out of His goodness. That avoids the problem of God being arbitrary in regards to good and evil. Instead, such a view as mine preserves the goodness of God. Such a view was held by Augustine and Aquinas, so I’m in decent company.

Luther’s complaint is that this makes God sound as if He were bound. To this I answer, Well, yes, in a manner of speaking, though in a manner of speaking only. It is not as if goodness were a shackle on a god wanting to break free and wreak havoc on the world. Rather, He delights in acting according to goodness. Goodness is, after all, an idea in His mind. This doesn’t limit His freedom, because freedom, rightly defined, is the ability to do what one was made to do or achieving one’s purpose. One achieves ultimate freedom when flourishing as they fulfill his or her telos. Freedom is not the ability to actualize a greater amount of potentialities, as some would have it. Thus, God is actually as free as possible when willing what is good.

Posted by Andrew Selby