Monday, April 03, 2006

The Will of the Savior

In the comments of my article “The Philosophy of Monergism,” Perry Robinson raises a question concerning the will of Jesus, attempting to be exemplary of the will of fallen creatures:

Jesus during the Passion does choose otherwise. Did Jesus sin or did he not choose otherwise?

I responded:

Chose otherwise to what? Jesus chose otherwise to the Father’s will? Certainly that isn’t the case. Or perhaps you mean “chose to not sin.” But of course, this is humorously irrelevant, for the monergist would certainly deny that Jesus was dead in sin. You can’t equate autonomy in the hands of Jesus (which, even Jesus did not have autonomy on earth in the sense that he was not free from submission to the Father’s will) with autonomy in the hands of depraved sinners. A depraved sinner will never choose to do anything other than to sin.

He replied:

If Jesus doesn’t choose contrary to the Father, then why does he say “not as I will?” Matt 26:39

So I stated:

What did Jesus choose? Did he fulfill the Father’s will or did he act contrary to the Father’s will? Are you arguing that Jesus’ submission in redemption was actually contrary to his will? That is reading far too much into the statement “not as I will.” Are you honestly arguing that when Jesus went to the cross, he did not will to do so? Did he do so unwillingly, or was it his will? Did he lay down his life freely or did he not?

And he responded:

As to the Passion, how do any of your questions answer mine? Jesus said he willed contrary to the Father. He says “not my I will.” That seems pretty clear that he willed not as the Father willed. Do you deny that Jesus so willed not to go to the cross?

Apparently, Mr. Robinson believes that Jesus went to the cross unwillingly. This notion certainly raises some interesting questions: did Jesus lay down his life freely or not? Was Jesus sacrificed against his will?

Rather, Robinson is merely uninformed of an accurate doctrine of the will. What is a will? Is it merely a collection of desires? Is it one desire in particular? Could Jesus have desired to not go to the cross but will to go to the cross at the same time? A challenge I’ve always made to free willists is to tell them to act against their wills. It’s impossible. Humans are enslaved to their wills. No one can force you to act against your will. Someone could hold a gun up to your head and tell you to do something which you do not desire to do. You have two options: you’ll comply, or you won’t. Either way, you’ll be acting in congruence with your will. Even if you comply, you do so willingly because your desire to live supersedes your desire to act in a contrary manner. And if you choose to not comply, you do so willingly because your desire to act in a contrary manner supersedes your desire to live. Either way, you act willingly. The will is a matter of the strongest desire; the strongest desire wins.

So to say that Jesus went to the cross unwilling is to say that Jesus’ strongest desire lost. But if this is the case, then it would mean that Jesus’ desire to not go to the cross was stronger than his desire to submit to the Father, but that this desire lost and he acted in a manner that was against his strongest desire. But what sort of example is that? Such a notion involves a radical redefining of the orthodox understanding of Christ and his submission the Father in the role of redemption. And it surely is the direct opposite of the attitude of Christ as he stated, “not as I will.” Obviously, when Jesus made this statement, he was expressing the fact that his desire to submit to the Father trumps his desire to not complete the sacrifice of the cross. In other words, while we might state that Jesus initially willed (or at least temporally on earth, for his “initial” will, in reality, was his will that was expressed in eternity past) to not complete his task, but that this will later conformed to the Father’s will. It isn’t that Jesus went to the cross unwillingly; it’s that Jesus’ desire to submit to the Father and conform to his will became (in a logical sense rather a chronological sense) his own will. In Gethsemane, Jesus’ strongest desire won: he went to the cross willingly.

You might be wondering how all of this relates to monergism and the will of man. I, too, am not exactly sure how Perry Robinson is using this argument. Perhaps, since Jesus had the ability (he argues) to act contrary to his will, then God was wise in placing autonomy in the hands of depraved sinners because they have the ability to act contrary to their sinful wills. But if this is indeed the argument, a few things should be noted:

1. If a depraved creature, for some reason, acted in a non-sinful manner, it wouldn’t because he acted contrary to his will; it would be because his will has been changed. Yes, he acts contrary to his previous will, but he acts in congruence with his current will. When you act in a “good” manner, it is because you will to do so. One cannot act in a “good” manner but will to act evilly. One cannot act against his will.

2. This, if anything, points back to the Reformed doctrine of effectual call: God must change the will. Sinful man can’t act contrary to his depraved will, so he must be given a new will.

3. If this is Robinson’s argument, then it is simply distracting to focus on Jesus. What should be the focus is what the Bible states about the will of unregenerate man: can an unregenerate man will to do either good or evil, or can he only will to do evil? If Mr. Robinson is willing to concede that an unregenerate man can only act with an evil will, then it might then be appropriate for him to discuss Jesus and the nature of the will. But I highly doubt that Mr. Robinson is willing to admit this. Therefore, this discussion is altogether pointless without a prior discussion that concerns the doctrine of depravity.

Evan May.

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