2.2 Calvin's Institutes: Humanity's Lack of Free Will
Wild Card by Claire Brettell
The way I understand Calvin and his adamant stance with regard to our inability to be free from either evil or righteousness, is simply that Calvin wants it known that since the fall of man, we have all been broken and bound to evil. And only by the glory of God's grace are we freed from the bondage to evil and become bound then to righteousness through Christ's redemptive work.
Calvin is adamant in his conviction that there is no part of us, which is able to offer free will. We are either bound by evil and respond according to our evil desires, or we are bound in righteousness and respond from a place of good. This concept of Calvin's is repeated a number of different ways and he gives a number of suggestions as to why, and how this is to be. But, what I see as the overriding reason for his stance is shared in Calvin's words from Book 2 Chapter II of the Institutes (McNeill page 255) "Nothing, however slight, can be credited to man without depriving God of his honor, and without man himself falling into ruin through brazen confidence". It is all about acknowledging God's Glory. It is as if Calvin is protecting us from ourselves with this strong and for most people I know difficult to accept notion.
As I was reading the text for this week, I continued to think about Calvin and free will, I remember thinking about our Freedom in Christ Jesus. What is freedom? Freedom in Christ is for me best explained experientially as the audible dropping of chains and the peace and lightness of step. Scripturally it is a profound freedom which places over us a yoke which is easy and a burden which is light vs. the heavy burden of sin and the harness of sinful desires which we were once bound.
Where is freedom if there isn’t free will? My thought is that there is freedom in the bondage to the Will of God. And that freedom from sin is the greatest gift. And I do believe this is the reason for Calvin's hard to hear words. His contention is that we must not slip even an inch from whose will is at work, or we will surely completely slip from the grace of God. Calvin is hard on this point because of the severity of this notion. If we should slip even one inch from giving Glory to God, we will have lost it all again because of our human nature to make all things ours....
I then began to think of the ways in which Christians made decisions, and I immediately thought of discernment. Discernment is huge and can, at times move mountains in a community of faith. My thought flows then, if there is no free will then what is the meaning of our discernment practices? Decisions need to be made, we weigh them, we consider, we pray that our choices would not be self-motivated, we ask our community to pray for us as we enter a time of discernment. I am just wondering how all of this fits with Calvin's concept of no free will. What are we agonizing over if there is no actual free will?
The other thought I had while I was reading the text: Did Jesus have free will? From the stories in the desert, when he turned the water into wine, to the temple where he chose to knock over tables, to the Garden at Gethsemane one might be sure he did have free will. Spurred by anger, passion, grief or torment, Jesus was making his decisions, his choices. As part of his humanity then, did he have free will? What are your thoughts?