The Stoics and Free Will

We are investigating how God is involved in our world and in our lives.  One aspect of this investigation is the question of whether we have free will or if God controls our every action.  The Stoic’s believed that reason tells us plainly we have free will in certain instances and not in others.  We do not totally control our life in regards to our health, wealth, friends, and time of death because the genetics we inherit, and the culture and family into which were born greatly influence these aspects of our lives.  What we do control is our will, our judgment, and our moral choices. [1]  The early Christians were of the belief that humans have free will and human effort is required in addition to God’s actions.  Augustine, in his Sermon 169, 11.13 states:  “He who created you without your help does not justify you without your help.”  David W. Bercot states:

. . .the early Christians never taught that humans are incapable of doing good or overcoming sin in their lives. . .At the same time, the early Christians didn’t believe that they could overcome all of their weaknesses and remain obedient to God day after day simply on their own strength. . .They believed that our walk with God is a joint project. As Origen explained, “He makes Himself known to those who, after doing all that their powers will allow, confess that they need help from Him.” [2]

Our free will is not absolute; it is limited.  Because of the limits of the human condition, we will never in this life know precisely what God does and what we do.  However, the knowledge we have of ourselves and God lead us to believe our life on earth is a cooperative venture with God.  Erasmus has noted this partnership when he stated that Christians say God saved a ship in a storm but was the crew on the ship totally inactive?  Christians say God brings a farmer a harvest but did not the farmer plant, cultivate, and harvest? [3]  When we face the temptation to do evil, should we wait for God to deliver us from the temptation or should we flee the temptation as Joseph did (Genesis 39)?  The way God has constructed our world is that we must take action if God is to work in our lives.  To teach differently is not Biblical.

So precisely how is God involved in our lives and world?  That topic is for next week.


[1]   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (New York:  Penguin Books, 1964), p. 17.

[2]   David W. Bercot, Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up (Tyler, TX:  Scroll Publishing Company, 1989), p. 53.

[3]   Ernst F. Winter, ed. and trans,  Discourse on Free Will (New York:  Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., Inc., 1961), p. 69.

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