In response to my recent article on free will, in the series ‘On Strawmen’, I received the following email (edited for relevance and anonymity):
I suppose you would agree that the greatest Scriptural prayer is the Lord’s Prayer, given to us by the Son of God himself? The version in my Bible begins:
Our Father (which I take means a loving father who wants his children to be in his household and so would not consign them deliberately to hell),
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven (which implies that it is not always done, thereby further implying that we have freedom to do other than God’s will).
This is taken, of course, from Matthew 6:9-10. Now, this response is answered perfectly aptly in the very article it questions, because it is simply a case of inferring an indicative sense from an imperative verb. But it seems worthwhile to use it as an example, to discuss the implications that presupposing free will has for understanding the Bible. As I will show, by believing in free will, even the simple prayer of our Lord becomes a quagmire of irrationality and incoherence.
The basic argument being forwarded here is twofold: firstly, that God loves all people equally and desires them all to be saved. Secondly, that since Jesus instructs us to pray that God’s will be done, this must conversely indicate that it is possible for God’s will to not be done. This, in turn, implies that man is free to not do God’s will (and, hence, this is the reason for men not being saved).
So, in regards to the first point, we need only ask: what god is this? Certainly not the God of the Bible, since from Genesis 3:15 onward it’s clear that there are two types of people in the world: God’s children, and Satan’s children. Though God, in his benevolence, makes the sun rise on the good and the evil (Matt 5:45), this is the limit of the love which he extends to those whom he hasn’t elected to salvation. It is a temporary love, and will be replaced by wrath and righteous justice at the day of judgment. As I’ve already extensively shown from Proverbs, Romans, Ephesians, and so on, God creates everything for its purpose: the wicked for damnation, and, out of their number, the elect, to be covered by Christ’s own righteousness and saved to eternal life.
In regards to the second point, then: given that it arises from a view of God which is humanistic, and not biblical, its validity and soundness should immediately be suspect. This can be further shown—
The argument itself rests upon the inference that a command to pray that God’s will be done implies firstly that God’s will is sometimes not done, and secondly that the reason for this is human freedom. On the first implication I can certainly agree: it seems senseless in this context to pray for something which is certain to happen in any case; and Jesus wouldn’t instruct us to pray for something which is not only sure to happen, but which cannot not happen. But as far as the second implication goes, I don’t see it at all. It really does no good to make an appeal to such an apparent implication, because it is only apparent and only implied if one presupposes that man has freedom of will, and that Jesus believed God’s will could be thwarted.
Now, I should comment regarding God’s will, lest there be confusion. It should be evident that Jesus is here referring to God’s revealed will: that is, the commands he has given to mankind, detailing what we should do. This is as opposed to his secret will: the counsel and plan by which he works all things to their end; the will which stands unchanging from the foundation of the world, of which his revealed will is but a part. This must be so, because to assume that Jesus is referring to God’s secret will would entail that prayer, in and of itself, has some kind of power to cause, or at least contribute, to this will being done. This would conversely entail that our failing to pray might result in God’s will not being done. But since our prayers only have power through God in the first place, we can hardly suppose that they are therefore able to further the cause of his will being done, as if through some power of their own. Or, we should hardly suppose that without our prayers, God would neglect to do his own will. Both these conclusions are absurd unless we conceive of some other ultimate power than God, or suppose him to be less than perfect in his mental faculties.
Obviously, then, we are told to pray that God’s revealed will be done, just as we are in 1 Timothy 2:1-2:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
In like fashion, in the Lord’s prayer, we are told to pray that God’s will be done “on earth as it is in heaven”. Surely this is to be understood in the sense of human actions performed in conformance to God’s law; and in light of 1 Tim 2:1-2 we can further conclude that this is for the benefit of God’s faithful. But if human actions are truly free, then God is quite powerless to influence them, for when we speak of the freedom of the will, we are speaking of its freedom from God. Therefore, of what use would be praying that God’s will be done, when the power of prayer is derived from God’s action, and God is powerless to act? Is this merely a command to express our heartfelt desire that God’s will be done, despite the impotence of both ourselves and him to achieve this end? Surely not! It is ridiculous and blasphemous to think that Jesus is telling us to dwell wishfully with God upon a common desire which we share, but upon which we cannot act. The whole context of the Lord’s prayer is of asking for things which we may expect to be granted.
But if we can expect that our prayer will be fulfilled—that is, that God will honor our request that his will be done—then we must necessarily believe that God has both the power and the inclination to ensure that this happens. So when we ask that God’s revealed will be done, we believe that he will respond by preventing evil actions on the part of men, and ensuring righteous actions instead. The prayer presupposes that he will do this surely and definitely, and therefore irresistibly (as is the way God always acts; proved from Scripture in my article on free will). There is no uncertainty in the action involved; if there were, then the argument above still holds, revealing that the very command to pray in the first place is absurd, because the prayer cannot be founded in a justified belief that God will honor it.
Therefore, to believe in free will is to utterly destroy the basis for praying that God’s will be done. Rather than implying human freedom, the command to pray “your will be done” necessarily entails the opposite. If it did not, our prayer would be irrational; as would be the command to pray! It would be a case of asking for something which we know is beyond God’s control to grant.
All this, of course, is merely ancillary to my article on free will previously. To argue for free will, one would first need to demonstrate how Scripture says the very opposite of what I’ve already demonstrated there. This would have to come even before moving on to engage with the irrationality I’ve exposed here, which is produced in any number of scriptural passages and theological topics by trying to force a round, humanistic peg into a square, biblical hole.