Attributes of God: Freedom

 

It is about time we got back to our series on the Attributes of God.  So without delay we will delve into God’s next attribute – his freedom.  Freedom is an attribute God shares (i.e. it is communicable) with his creation.  Therefore, we should have some sort of understanding, although limited, in what it is like to be free.  A good place to start the conversation is to set about the task of defining freedom.

By definition someone is said to be free when they have the liberty to act, speak, or think as they desire.  From this definition you can see that freedom, in an absolute sense, is pretty much impossible to achieve.  No matter what, there will always be some degree of limitations on our freedom.  So the concept of freedom, on a human level, tends to be understood and accepted as relative.  Let me see if I can help clarify this with two examples.

I live in what many would classify as a ‘free country’.  However, even those who are blessed to live in a country that enshrines the freedom of its citizens, they must acknowledge that it is a restricted/conditional freedom they enjoy.  For example I have the freedom to say whatever I want, but I do not have the freedom to randomly shout, “FIRE” in public buildings.  Although our freedom of speech is restricted we maintain we live in a free country simply because we exercise more freedom than those who live in countries that censor everything their citizens say.  This is an example of limitations on our freedom due to being under authority.

Having established that I live in a free country, I can go jogging, if I was so inclined, whenever I want.  However, my friend, who also lives in the same country as I do, does not share in this same freedom.  How is this possible?  The reason I have this freedom and he does not is because he is confined to a wheelchair.  The governing powers have not limited his freedom to go for a jog, rather his ability has restricted his freedom.  We are both free, but I have the ability to exercise more freedoms than he does.

Having demonstrated that on a human level freedom is relative and absolute freedom is pretty much impossible, let us talk about God’s freedom.  When we speak of God’s freedom we are talking about the attribute whereby God does whatever he wills (Psalm 115:3).  Unlike the human experience, God is not limited in his freedom.  Since there is no authority higher than God (Heb 6:13) and he is not limited in ability (Luke 1:37), God experiences freedom in the highest sense of the word.  Let me be clear here when I say God is free I am saying there are absolutely no external restrictions to his freedom (Dan 4:35).

Now the thinkers out there are likely jumping up and down crying foul at my last statement.  Obviously tension arises from the fact that the Bible clearly tells us there are things God can’t and will not do.  For example God can’t lie (Heb 6:18) ergo he is not free to lie.  At first glance that may appear to put a restriction on God’s freedom.  However, this tension is resolved when you take a closer look at our original definition.  Freedom, by definition, is based on your will or desire.  Essentially freedom is the liberty to do what you want.  Given all of the aspects of God’s divine character and nature exist and work together in perfect harmony, his divine will must also be consistent with his nature and character.  In other words God would not desire something that ran contrary to who he is (2 Tim 2:13).  It isn’t that he does not have the freedom to lie, he simply would never have the desire to lie in the first place.  Since God is not restricted in authority nor limited in ability, and his will is eternally consistent with his character, he alone enjoys absolute freedom.  God alone has the liberty to do whatever he wills.

More In The Series

1) Intro to the Attributes of God

2) Goodness of God

3) Omnipresence of God Part 1

4) Omnipresence of God Part 2

5) Omniscience of God

6) Omnipotence of God

2 Responses to Attributes of God: Freedom

  • JM says:

    Thanks for posting this, Jason. I’ve been thinking about the article for the past couple of days, and I have a few thoughts

    This definition of freedom, it seems, is only useful in distinguishing us from God when we are applying it to things that are actual impossibilities. In other words, God is absolutely free — He can do whatever He desires to do, keeping in mind that He would never desire to do something that is impossible for Him (e.g. He would never desire to cease to exist, He would never desire to lie, etc.).

    However, I am not absolutely free — I sometimes desire to do things that are impossible for me. I desire to fly. I desire to function on zero sleep. I desire to have a beard that always remains the perfect length, never needing to be trimmed of groomed. I’m not free in these respects because of limitations on my power or capacity.

    But if we are discussing things that are within the realm of possibility, I think that we actually are absolutely free. We just feel as though we aren’t free because we have multiple, fragmented, and sometimes conflicting desires. In other words, I think that every sentient person always does (within the realm of possibility) what he/she desires the most. Therefore, he/she is absolutely free.

    I might say that I desire to be a virtuoso banjo player, I might say that I desire to speak French, I might say that I desire to be able to run a marathon, but the truth is that I desire other things more. What is preventing me from doing these things are other desires — the desire to sleep, the desire to spend time with my family, the desire to not get fired from my job, the desire to pursue other hobbies.

    It seems to me that every choice that a person makes is ultimately a reflection of his/her greatest desire. We always do what we most want to do. Some might disagree saying, “I actually don’t desire to get up in the morning and exercise, but I just force myself to do it.” Well, maybe you didn’t directly feel the desire to exercise, but clearly the desire to have exercised and to have obtained the health benefits of exercise was stronger than the desire to stay in your bed because, well, you got up and exercised. We always do what we desire to do, but not all of our desires are as readily or directly perceived.

    To summarise, we are not free to do things that are intrinsically impossible, but, within the realm of possibility, we are completely free. I am free to make a pulled pork sandwich, but I am not free to make a unicorn sandwich.

    The fundamental issue, it seems, is that we (as fallen human beings) have fragmented, multiple, and sometimes conflicting desires. God, on the other hand, is completely unified in His desires.

    We are able to sin. It is in the realm of possibility, and without the grace of God, it is in the realm of inevitability. Once we have been saved by grace, God grants us new desires — desires to do His will, to honour Him and serve our fellow man. However, we still have corrupted, fallen desires — to do our own will, to seek our own glory and comfort. This is what creates the tension. And from this cluster of conflicting, divergent desires we seek to live in this world.

    Our destiny as re-created, restored, glorified human personalities is to be stripped of all evil desires. Our tendencies to greed, sloth, anger, pride and lust will be completely expunged from our nature. “We will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is.” In this restored, redeemed new creation, we will be as free as God is. We will all be able to do think, speak, and act exactly as we desire.

    So it seems to me that this idea of “freedom” isn’t really an attribute of God. It’s a corollary, a necessary outcome of other attributes of God — His unity, His undiluted purity. It’s like a rainbow. It isn’t an actual independent entity — it’s just the natural outcome of sunlight and water droplets being in a particular space and arrangement.

    • Jason
      Jason says:

      Good to hear from you Jamie. When I wrote this post I knew I would be barely scratching the surface of the topic. Your thoughtful comments definitely reveal where I was light on my editorial. As I was writing I kept thinking about all the areas freedom would touch and where the topic could go. I was half expecting someone to write in and ask about God’s free will vs. man’s free will. Thankfully that didn’t happen. Truthfully one could extend this topic over several posts and explore further. If you are game for a guest post on the topic let me know. On a side note I do want to point out some important things you said in your comments.

      But if we are discussing things that are within the realm of possibility, I think that we actually are absolutely free. We just feel as though we aren’t free because we have multiple, fragmented, and sometimes conflicting desires. In other words, I think that every sentient person always does (within the realm of possibility) what he/she desires the most. Therefore, he/she is absolutely free.

      I totally agree with you when you say that everyone always does what he or she desires to do most. However, I think we are defining absolute freedom differently. In my mind when I was writing this I was making a distinction between having total freedom vs. absolute freedom. In your quote above I would have said we are totally free to do as we desire, but we do not have absolute freedom. I am borrowing from our five point brothers who make the distinction between total depravity vs. being absolutely depraved. Total depravity means we are not inclined toward God, and even the good we do is corrupted in premise, intention and execution. Absolute depravity would mean we were as bad as we possibly could be. We could always be “badder”. In the same way I would say we have total freedom to do what we want (within the realm of possibility), but absolute freedom is impossible because we are under authority and have limited abilities.

      So it seems to me that this idea of “freedom” isn’t really an attribute of God. It’s a corollary, a necessary outcome of other attributes of God — His unity, His undiluted purity. It’s like a rainbow. It isn’t an actual independent entity — it’s just the natural outcome of sunlight and water droplets being in a particular space and arrangement.

      Well said. I would tend to agree with you. Some books classify it as an attribute others, as you put it, simply a corollary. It is similar to the wrath of God. Many books speak of God’s wrath as an attribute. However, it really is a response/reaction to something external to himself – our sin. If sin did not exist God’s wrath would not be revealed. In some sense it is a secondary – if there is such a classification – attribute which is intimately linked to the primary attribute of his holiness. In the same way freedom is a secondary attribute linked to his primary nature (i.e. aseity, eternality, omnipotence, etc).

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