Authorship and Free Will

ImageAt this point I am not sure whether this qualifies as a ‘contributor’ post, or a guest post, but I am grateful for the chance to post here again at the Dead Pastor’s Society. One of the many reasons for my hiatus is that I have been working on a novel. Temper your excitement, the odds of my book ever reaching Barnes and Noble is not much greater than the odds of convincing John that infant baptism was normative in the early church.

With that said, the process of writing a novel has given me a sliver of insight into the paradox of human responsibility and divine sovereignty, and if that insight is only thing that ever comes of this novel it was well worth the hundreds of hours I have invested.

When considering the debate between utter bondage of the human will vs. humanity as free agents in their salvation and daily actions you must first consider the nature of God Himself. Unfortunately this is typically the step we get wrong and any argument we make downstream regarding the nature of man will fall apart. In the case of Arminianism you have a God that is ‘reactive’ to the course of humanity. Humanity, empowered by the grace given them, ultimately is responsible themselves to apprehend the grace of God. Any solid Arminian would tell you that this is impossible to obtain apart from prevenient grace. The Calvinist of course scoffs at this idea and affirms that if God desires someone to be saved, that person without a doubt will be saved.  In other words, God is God, and He will get what He desires for His own glory. In the Calvinist framework the redeemed are able to rejoice because apart from anything they have ever done God has redeemed them… all of grace.  The Arminian rejoices in that God by His grace has enabled them to apprehend a grace which they could have never apprehended without prevenient grace given to them.  The difference here is significant and clear, but is not quite as vast as major proponents of either system would have you believe. The primary difference of course is the scope of the atonement. Lutherans fall into an entirely different category and they largely leave the paradox between human responsibility and divine sovereignty untouched. Frankly I think they get it right, but that is another story for another time.

The issue with both views is the idea of a personal God… a God that has personhood. Now proceed with caution here, God is personal, there are three persons of the trinity, I am not going heretical here and professing that God is a mere idea or concept. Nonetheless our view of the ‘personhood’ of God is lacking. In the Calvinist framework there is a God who has ordained history from the beginning ‘not a maverick molecule in the universe’ per se. In the Arminian framework God is a sovereign reactor to the course of the earth. There are maverick molecules, but nothing is so maverick that God will not use it for His ultimate plan.  In one view God’s plan is static, in the other view God’s plan is dynamic.

Here is where authorship has helped me. Our view of God should be that of Author. In one sense this is every bit as sovereign as that of Calvinist, yet on the flipside it is every bit as dynamic of view as the Arminian. Give me a moment to explain. In the process of writing a book no character can ever do anything without the Author putting their action onto paper. There can be no scene set unless the Author writes the scene. There can be no natural disaster, no chance meetings, no blessings or setbacks unless the Author sees fit to create these things. The view of God as Author is an utterly sovereign view. At this point the Calvinist says, Amen and Alleluia God is the sovereign Author. However, Calvinist reader, you still must brace for what follows. The interesting thing about writing a story, which you really must try writing to experience, is that your characters indeed have freewill. As a writer I give my characters their locomotion, yet even as I write my pages they never cease to surprise me with their actions. It sounds foolish, but it is true. In writing you grow to know your characters more and more, even though they do not exist without your willing them to existence. In other words there is an interplay between characters and their surroundings in your mind, which you are completely sovereign over, yet is still surprising and unexpected. I have a number of characters which I have initially had specific plans for, and then those plans change. In other words, the story was not set in stone before I wrote it, yet I am still sovereign over the story. Again, if you are not following, just try writing a 10 page short story and you will see what I am speaking off occur right in your own grey matter. There is no denying that the Author is utterly sovereign, yet somehow within the confines of the Author’s mind there is unexpected interplay.

Someone out there is rightly screaming as they read this… ‘give me some scripture to back these goofy views.’ I would point out areas where God has changed His mind. Let us take Moses coming down from Sinai to find Aaron and the golden calf. You recall that God thought it fit to wipe out Israel and start over with Moses, to which Moses responds by making an argument with God about His glory. God then repents of His plan to wipe out Israel. In my own writing I have found myself planning certain things for my main character, and then (granted all in my sovereign mind) the character convinces me that there is a better and more coherent way to continue the story. Recall that I am still sovereign over my character’s thoughts, yet in the mystery of story telling the character freely convinces me to change the plot. The character can take no credit in the matter, for the character can do no thinking or convincing without me, nonetheless it is the character which has convinced me to change course. There are many points in scripture where God is reacting to the actions and desires of His Characters, and only with a view of divine creative authorship can we make real sense of what is occurring there. With a right view of Authorship there is no contradiction between people as free agents, as well as being under complete sovereign control of their Master. In some very real sense, you have sway with God, the ability to ‘change His course’ yet on the flipside your case for a changed course is still born completely in His mind.

I have had characters which I planned for destruction at the outset, who later came to aid the protagonist, I have had characters set in the story to aid the protagonist which ultimately turned against him. It is the nature of Authorship. I’ve said it before, if you are a doubter just try writing, you will doubt no longer.

Now there is one non-negotiable in the entire thing. The story is always about the protagonist, and regardless of what I do, the ultimate end of every character is to bring the protagonist to a heroic and memorable place. In other words the story is entirely about the protagonist. Every scene is created with the goal setting up the readers view of the protagonist. Every wicked character is in place for the protagonist to overcome. Every good character will find their ultimate goodness in the fact that they aided the protagonist. Think of any story you have read, it is always the same format regardless of time or genre. With God as the Author of this divine ‘comedy’ known as the universe Christ sits as the ultimate protagonist.  The whole story and everything in it finds its place in the protagonist. The scenery finds its beauty or terror in manner in which it affects the protagonist. Each character finds its goodness or evil based on their relationship to the protagonist. The beginning of the story was all a setup for the protagonist, and the end of the story is all about the final vindication of the protagonist. The author is busy working all things (with utter sovereignty) for the ultimate glory of the protagonist. It is the nature of creative storytelling and ultimately it is the nature of the universe itself with Christ as it’s grand protagonist.

Christ was with and was God in the beginning as this protagonist, the Father was and is the divine Author, and the Spirit is the mind of God (I use this metaphor loosely) executing the story on its pages. We have seen the story play out in history so far, we have been giving plain foreshadowing of where the story is going, and we choose (within the sovereign confines of God’s mind) whether or not we are characters being vindicated by the protagonist, or whether we are in place as enemies for Him to defeat.

I am interested in hearing other’s thoughts on this view, and would love to hash out any misunderstandings, or problems you may have with it in the comments below.