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Short Description: Why does God allow temptation?
  
 
Dwight Nelson:

Do you ever suspect that life is a one-sided game run by some invisible mastermind? That you're merely a pawn on His chess board, moved around by His will and His whim, without any real choice of your own? Do we really have free choice? Are we merely passive little puppets with God pulling all the strings?

Today we're going to take a closer look at that matter of our free will and see if we can get off this chess board. Welcome to The Evidence. I'm Dwight Nelson.

Okay, here's the picture from the first chapter of Genesis. God creates Adam and Eve, He puts them in the Garden of Eden, and He forbids them to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Then He allows them to be tempted. As a God who sees the end from the beginning, He had to know what would happen. Did He purposely set them up for a fall? Were they bound to eat the forbidden fruit? Did they have a choice? Did they have free will or were they being manipulated by God's sovereign will?

Theologians have devoted entire books to questions like these, and we've got only a half hour in The Evidence to wrestle with that question. But I'm grateful that joining me to help us think through this issue is Dr. Jean Sheldon from Pacific Union College up in northern California. Jean, nice to have you here.

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

Thank you, Dwight.

Dwight Nelson:

This is the six-million-dollar question. God, all-knowing as He is, sees the future, knows that Adam and Eveare going to crash and burn, why did He even bother creating them?

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

Well, it seems to me in order to understand that question -- and it is the most important and probably the most difficult question to answer in the universe, but in order to do that we need to lay everything out on the table, because God is more than just foreknowledge. He has power, foreknowledge, and moral character.

Now, power is something that's very important and we tend to think about God in terms of being all-powerful.

Dwight Nelson:

He can do it all.

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

He can do it all.

Dwight Nelson:

Yeah, everything.

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

And He knows it all, the idea that He knows it all, and then moral character. But when we talk--

Dwight Nelson:

When you say moral character, what do you mean?

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

Moral character -- meaning that what drives God may not be power, may not be foreknowledge--

Dwight Nelson:

But some ideal?

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

But may be the way He is, and in terms of love, in terms of truth, honesty, and in terms of freedom.

Dwight Nelson:

Okay.

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

And if that's the case, maybe it complicates the picture somewhat.

Dwight Nelson:

So God has all those three, power--

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

Foreknowledge.

Dwight Nelson:

Foreknowledge, moral character, and He still creates Adam and Eve knowing they're going to crash and burn?

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

Right.

Dwight Nelson:

So what's going on?

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

Well, it seems to me that if His ultimate goal is to not have beings that are programmed but freely love Him, then perhaps what drives Him then, as I said, is His character and that controls His power and His foreknowledge.

Dwight Nelson:

So, what part of His character is controlling this? I mean, what's at work here? He has a tree. I mean,we have the story. He has a tree. He says, don't go to the tree. What's He doing? It's like telling a child, you know, I have two kids, and when they were young, stay away and the moment you say stay away, the child goes.So God has set them up for failure. What's going on here?

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

He's also set them up for choice.

Dwight Nelson:

So it's the issue of choice?

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

Um-hum.

Dwight Nelson:

The tree's there for choice. In what way?

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

To give us the privilege of saying no to God.

Dwight Nelson:

So it's like a voting booth?

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

Yeah.

Dwight Nelson:

Yeah. You go to the tree, no; stay away from the tree, you're saying yes to me.

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

Um-hum. And that is all driven by a sense that true morality cannot exist apart from freedom of choice. That is, if I love someone simply because I'm controlled, then I cannot be totally--it is not totally genuine.

Dwight Nelson:

And, Jean, this isn't only a theological concept, it's a political concept. We talk about democracy where you have choices. We're big on choices. Yeah. So God apparently is big on choices, too.

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

But I wonder how many who go to the voting booths are really making a freely given, thoughtful choice, or are they just following the crowd?

Dwight Nelson:

And would that be true morally as well?

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

Exactly.

Dwight Nelson:

Yeah. This whole issue of human freedom and choice. I want to come back to that and I want to invite somebody to join us. When we come back, we'll have Dr. Frank Gonzales joining us with Dr. Jean Sheldon. Stay right there, we'll be right back.
[break]
My next guest is Dr. Frank Gonzales, a theologian whose voice is heard in many parts of North America and throughout much of South and Central America as well. He is the speaker of La Voz de la Esperanza, Voice of Hope.

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

That was very well said.

Dwight Nelson:

Frank, good to have you at our table.

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

Thank you.

Dwight Nelson:

We've been having a conversation here, Jean Sheldon and I, about God's foreknowledge. So He makes this pair in the garden, knowing that they're going to fall. God's faced with an ethical choice. Jean, let's just pick up where we left off. What's that ethical choice for God?

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

It's power versus moral character, in my opinion. In other words, I have the power to do something, but is it the right thing to do? And can I limit my power for the sake of some greater purpose, or must I act a certain way just because I have the power to do it?

Dwight Nelson:

But then, Frank, knowing the future, foreknowledge, God's foreknowledge, does that make the future have to be, because God knows it? Is He causing the future by knowing it?

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

This is a question that many theologians have debated. God is trying, remember, to do things in His image. And He is trying to produce humans, not robots. He is trying to bring heaven to earth and He is trying to create real individuals. And we as parents know that--I mean, we would prefer to program our kids activities from the morning to the evening. We would like to tell them everything that they should say and they should do--

Dwight Nelson:

And make that bed every single day.

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

Yeah. And you know what, it would probably work, to some extent, but we would have something other than real children. We would develop something that is akin to ourselves, but something that's not real and true. For a person to be true, that person has to make through choices, and--

Dwight Nelson:

So the fact that God knows that you're going to make that choice, in advance, is not making you make that choice?

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

Absolutely not.

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

I think that's very true and it seems to me that the choices that we make, if in any way they are programmed or manipulated, they're not real, genuine choices.

Dwight Nelson:

How so?

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

Well, if I'm told to love my mom, for example. Say I'm a child and I'm told to love my mom, and I say, I love you, Mom, but that isn't my free, voluntary response, it's simply I've been told to do it, then I'm not actually morally responding in love. I'm simply doing what I've been told to do. So, if God, by his foreknowledge, actually controls me, something like the law of command where He's actually setting it down, you have to stop at that stoplight and cross the road there and turn left, whether you want to or not. If that's predetermined and I make that move, it's not free and it's not real. I've simply been put there.
Likewise, if I'm told, because I've chosen for you to love me, therefore you must, and I do, it's not real love.

Dwight Nelson:

But then, let's go to the barrio, Frank, okay, we'll go to the street, because maybe I'm still in the gene, five generations behind me, all alcoholics, I'm an alcoholic, I didn't have a choice. I got forced into this.

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

Yes. Look, in the barrio we want God to pull some strings, because too many things, too many entities are pulling all the wrong ones, and what we have is a situation where people are seemingly enslaved to environment in which they find themselves and they can't break out of that shell. All of the studies demonstrate that if you are the son of an alcoholic you have the proclivity, not only in terms of having watched the model--modeling of the father doing it, but actually genetically you have a proclivity, you don't even--

Dwight Nelson:

So, am I really free to choose then? Because I'm bound by my genes?

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

The son of an alcoholic does not have the choice of being a social drinker, if there is such a thing. Some people say that that exists. If that exists, that is not a choice that the son of an alcoholic can make, because one drop of alcoholic will make him an addict.

Dwight Nelson:

Then I'm not as free as Adam and Eve. God has me in a box. I'm bound by the past. So how do I get out of this box?

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

I think there's a danger in projecting back to Adam and Eve with things that hamper us today. We can talk about that, but, clearly, they came from a non-dysfunctional father, and a non-dysfunctional background, and they weren't hampered with the things that we are hampered with, and they didn't have the pulls and the tugs in their soul and in their system that the kids have today.

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

And it seems to me that, given that God gave us the freedom of choice as part of His image, then we have the freedom to create our children with all kinds of problems and, thus, limit their freedom, and actually short-change them in terms of the image of God. And it seems to me that that's what has happened generation after generation is that, instead of creating our children in the image of God, we have actually had the freedom to degenerate them.

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

And freedom to do what? Because our moral priority is impaired. You know, when I came to this country,one of the sayings that took my attention was that one that says, and it's very American, it's "American as apple pie". You won't find it any place else in the world. There but for the grace of God go I. It is an acclamation because our instinct when we see bad people doing bad things and atrocities being committed, is to say with a tone of moral arrogance, I'm glad I'm not like them. So when we watch the Kosovo massacres and the Serbs or the Albanians at each other's throats.

Dwight Nelson:

Or in Iraq.

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

Burning the villages or this or that, we say, uh, we're not like them. But see, no one burned the homes in our village. No one killed our parents. No one violated our women. We did not grow up with being fed stories of atrocities from the time of the Ottoman Empire, and so when you have been subjected to certain situations, that becomes part of your moral vision.

Dwight Nelson:

It does and it's a part of the baggage that you carry into the future, and I want to come back to the moral implications, Jean and Frank, of that baggage.
We need to take a break right now. But, if we've really lost moral freedom because of the sins of our parents, we're talking about the genetic code, our grandparents, great-great-grandparents, whoever, is there any way to regain that free human choice? That's going to be our question when The Evidence continues in just one moment.
[break]

Dwight Nelson:

I'm here with Dr. Jean Sheldon and Dr. Frank Gonzales. We're talking about temptation and free choice.
All right. You both agree that we've been programmed with this ability to choose within our human system. God values--Jean, I think you said, it's an ethical value, He cannot live without it.
Let's talk about moral choices, Frank. With all the genetics behind me, once I heard you talk about a room, I like that metaphor. Share that with me again.

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

It's not original with me. It's Professor--I don't know which professor I had, but I think it's a classic illustration. To show that even though we have this free will, it is severely impaired by what we've talked about, heredity, things that happen to us and so forth. And it is akin to telling a person, go into this room, and this room it's pitch dark, but you will find that there are these bottles and all of the bottles have venom but one, which is clearly labeled. We want you to drink, of course, the non-poisonous one. Now the person has a choice, you know, somewhat of a choice. The bottles are there, they're clearly marked. But there's a problem that is impairing that choice, which is the lack of light.

Dwight Nelson:

There's no light.

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

There's no light in the room.

Dwight Nelson:

You have to choose in the dark that one bottle that is life.

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

Yeah.

Dwight Nelson:

Now, how does that illustrate a moral dilemma?

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

Well, the way that that hits me is that, hey, we need something that will turn the switch on. So that that choice will be truly free, because if I can see things clearly, if I can have the moral clarity, if I can see those bottles for what they are, then and only then am I in a position to make a real free and empowered decision.

Dwight Nelson:

That's a fascinating point, because that would suggest that actually, Jean and Frank, God's intervention in the human experience is an act of freeing rather than binding. He's actually enabling us to make a free choice.

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

It's also enlightening.

Dwight Nelson:

Yeah. How has God intervened in the human situation? Where does that take us to?

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

You know what just came to me?

Dwight Nelson:

What?

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

Free will is not only--free is not only a adjective, it's a verb. Free the will.

Dwight Nelson:

That's good.

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

So God gave us free will, adjective at the beginning, but as this will became impaired through the realities of a corrupt world and all of the things have had happened, now we need God to free--

Dwight Nelson:

Free the will.

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

The will, and the statement of the Bible, the good news is that God has done that, that He has taken responsibility, that He did send His son, that something cosmic, something for every person happened there.

Dwight Nelson:

And that had some--and all of that somehow contributes to my human freedom to choose.

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

Yes. In fact, John, the gospel writer, uses--going back to our light metaphor, the room, he uses that where he says, He is the light, talking about Jesus, which lighteneth every man that cometh into this world, and, consequently, something happened with the coming of Jesus that is meant to liberate us from even our free will, which is no longer free to make the right or the moral or the clear choices as it was for Adam and Eve.

Dwight Nelson:

So, Jean, how do I -- as a human creature -- respond to that God-act that Frank has just described and what do I do?

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

First of all, I think that Jesus talked about being drawn by the light. And Jesus is the light. And as the revelation of the character of God, He draws us to the Father, actually, through Himself. So, His words, you shall know the truth and the truth will make you free, means that our focus, then, has to be on Him as the light of the world.

Dwight Nelson:

Is that drawing that God is exerting on me, is that still honoring my free choice?

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

Well, certainly light can shine on you, you may reject it. And it seems to me that we need to go back a little bit maybe to the fall, and to recognize that what happened in the Garden of Eden wasn't just about an apple or a fruit, but it was about the ingestation, actually, of certain concepts about God and about personal value, that set us up for all the addictive behaviors and all of the blaming and the guilt that we have gone through, and that by Jesus coming and enlightening us regarding those very basic concepts about ourselves and about God that we have bought into, then we can be set free, and once we value ourselves, we're less likely to take those bottles of poison, because I think God can even shine light in the room of those bottles and we still choose--

Dwight Nelson:

Still grab for the--

Dr. Jean Sheldon:

Still grab the poison.

Dwight Nelson:

XXX on the bottle. Yeah. So, Frank, what do I do? Okay, so I'm the one seeking this ultimate freedom,what do I need to do?

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

There's something you need to look at. I mean, the Bible is the only book that I know that says that something can happen to you by just looking.

Dwight Nelson:

Look at what? What should I look at?

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

And I say God says, look at me, and you say, but in the New Testament it's more specific, it has to do with the cross.

Dwight Nelson:

Yeah, how do I look at the cross?

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

Behold the image of God.

Dwight Nelson:

So how do I do that though? Come on, I'm a skeptic and you're enticing me. I want to do something, what do I do?

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

Look at what happened there, the claims of the gospel, the claim of the gospel is that God did something for you there, while you were an enemy, while you were hostile or indifferent. God is not waiting for you to do something in order for Him to do something for you. That's the good news of the gospel. He has liberated you. He has lifted you from condemnation to freedom. He has put you from being a slave to the things of your heredity and the things that cost you bondage. He has given you freedom. And so it comes with believing that something has happened already, not that you need to do something.

Dwight Nelson:

In that God gift, my ultimate freedom can be experienced.

Dr. Frank Gonzales:

Yes. Yes. And within that, we are promised the Holy Spirit, which is sent to us to help us with this vision, this light, this moral clarity.

Dwight Nelson:

Frank and Jean, thank you for helping us tackle -- really it's a gut issue -- of the human journey. Thank you very much for being here. I'm going to be right back with some final thoughts. Stay with us.
[break]

Dwight Nelson:

Have you ever wished there were no such things as free will? Maybe you think you'd be better off if God would simply take over your life and run it for you. Kind of like a benevolent dictator. That way you'd have no temptations, no alternatives, and no wrong choices to make. Of course, that would also mean you'd have no mistakes to learn from, no lessons from experience, no way to develop moral qualities that differentiate human from beast, and no way to grow in a personal relationship with your creator.
But here's great news. There's a positive alternative for everyone of us. By believing in Jesus Christ and depending on his saving grace to free us from bondage to our sinful nature, we can find the kind of liberty God intended for human beings to have when He created our first parents. This is truth and this truth will set us free.
I'm Dwight Nelson and that's what I believe. Join us next time for more of The Evidence.








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