Pastor Ray Ortlund Jr. On My "Jesus: 'Why Do I Allow Evil?'" Video
- 2011 Apr 18
Then I Twittereeted a message to Ray Ortlund Jr., pastor of Immanuel Church, and (along with the likes of Mark Driscoll, Albert Mohler, Tim Keller, and John Piper) a Council Member of the imposingly-named Gospel Coalition, where he also keeps his great blog, Christ is Deeper Still. (About a year ago, Ray [in his post Christ Appears Without Being Asked] excerpted and then linked to a post on my blog. After that, he and I became e-buddies.)
In my message to Ray I asked what he thought of my Jesus video.
Here's how he responded:
1. Great representation of Jesus. Doesn't trivialize him at all, seems to me. He even wags his finger at us a little, so confident is he in his real authority. John, that is so not politically correct, as you well know---that Jesus would claim to be God, and speak with authority! Some people won't like that. But it does have the advantage of presenting him the same way he presented himself.
2. Great articulation of The Problem. And it really is The Problem, for so many people. For me. Life can be horrible.
3. Great ending.
4. I don't agree with the way "free will" is explained. I don't believe in "free will" as much as I believe in "unfree will." That is, I do have free will to do whatever I want -- and it comes out badly at times. But I do not have free will to choose what I want. I cannot control what my "wanter" down inside wants. If I lust over a woman, it's because I want to. But then, why the shame and frustration? Because I did something that I wanted to do; but, at the same time, I didn't want to do it. So, I need God to get involved in my interiority, and change what I want.
I need the "new birth" of John, chapter three.
(By the way, in your own story, when Christ encountered you, according to your blog post on the matter, you realized what you really are, and that you would never change. Unfree will. It is so real. And biblical. And you described it effectively. You had me so hooked, because I saw myself there, too.)
I totally get why you would relieve The Problem with an appeal to man's free will. It's an easy out. But it's too easy. Here's why:
Let's say we both believe in heaven in some biblical sense. Okay, will we still sin in heaven? No. We'll finally be free of it all. But why won't we sin in heaven? It won't be us boot-strapping ourselves there. No Christian believes in self-salvation. It will be Christ's work in us. The whole message of the Bible.
So here's my point: when we no longer sin, but goodness is exploding out of us forever in heaven, will we also be "brain-dead automatons"? When His grace finally changes our free wills to want only what He wants, will we be diminished or violated? We will be more alive, more human, more complete, more free than ever. And it will be totally His work in us.
Free will, defined as autonomous/uncaused will, is an intuitive and popular way to explain human realities. But we just aren't as simple as that. We're dang complicated! And to make it more complicated, God gets involved!
Human free will (in a qualified sense) and God's sovereign will are compatible in the way reality actually works. Not that I can wrap my brain around that! But I can't account for either our experience, or the Bible without this understanding.
Here is how bluntly I would say it: "God makes me do his will of my own free will." His will is real. My will is also real. But he accomplishes his will through my will without my having even to consciously cooperate, and yet it's still the real me, and I can't blame God for anything. This is counter-intuitive, but it seems to be the assumption that all the biblical authors are working with.
Net result: The Problem is more difficult than before! But with this qualified understanding of free will, I am finally facing into how little I understand of life, and how much I have to refer it to God, and say, "I don't get this. I can't defend you as easily as i wanted to. You're not letting me get you off the philosophical hook! I'm pushed to the place where all i can do is trust you. I can't explain you. I can't rescue your public reputation. So, okay. I'll do what i can. But this is not going to be easy."
Anyway, that's where I end up. I think it's where the biblical Job ended up, as he struggled with his sufferings. Boy, if there's a biblical book that doesn't appeal to free will as a solution, it's Job -- the biggest book of all about The Problem!
Sorry for the length of this, John.
I thought Ray's response worth sharing with you guys; and he graciously allowed me to do that.
And there you have it!
A quick response to Ray's response:
I don't think there's anything in what Ray wrote that contradicts the point of my video, which is that God doesn't interfere with human free will. If Ray wants God to redefine his interior life ("I need God to get involved in my interiority, and change what I want"), then he must first ask God to do that for him. Just like anyone else's, Ray's relationship with God depends upon Ray first deciding that he wants that relationship---that is, it depends upon Ray exercising his free will toward that end.
And though this is a minor point, I think it worth mentioning. Ray said, "If I lust over a woman, it's because I want to." I don't think that's true. A straight man has no more choice about sexually desiring women than he does about needing sustenance to survive. (I wrote a bit about this subject in The Myth of the Christian Eunuch.) We can use our will to determine how we respond to our sexual desires, yes. But we cannot use our will to stop those desires from occurring in the first place.