The free will defense against universalism

One of the most common rationales for rejecting a belief in universal reconciliation or Christian universalism is what might be called the free will defense against universalism. We are told by Arminians and other non-Calvinists, including recently Roger Olson, that for God to force salvation down our throats would be a violation of human freedom.  He wants us to love Him of our own volition.

My approach to that objection has been to first try to answer the question, why would anyone want to reject God? “I’ll never understand,” sang PFR, “why you would walk away from love.” The universalist responds that no one in his/her right mind would; a good God would not sentence anyone not in their right mind to death (much less to the torture chamber) any more than we would. In fact, surely a loving Creator could hardly be prevented from setting such people back into their right minds, even if they died before the process was complete.

I was delighted to see that in responding to Olson, Eric Reitan has articulated my stance better than I have. For those who can’t be bothered to read his long and excellent post, I offer this excerpt:

On the broadly Christian picture of reality, God is the infinite objective good Who is the source of all finite goods. And as such, all creaturely goods flow from God. To be cut off from God is to be cut off from one’s own good. To see and understand the truth about reality, given this portrait of what that reality is like, is to see and understand that nothing good can come from alienation from God. And to see and understand this is to see and understand that there is no reason–NONE–to reject God. All possible motives for such rejection are exposed as vacuous.

Furthermore, it is hard to credit the idea that creatures who are a product of this infinite and infinitely good God would be designed in such a way that they would gravitate towards this ultimate good when presented with it in an unclouded way. We are naturally ordered to union with God, Aquinas maintains, in such a way that when presented with an unclouded vision of the divine we cannot help but love and long for it. Aquinas therefore thought that no creature of God, made for union with God, could, once presented with an unambiguous vision of God, choose to reject God. The clear sight of the summum bonum would swamp all other desires and expose all false beliefs about the choice-worthiness of rejecting God.

If one rejected God under those circumstances, it would have to be because human free will is subject to some kind of bizarre randomness that could act against all a creature’s converging motives, leading them to do what they neither want to do nor think there is any good reason to do. And Aquinas did not believe that free will operated in this perverse way. Indeed, if free will were nothing more than randomness at work in human choices, it would hardly be a gift of God. More like a curse. To be saved or damned by a flip of the coin is hardly better than being saved by divine “coercion.”

Exactly.

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  • Reitan seems to confuse free will with “bizarre randomness”. If I choose to reject what I perceive to be a lesser good for the hope of a greater one, even if my decision in fact proves to be misguided, does that imply that I was acting randomly?

    You would have done better to quote more from Reitan, such as “The freedom to reject God depends on God creating an epistemic distance between Himself and His creatures.” In other words, it may well be that God has chosen not to offer to every person “an unclouded vision of the divine [which] we cannot help but love and long for”, but to offer this only to those who have chosen him despite seeing him only through clouds. It is hard to say why that should be, but it is a meaningful option, as Reitan accepts even if he doesn’t agree that the alternative is heretical.

    • Hi Peter,

      Reitan is not confusing will with randomness, but, I think, asserting that our ability to reason and observe the universe would have to be “subject to” a disorder that clouded our perceptions in order for one of us to make such a misguided decision.

      I don’t think Reitan disagrees with the statement you quoted, “The freedom to reject God depends on God creating an epistemic distance between Himself and His creatures.” This is, as I understand it, part of the basis for Reitan’s approach to theodicy. Not everyone is given “an unclouded vision of the divine” – in fact, no one is – but this only accounts for initial rejection of God, not final rejection. You seem to prefer to think that God may forever withhold that unclouded vision for some reason, but Reitan (and I) would think that introduces more problematic representations of God and His nature than we think are justified.

  • Blueghoti

    Why would anyone reject the perfect good?  It doesn’t sound at all reasonable.  And yet, it happens.  We can clearly see it in Satan and the fallen angels.

    I would not dare to judge and say who might be in hell, but Jesus told us that not all would be with Him in His eternal kingdom.  (Matt 26:41)  I think I will take Him at His word that not all will come to the Perfect Good – they will choose a different path for themselves.

    • Bluefish, 🙂

      We may be at a bit of an impasse here: you hold to views of satanology, demonology, and the nature of the kingdom of God (not to mention bibliology) that I have found to have serious problems.

      More importantly, you did not take the main thrust of my post or Eric’s even cursorily into account, seeming to have merely read the question posed rather than any of the proposed answers to it. No one denies that it happens that people reject the perfect good: the question is, do they do this only because of some “bizarre randomness”, or is it a reasoned (even if badly reasoned) choice? Why do they misunderstand the nature of Good?

  • A couple of quick points–hopefully they make sense even though I don’t have time right now to elaborate.

    First, I don’t think that free will should be equated with randomness (bizarre or otherwise), but I do think that certain theories of free choice–as well as certain theological positions–entail that free will amounts to randomness. And this, for me, is a problem with those theories and theological positions.

    Second, it seems to me that free will accounts of eternal damnation, when challenged in various ways, tend to fall back an account of free will that, however unwittingly, equates freedom with randomness. The alternative to falling back on such a view of freedom is to insist that God deliberately maintains the same degree of epistemic distance from His creatures indefinitely, even in the cases of those who, wandering in the dark, wind up so far away from God that they cannot find their way back without a guiding light (that is, without God making His nature is some way more apparent than it was before). But if that is one’s view, then I think one no longer has a free will defense of hell. It isn’t that the gates of hell are locked from the inside. It is, rather, that God has made sure that those who get too far from the gates cannot by their own efforts find their way back.

    • Eric, I don’t think that is a fair representation of my position. My point is more that those who get too far from the gates have already decided that they don’t want to find their way back, and so won’t make any efforts to do so however bright and attractive a guiding light God might offer to persuade and help them to return. From God’s viewpoint there may be some randomness concerning which of his creatures make that decision (or it could be more a matter of him predestining each individual’s decision, not my position but a logically tenable one). But from the individual’s viewpoint this is a genuinely free decision.

      • Wasn’t trying to represent your position, but simply to sketch out mine. The guiding light metaphor has, like all metaphors, limitations. And I think we might be hitting up against those limits in your appropriation of it (or, put another way, you’re using the mataphor in a different way and for a different purpose than I am). As I am using it, what the “light” reveals when it shows you “the gate” is nothing other than the truth about yourself and what will satisfy you, and hence what will satisfy the hunger that is driving you in your wanderings in the darkness. It doesn’t just reveal a distant gate that appears to the damned person as an undesirable destination not worth pursuing. But I’m out of time and need to stop for today…

  • How long does it take for everyone under post-mortem judgment to “get saved” if God collapses that epistemic distance?  …not long, I suspect.  How long does God wait to do this?  Does it vary for different people?

    • Kurt,

      I suppose we’re firmly into the realm of speculation here, but I enjoy this particular speculation. 🙂

      It may well be, and perhaps I should hope, that it wouldn’t take long at all for the scales to drop off of people’s eyes. But taking off on an insight from George MacDonald, I think there’s an excellent case to be made for the prospect that it will take varying amounts of time for various people, and potentially a long time indeed for some (see, for instance, his novel Lilith).

      The idea is that although our wills are impaired by misconceptions that God will clear up, the problem is that the very things that define us as individuals are our experiences, including how our character, desires, and inclinations develop during our lifetimes. The part of our will that is truly ours frequently chooses poorly and leads us further and further away. So ignorance isn’t the only problem: even once our misconceptions are corrected, our misshapen wills must be reworked back into shape in order to fully embrace the “summum bonum”. MacDonald argued that God, having performed the invasive surgery Himself, will stand at our side and guide us through the painful process of physical therapy to make us as whole as He intended us to be. Honoring the freedom of the will, participation is key in this process, and rehabilitation will accordingly take longer for even a post-surgery Hitler than for many of us. Although this may sound like fanciful speculation, it’s really nothing more than the doctrine of sanctification that Christians have long held extrapolated into the afterlife.

      • That’s ok, I like speculation too… 

        So, I’m trying to get what Reitan is proposing.  Is he saying that God is collapsing that distance at a time of His choosing, or that people are finding there way back to God through the fog of their own jackedupness?

        If God is collapsing that distance, it seems to me that is a sort of irresistible grace, in the age to come.  If He doesn’t collapse that distance, we are left with a sort of hopeful, eventual reconciliation, right?

        Is Reitan not concerned with maintaining libertarian free will? 

  • In fact, the argument that John Kronen and I lay out in GOD’S FINAL VICTORY (which the publisher’s website claims will be released on September 1, but I haven’t heard anything definite) is disjunctive. That is, we don’t take a stand on which of these alternatives (God collapses the distance or he doesn’t) is most in keeping with the divine nature as it relates to respect for creatures. Rather, we make the case that universalism is effectively guaranteed either way.

    Obviously, what is likely to be most controversial is our case for the latter–that universal salvation is guaranteed even if creaturely freedom prior to salvation is preserved in a strong libertarian form (which we think is possible only if God maintains sufficient epistemic distance to make God’s worthiness of choice both affectively and cognitively resistible). Our case rests on the doctrine of the preservation of the saints (ONCE united with God in love, creatures do not fall back into alienation), combined with the mathematical implications of infinite opportunity for something to occur which has a real probability (non-infinitessimal) of occuring. There’s loads of details to flesh out there, but that’s the outline.

    • You mean that, given an infinite time and the weakness of the human will, it is certain that at some time in the future each person will decide at some time, be it ever so briefly, to make a profession of faith, which they are equally certain to later reject, and so be saved even against their later will? That argument makes sense but only given an extremely strong concept of the perseverance of the saints which, I would say, has no proper biblical basis, and is also immoral as it implies God forcing people to be saved.

      • Almost, but not quite. The passage Steve extracts from my post is an abbreviation of what amounts to a theological/philosophical case for a doctrine of the preservation of the saints (one which John Kronen and I develop at much greater length in our forthcoming book–available at academic libraries soon but unaffordable for lay people–if you’re interested in seeing the whole thing worked up fully): Once one has chosen union with God and come to experience what that is like, all conceivable reasons and motives for rejecting union with God evaporate in the face of clearly and immediately perceiving the supreme choiceworthiness of such union. As such, there is no possible world in which anyone who made this choice would be “equally certain to later reject” such union. 

        And no, I don’t think that such union would come about by a momentary *weakness* of will. The point is that a doctrine of libertarian freedom entails that a creature possesses a real possibility of choosing other than they in fact choose at any particular decision opportunity. Which means that if the basis for denying universal salvation rests in affirming libertarian freedom, the opponent of universal salvation is committed to affirming that at any moment, an unregenerate creature has a real possibility of choosing communion with God.

        What to call such an event, if it were to happen to an unregenerate creature in a post mortem state of suffering? Not *weakness* of will, surely. Perhaps a momentary *wisdom* of will? A moment of insight after one’s choices have caused one to hit rock bottom? A moment when one sees an inkling of what the native yearnings of one’s soul are really hungering for?

        What is required by the logic of libertarian freedom (to which free will defenders of hell routinely appeal) is that there is some possible world in which one decides to respond affirmatively to God. It may well be thought that such an affirmation is only the first step in a long journey, a journey during which one might fall away. But this doesn’t change the nature of the guarantee of salvation. So long as reaching the end of that journey is a real possibility, and so long as once one reaches the end of that journey–coming into God’s glorious presence–one is confirmed in union with God, salvation is guaranteed given infinite opportunity. 

        As such, I think the defender of eternal damnation has to argue either that (a) the damned do NOT have libertarian freedom with respect to the choice of union with God, or (b) the damned are denied the opportunity to choose such union after a certain point. In either case, the free will defense of hell has been abandoned in favor of a different case for hell.

        • In other words, our argument does not rely on the doctrine of the preservation of the saints conceived as the doctrine that anyone who at any point makes a profession of faith is saved from that moment on, regardless of what they might later choose. Instead, our argument rests on the idea that those who come to experience the beatific vision, to BE in the kind of union with God that is the essence of salvation, will never fall away. Put simply, it rests on the assumption that once you are IN heaven enjoying eternal blessedness, it is, in fact, ETERNAL blessedness.

          (Perhaps it is for this reason that John and I chose NOT to name our premise here “the doctrine of the preservation of the saints”, since it admits of such ambiguity. I used that phrase for economy in this discussion thread–and it has now required that I go back and explain things in greater detail than I might otherwise have needed to, because of the term’s propensity to generate misunderstanding).

        • Eric, thank you for the various clarifications. Your argument makes more sense now. Perhaps instead of “weakness” of the human will I should have said “inconstancy” or “fickleness”, although this might be seen as “weakness” by an otherwise confirmed atheist who might interpret this as God taking advantage of their moment of weakness. I am glad you are not turning this into salvation against someone’s will.

          But I am still not convinced. First, we see people in this life who choose to “respond affirmatively to God” and experience all his blessings (or at least deceive themselves and others that they do so) but then fall away. Then there is the biblical evidence about the reality of hell, which seems to be pictured as eternal annihilation – which is my tentative position for those who reject God in this life, and implies no further chance of repentance. Also what do you do about concepts like the unforgiveable blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?

          I too have limited time for this as I am on vacation – must go now and probably until Sunday evening.

  • Thanks Eric,  The shameless plug for your book might be more effective if it wasn’t 120 cranks!  Aren’t all philosophers poor!?

    “Preservation of the saints”?  Don’t people have to be saints before they can be preserved?  I’m not sure I understand that…

    • Hehe…You are not the first (that would’ve been me, I think) or the last to bemoan the cost of the book. An affordable paperback should come out in another year. For now, book-plugging for the sake of promoting sales is fruitless. But in case you want to check out the arguments in the book, academic libraries should start acquiring copies some time after September 1.

      The doctrine of the preservation of the saints is simply the idea that once persons come to experience the beatific vision and are fully sanctified, they are no longer in danger of falling away. In the past I’ve used the following analogy to explain the argument: Imagine a box full of pennies. Suppose that they’re all tails-side up. And suppose, furthermore, that crazy glue is slathered all over the tails side. (The doctrine of the preservation of the saints serves the role that the crazy glue serves in the metaphor). Now suppose you start rattling the box. And suppose you are prepared to continue ratting the box indefinitely–for millions of years, if necessary. Don’t you then pretty much have a guarantee that all the pennies will end up heads-side up, even if at any given rattling there is an even chance that any particular penny will land tails-up? Certainly this is more than just a pious hope. The number of “hold-out pennies” approaches zero as the timeline moves towards infinity.

      And the same is true if what you are rattling are dice, and you have applied crazy glue such that when a die lands with the 6 face-up, it gets stuck. The number of hold-out dice approaches zero as the timeline approaches infinity. Same if it’s a twenty-sided die, or a hundred-sided die. As long as there is a real possibility that the desired outcome will result, infinite rattlings of the box generates a mathematical guarantee.

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  • Much as I admire Eric’s position on God the question is: where DOES he get his idea of God? It’s surely not *the Bible and the whole of the Bible* for a God who commands the murder of entire villages excepting the virgins which are to be taken as prizes, is not, by any stretch the “infinite objective good”. Neither, in anticipation of any “that was OT” objections, is one whose wrath is turned aside by human sacrifice.

    Let’s be honest: the source is *parts of the Bible and some imaginative platonic speculation* but it sure ain’t Christianity’s Holy Book. So when does one admit that the “God” one believes in, bears no resemblance to YHWH and become an Atheist for Jesus? If God defines what is good, and is not subject to limits of non-violence, what guarantee is there that raping and pillaging is not going to become “good” by divine sanction tomorrow?

    • Marc,

      I’m sure you’re aware that universalism is an ancient Christian belief, so it’s not as though what Eric’s saying is some ad hoc construction bastardized from “proper” Christianity, whatever that is (maybe you weren’t saying that, but it seemed to be implied).

      It appears you find it unsatisfactory that we should believe and argue in favor of something that’s not formulated within biblical testimony and still call it “Christian”. I’ve gotta ask: are you sure you didn’t mean to link us to the “Atheists for Christian Fundamentalism” site? 😉 One of the first causalities of Christianity was the notion that the insights of the divine begin and end within any single tradition: the earliest people in Christian tradition, including Jesus and Paul, were reverent of Scripture but threw it out on its ear when necessary. It’s not only progressive Christians who view the faith as articulated in the Bible as a starting point rather than the end of all conversation. The divine imagination has been sparked by what the first believers saw in Christ and the God of the Bible — for many of us it has since then departed significantly from the ancient understanding, as I presume you’re glad about.

      Finally, regarding what appears to be your main beef, there is absolutely zero divine command theory in anything we’re saying. There is nothing good that will not be instantly recognizable as good upon clearest perception, and that clearer perception will not necessitate a redefinition of what’s wrong and what’s right as the divine command theorists do; in the meantime, we’re not justified in calling anything good that appears bad. So rape and genocide are out; the perpetration of no evil act should be attributed to God. But what we’re daring to hope is something we experience time after time within our lives: what we see isn’t always the entire reality, and allowing one unfortunate (and even traumatic) thing is sometimes necessary to achieve an ideal one. “Christianity’s Holy Book” tells us that God routinely acts for deeper reasons than we are privy to. It may not be good enough for you, but I do not rule it out; in fact, this is the grounds upon which I build my hope for meaning in the universe.

    • Marc: Steve does such a good job of addressing your comment that I won’t engage in redundancy. However, I wrote a lengthy post a couple of years back–on how progressive Christians tend to view the Bible–that may give you a fuller sense of where progressive Christian beliefs about God come from. You can find it here: http://thepietythatliesbetween.blogspot.com/2009/06/authority-without-inerrancy-part-iii.html

  • Steve, if I parse you correctly, your answer to my question is: “bits of the Bible but ultimately experience”. That’s cool. I’m just wondering if christian Existentialism (with a small “c”) isn’t a better name for that. If I’m Catholic, I appeal to the Pope/Sacred Tradition. If I’m Protestant, Sacred Scripture. There comes a point however at which, liberal or progressive Christianity, if it can eve be called that, must admit that it’s just humanism with vague ties to some Christian tradition not much different to liberal Islam.

    I wonder, would Jesus agree with Eric that there is “no reason-NONE-to reject God”? I doubt it. Jesus himself concealed his teaching so some would not understand and seemed to be exclusively focussed on getting Israel back as top nation. Anyway, as Schweitzer showed us a century ago: Jesus is concealed and all we have is constructions in our own image. My key question is this: given that every faith is a construction, when does one admit that one’s faith is no longer, in any usual sense, Christian? Especially when one’s views are so marginal…

    PS: Yes, Origen was a universalist (as was, I think, Paul), but that view did not survive into the 3rd century and is this an anomaly and not orthodox.

    • “There comes a point however at which, liberal or progressive Christianity, if it can eve be called that, must admit that it’s just humanism with vague ties to some Christian tradition not much different to liberal Islam.”

      Perhaps, but I’m not there yet. I still believe in Jesus and in God’s supervision over the world through his agency.

      My views aren’t so marginal as you seem to think. When you said that “…this [is] an anomaly and not orthodox,” I chuckled precisely because it is the Orthodox (as in the East) that has a much longer tradition of belief in universalism than you asserted. Some where outright universalists (Isaac the Syrian and Theodore of Mopsuestia) who unlike Origen are still highly regarded by the church, but while Orthodox Christians don’t hold that all must be saved, all believe that all may be saved. In other words, all Orthodox believers are “hopeful universalists” in the most robust sense of the term, whereas certain of their early Church Fathers who they venerate seem to have been full-on universalists.

  • Eric, given your perspective on scriptural authority, do you address anywhere the question of how the Canaanite conquest narratives are in any sense a response to a divine revelation. If I may be facetious : Did God say “go forth and bless these nations” and humans wrote down “go forth, pillage, rape and kill”? I think it more likely that humans decided for the latter, did it and said God said they should, and we in the modern world are left trying to explain how a tribal deity corresponds to our platonic ideal Deity…

    • I find Luther’s metaphor for the Bible instructive: It is like the manger in which Jesus lay: It contains the gospel but it also contains “straw.” 

      In other words, it is not my view that everything in the Bible is a response to divine revelation. Distinguishing “baby” from “straw” is part of what goes on in the evolving process of critical engagement with the inherited tradition in the light of experience (including but not limited to spiritual/religious experience).

      With respect to the conquest narratives, there is reason to doubt their historicity, not just based on archeological data but based also on intra-Biblical tensions in the narratives of Joshua and Judges. If these narratives are later constructions loosely based on oral histories, the crucial question becomes why the authors told the story in the way that they did. The answer is theological, I think–they were trying to tell the story in a way that expressed their understanding of God and their relationship to God. The character of the conquest then takes on a metaphorical meaning: What were they saying ABOUT Israel’s relation to God by describing the conquest of Canaan in THESE terms?

      Once we get a sense of the understanding of God that is operative IN these narratives, we can ask where that understanding came from–and, further, to what extent that understanding was shaped by the limitations of their cultural and historical perspective, as opposed to revelatory encounters with the divine. But if there are BOTH revelatory experiences AND perspectival limitations (imposed by cultural and historical realities) expressed in these stories, I think it would be a mistake to assume that they are the revelatory experiences and cultural/historical limitations of the characters IN the narratives. It’s far more likely that these stories express the revelatory experiences and cultural/historical limitations of the biblical authors–who were writing at a much later time.

      In other words, the following is NOT the question we should be asking: “Was God saying something to the conquerors of Canaan that they misinterpreted as ‘go forth, pillage, rape, and kill’; or is it rather that the conquerors of Canaan attributed this message to God to lend a divine mandate to their genocidal conquest?” Instead, the question we should be asking is this: “When the biblical authors wrote about the Israelite entry into the promised land in terms of notions of conquest and even genocidal extermination, what were they trying to say about their relationship to God by using these kinds of images? And to what extent are these ideas about God reflecting THEIR culturally mediated encounter with the divine?” 

      On these issues, the following essay is an interesting read: http://www.crivoice.org/conquest.html   

  • OK, but you’ve restated my question: what are these narratives for? In what way do they reveal something about God? We need to be wary of a reading of, say, Mein Kampf which concludes: Oh, the authorial intent is not literal incitement but rather the opposite in showing us just how bad anti-semitism and xenophobia can be.

    If we bring a higher moral to the Bible than it possesses and have to read between the lines between the lines we’re constructing the text, not interpreting it. As Schweitzer said, we end up looking down a well to see God, and end up seeing our own reflection.

    The most likely explanation for the Canaanite conquests remains a party propaganda document which reveals man and the “god” he worships just as much as the newspaper does…

    • Yes, I was reformulating your question–or, perhaps more accurately, clarifying what I take to be the right question to ask–not attempting to answer your question. As far as answering your question as it pertains to these texts in particular, I haven’t developed my thinking in any formal way. But what follows is a first, cursory stab at it.

      “What are these narratives for?” There are two questions here: (a) What were the purposes for which the authors composed those narratives? (b) What purposes can/do these narratives serve for us today? (And note that with respect to (b), the “meaning” you attach to Mein Kampf–that it serves as an object lesson on the evils of anti-Semitism and xenophobia–may be exactly the right one; the mistake is treating our answer to (b) as if it were an answer to (a) and so saying, absurdly, that Hitler meant it to be such an object lesson–and I agree that this happens often enough, especially with respect to sacred writings). 

      Not being an Old Testament scholar, I’m not really in a position to speak authoritatively on (a), although I suspect that the narratives were written at a time of hardship, and that the conquest narratives aimed at correlating Israel’s successes and failures to the extent of its obedience to God, for the purposes of exhorting obedience (according to the authors’ conceptions of what obedience to God entailed).

      In terms of (b), I am deeply suspicious of the accounts of God that these authors apparently endorse (a portrait of God that, looking around the contemporary Church landscape, is most vividly embodied today in Westboro Baptist Church’s current campaign of protesting the funerals of fallen soldiers for sake of “arguing” that such military losses result from God’s withdrawal of favor based on our disobedience). Not every feature of their picture of God is troubling, but a great deal of it is.

      Thus, I don’t regard them as a good resource for developing one’s substantive theology. But I think these narratives really do help to expose that there IS a developmental trajectory in biblical conceptions of God. I would argue that many of the things that the authors of these texts were attempting to say are things that later biblical authors rejected. As such, these texts function not so much as a resource for our understanding about God as they do as a resource for understanding how to approach the Bible–and, more significantly, how to APPROACH the task of coming to understand God. We should expect our current perspective to be obscured and limited, and hence subject to errors born out of our contemporary prejudices. And we should not be biblical inerrantists.

  • Cephyr13

    Reitan needs to study Molinism. It’s a much better argument that fits with Universalism. It basically shows how Calvinism and Arminianism are both correct and both wrong, then shows how pieces of them join together so that free will and predestination both work in unity with one another. I’m not sure unity is the best word, but I’ll elaborate.

    Proverbs says that a man chooses in his heart, but the Lord directs his steps. Honestly, that verse says it all. It shows free will and yet it shows God’s in control. Here’s how that works:

    Life is like a path we walk. God needs to steer us along that path without infringing upon our free will. So He places “forks” in the path in the form of events which require us to make choices. When the event hits us, we’re hit a fork in our road and must make a choice as a result of that event. God makes sure that all of the choices we could make are not desirable to us…except for one. That’s the one He knows we’ll pick because He knows our hearts better than we do. Take my son for instance…if I lay out two shirts for him in the morning and he gets to pick, I know which one he’ll pick, because I’ll chose one I know he likes and one I know he doesn’t. So I’ve effectively controlled my son without infringing on his free will simply because I know his heart fairly well. It’s the same with God and us.

    So God basically uses emotional pushes and events to steer people in different direction while always leaving the choice up to us so our free will stays completely intact.

    Some may say that’s not really free will. However, that’s a misunderstanding of what free will actually is. Free will only implies a choice, but most people add “power” to that, as well, as if the person always has the power to carry out their choice. Not so. I can choose to fly, unaided, but if I jump off a building, I will definitely hit the ground and die without actually flying. I chose something with my free will that I didn’t have the power to carry out.

    Now, let’s say someone else has more power than I do and they have a competing will. Let’s say God doesn’t want me to die, but I jump off a building. Beforehand, God would simply put into action a series of events that would ensure I wouldn’t die, such as someone seeing me and grabbing me from the ledge or the fire department someone inflating a bag to catch me, etc. The point is, free will can easily be overpowered by someone with a stronger power and competing will (namely God in this instance). We can choose all day long, but God will orchestrate things to make sure the outcome is exactly the way He wants it. He steers us into whatever His will is for us and everyone else, according to Proverbs. This works perfectly into Universalism, but it sure works against eternal hell doctrine, because it means God steers people into defiance and an eternal hell, and that’s a big problem.