"Are We Human, Or Are We Dancers?"
The month of love questions is over, and I can’t say I’m sorry to see them go. Talking about love gets wearisome, so let’s talk about fate, and predestination, and God’s will, and free will.
You can thank Matt Damon for the new series of questions, and you can thank The Killers for this week’s blog title. The Killers because this is a line from one of their songs entitled Human on their album “Day and Age.” Matt Damon because I just saw his movie The Adjustment Bureau and it got me wondering how much we control our fate and how much we don’t. I think we mostly don’t, but let’s ask it in the spirit of The Killers: are we humans who make our own decisions and end up in the places we’ve brought ourselves to because of the roads we’ve chosen, or are we mere puppets, controlled by the strings of something larger than ourselves?
I certainly know what I’d like the answer to be. That we are indeed the former. Humans with free will in every choice we make. I am where I am now due to a series of decisions made through prayer and consideration. I will be where I will be in ten years due to the same.
But in the movie, Matt Damon is told we only think we have free will. When actually, we don’t at all. Instead, men in dark hats and trench coats wander the earth invisibly, telling us what to think and decide. They don’t tell us how to feel. No, that would be going too far. And they don’t adjust our personalities in any way. They simply move us along in order to not disrupt what must be done. A series of actions that form ripples that form all the happenings on the earth, big and small.
Is that what life is? Me being me–my emotions and personality un-tinkered with–but playing a very small role in the grand scheme and therefore actually ushered along by strings, albeit thin strings, in order to not disrupt the general order of it all?
Much to discuss here and teetering dangerously close to my max word count. So let’s break it down over the next few weeks. Are we human or are we dancers?
I believe that God is sovereign, and ultimately, that my salvation is due to Him alone and that He ordains my steps. But does that mean I have no free will? It’s a question I’ll probably be asking for the rest of my life. If we have no free will at all, then the argument could be made that we’re not responsible for our sin – and we clearly are responsible. But if our salvation is based on our free choice/free will, then the argument could be made that our salvation is based on works (that our redemption is due to our own act of grabbing a life preserver, rather than God lifting our dead body out of the water and pulling us out, giving us new life) – and clearly salvation is by His grace through faith. Sometimes I just have to quote 1 Corinthians 13:12 to myself: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
If the deity proclaimed in Adjustment Bureo is the true God, then we should be concerned that we have no freedom of the will. Who wants a world held together by a distant god who apparently adjusts the plan arbitrarily or even because a simple human being does something too far off the plan. What kind of god is that?
Would anyone trust that god?
Indeed, Matt Damon is constantly opposed to the heavens in all his dealings, trying to define his own existence in their sight. Reminds me of classical paganism.
I don’t think the ‘Chairman’ is the God of Christian Orthodoxy. Surly God’s plan is for our good? If we believed that, would we really complain that we didn’t have free will?
Here is my idea of being human or dancers.. in a human perception we definitely have our free will, but, in the perception of God due to the fact that he is omniscient, he knew it before time, the ones that would so believe in him, and, therefore he knew that i would be fated to have a place in heaven. I know that above all things our salvation is by grace and grace alone, as I had the great chance to preach last night in church the fact that, “because the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 6.23, I also know as Heather has said above that, is not by my righteousness, or by my my own strength, but clearly though grace in Jesus Christ our Lord (Ephesians 2.8-9). So we are human, and dancers, not the in the way that “men in dark hats and trench coats wonder the earth invisibly, telling us what to think and decide”, but, in the way I’ve mentioned above, we are humans that make our own decisions, yet God knows whats exactly is gonna happen.
I’m new to your blog, new to your series of questions, new to “The Killers.” But I have to say, when I saw the title of your post on Twitter, I was intrigued. And even though I think I know the “right” answer (ha, ha!), I think instead I should ask another question. If I truly believe that God is good and loving, all-knowing and all-powerful, why would I WANT free will? Why would I not surrender myself to his mercy, and beg him for his will?
I’ve never thought of this before, but maybe this dichotomy we set up for ourselves is based on some false assumptions about who I am and who He is, even though we know better on both counts.
I’ll be back! This is a great blog.
I just stumbled here when I saw a RT of this post tweeter across my stream. 😉
Love the two mix btw – The Killers song and Matt Damon’s flick…
If we’re gonna talk about predestination, I think we also want to take into account the element of time and the absence of time in eternity. Because God sees predestination through the eyes of eternity. And in our slice of reality, we are looking at a set of decisions through our free will of choices.
That’s the head answer, but there’s also the heart answer. In everyday life, we are given the adventure of free will is all about faith. That in we have Christ, many times we won’t even see the results of our choices until many decades later, when experiences continue to write and shape our lives. That is the excitement and security of being free because of our faith that God can take EVERYTHING in our free will domain and make it all good. There is no condenation… but it is love that constrains us.
Fun post… and also very sticky, complex.. 😉
Questions like these remind me of a quote I recently read, “The simplicity of the gospel is often lost in the maze of human understanding.”
Christians everywhere agree that God is Sovereign, but we tend to import definitions well beyond what is needed. The term “Sovereign” is used both as a noun and an adjective.
A “Sovereign” has ultimate, unlimited power to do whatever they want, whenever they want, and to whomever they want within their purview. Consequently, they are accountable to no one except themselves.
Because god is “Sovereign”, he is just that. To that end, He can save people in whatever way he wants to, and isn’t accountable to anyone but Himself for how that is accomplished. Yet many good people want to extend this definition of “Sovereign” well beyond its historical use to instead mean, “God plans every single meticulous action, thought, and deed we do, and ever will experience”. This is an abnormally strange extension to what should be a very straightforward word, which by logical extension strangely forces us to blame God every time we sin. Importing this definition into this conversation makes God responsible for our actions, when the bible would instead teach something very different. Grace is key, and a-l-w-a-y-s will be, but we cannot hid behind abnormal definitions to hide from appropriate personal responsibility in our lives.
Good Christian people can and will disagree on this topic, but should always do so agreeably.
For those interested in a SIGNIFICANTLY more in-depth treatment of both sides of this topic, please consider the following analysis by a very humble brother Steve Gregg:
Hope this helps! And if you disagree, no problem..
Thanks, Fred. I love that quote. We are so often lost in the maze of human understanding. And I love that distinguishing between a sovereign and a God that IS sovereign.
Could it be that the question represents a false dichotomy? Are we human or are we dancers? In truth, we must be both. We are, in a sense, dancers, if we recognize that God is sovereign and there are things that only He can do. Creation was His alone (we had no say in that). Redemption is His alone (we couldn’t accomplish it and even our faith is a gift). But we are also human. We do make choices that God never would. When we operate in darkness, we prove our capacity to be (at least the dark side) of human.
But isn’t the goal to become the best of both? Can we be fully human without learning to dance (learning how to let God lead)? Can we be more than puppets in this relationship without learning now to surrender our contrarian human desires?
[…] “Are We Human, Or Are We Dancers?” The month of love questions is over, and I can’t say I’m sorry to see them go. Talking about love gets wearisome, so […] […]
This is really an intriguing question and one that I have spent a lot of time debating. On the Calvinist side every step is ordained by God, He knows every move we’ll make from the moment He created us, he has preordained every salvation according to His creation and His will/desire to some extent. How free will exists in that I do not know.
On the side of the Open Theist, or free will theism, God does not exercise control and yet is still sovereign within His omnipotence and omnipresence, humans make choices or have free will that decide their lives and their relationship with God. God has not predetermined the future or the salvation of individuals and therefore does not know the future exhaustively but has planned His will for the future and thus if a human being chooses something in opposition to His will, through His power, all presence, and limitless knowledge of creation and every thought of man can react. Using old testament stories such as Jonah as supreme examples of man having free will and God reacting to man’s decision, and a supreme example of God changing His mind and sparing the Ninevites.
It is an interesting question and probably widely debated until we have been enlightened in eternity.
Western thinking tends to turn everything into either/or. Yes, we have free will, but conversely we are part of a bigger picture, beyond our control. Governments, workplaces and even family and friends can make decisions which seem to deny us free will, but we have the choice to abide by those decisions or not – the uprisings in the Middle East are a good example.
Are we Christians by choice, or by God’s design? The answer is, both! If God is omnipotent, why is the whole World not committed to Him? Firstly, because He will not violate our freedom of will by imposing His own will upon any man or woman. Secondly, a true commitment to Him can only be one which is motivated by acceptance of His mercy and grace, not by simply knowing He is there, and that He is good.
Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart devises his way: but the LORD directs his steps” (AKJV). God doesn’t force us to live a certain way, but He does constantly call us to righteousness. Even the most ardent atheist has a conscience, and if we had no free will, why would it still nag us when we feel we should or shouldn’t do something?
As always, great stuff you address here in on your site. As a guess only I’m surmising that many PhD theses, in whatever field of choice, have been tendered on this subject(s). Not that, that fact is of any help to me personally in understanding the issues involved, which it isn’t, but that as a group or as a herd as the movie Ice Age puts the matter we humans have collectively been concerned about the topic as a whole as well as it’s finer points for a long period of time. The point being is that if a human has reasonably addressed the issue there is something of substance about it that has merit and requires consideration and in the long run, as many things are, it will be found to be something beyond ourselves and as such it behooves each of us to investigate the matter with some degree of immediacy, clarity, sincerity and openess. After considering the concept of free will I really don’t see how any individual claiming to be atheist or agnostic has a foundational support for their self generated foundation.
Fate? I’m not sure, at this moment, I believe in the concept of fate. If the meaning of fate as used here is the idea that no matter what path I choose to walk something predetermined and of which I have no choice over is going to be the final outcome, good or bad, of my journey then I dismiss that. Many good doors have been opened in my life but I believe I have had and still have the ultimate right not to journey through many or any of those doors. Fate would say I have to journey through many if not all those doors.
Are we mere dancers, without one iota of self determination, on some sort of huge cosmic stage behind or above which there is a manipulator of our lives that may or may not be benevolent in intent? No! We, as the herd, are free now and from the looks of things have always been free to enter almost any sort of contract we choose for ourselves. Sometimes those contracts turn out to less than optimal but we do have that choice. Historically every human that has ever existed has entered less than optimal contracts and thus the nature of the ‘human condition’ upon which I personally don’t bestow a five star rating. We humans are a nasty herd we don’t need a manipulator to lead us down the bad road, we can self direct our walk down that road quite, quite well and even immensely enjoy the walk. Do agnosticism and atheism afford a better way than the human road? Absolutely not! They offer nothing but their own way which IS the human road. The fact that there IS a better way than the human road speaks loudly to the fact we are not dancers. It also speaks loudly to the fact we can choose between the human road and something better. We are not dancers.
Let it be very loudly said–and it can be undeniably confirmed–that ‘something better’ than the human road is not sustainable on our own accord. We keep falling back from that which we think is a better way. The clear understanding of and the practice of something other than the human road is also not a guarantee that we can sustain self betterment. It’s not going to happen. So the choice of self betterment combined with something beyond ourselves is the only path. History more than proves that free will and the guiding light from beyond ourselves is the only path. Why else would one man stop to feed another that is hungry? Why else would one man clothe another man that has no clothing? Why else would one man dedicate himself to the care for the sick? Why else would one man care for the baby and the child that has no parents? Why else would one man strongly consider another to be better than himself? Why else would kindness rule over any other attitude? Why else would one man seek to love another that has done him a cosmos of harm and hurt? Why else would one man choose to forgive another? Something so foreign to the human condition that revenge is the natural reaction. We are free to engage in the life changing ways of the New Covenant but we are never free to change anything about the New Covenant which ultimately is forgiveness, a much better way which clearly involves free will.
These comments are directed toward, toward this forum only!
though i do not have a concrete answer and refuse to act like i am an expert in any way, shape, or form to answer this at all…i would suggest that anyone interested in seeking God’s answer to this read through the Bible (especially Old Testament) and especially pay close attention to the conversations between God and His prophets (including Moses, Jonah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc) and at the messages proclaimed by namely Isaiah and Jeremiah. i believe He will answer you when and if He desires to when you seek Him with all your heart and ask Him questions out of a sincere desire to know Him more and not just to brag about what you know or so that you can hold what you know over other peoples heads. However, the best answer I have found for any question about God or life is the answer God gave to Job (Job chapter 38-40). It keeps us all humble.
sometimes i think God laughs (or possibly even gets angered) at us (us meaning humans in general) when we try our hardest to know everything. like when astronauts go exploring the skies, when scientists test their hypothesis, when people (including me) try to explain Him or life or the world, when people try to disprove Him by pointing out “inaccuracies” in scripture…if we could just get it through our head…what He said through His prophet Isaiah… “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-10) Sometimes I think God would be a little less resistant to let us know Him and His ways more if He knew He could trust us with the knowledge and knew we would not use it for unrighteous gain, or to brag, or to lord over other people, etc…Sometimes I think God wants nothing more than to be able to trust us with what He has given us and in the long run…what He wants to give us.
First, I’d love to know what Max opinions on this topic. Please forgive me for my ignorance, if any, with my opinion. If God is the puppeteer pulling the strings, why would He pull the strings to “make” us sin? God is good. He would not do anything to cause separation from us. He’s given us the choice whether to accept Him & His commands, or reject Him & choose a sin-FULL life. We will never be perfect here on earth, which is why we NEED Jesus Christ to intervene & be the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. If we have no say-so by our choices as to where we end up for eternity, then why WOULD WE need Christ’s blood to cover our sin? I think its as simple as that.
It could also be very possible our brains aren’t able to understand God & His ways fully enough to entertain the idea that somehow God is able to have existence work in both ways where we are in control of our destiny by our choices all at the same time as God being omniscient & omnipresent, therefore God being able to KNOW what will come to pass because He’s been AND is there already. Because God knows the summary & outcome of life, that’s how we can be viewed as dancers in God’s ballet.
It is not by grace ALONE that we’re saved, but because of God’s grace, He gave us Jesus Christ & His blood to save us from our sin. Christ’s body & blood alone save us when we accept that free gift from our Father! Praise God! – “not I, but Christ!”
What about me…someone who sucks at dancing? 😉
Love the blog, as usual!
Oh, and no answer…Cause I like to be option #3…yep, there are really 3 in my world: human, dancer, and fly on the wall. I choose fly on the wall!
Have a great weekend. Spring Break here!
We are very much human, no doubt about it. Do we have free will? Of course we do. You explained that you make decisions, and thats all there is to it. If I can think of an action, and choose to execute that action, then I can conclude that I am in charge of me and my faculties. Including my diction. I feel so alive and in control when I am writing, but now I’ll have to say bye and put a period right aboutttttttt here.
[…] and I have to delete and start over. All of that has made me more OK with not knowing everything. When I asked if we were humans or dancers, for example, that’s one I really want the answer to but I don’t have it yet. Also, the […]