From a Christian Perspective, What Is the Nature of Human Choice?
Humans value their ability to choose. There is a powerful illusion that we are capable of clearly discerning all things; that we are the final authority in our life. This illusion comes at a great price. There is a very familiar verse in the Bible that many do not read beyond: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). However, the two verses that follow are not well known, but are crucial. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
If a person decides not to believe in Christ, he is “already condemned” because he has not believed. It is not God who condemns someone, it is their choice. The one who chooses not to believe and stands under wrath immediately cries out, “unfair!” This is because they are under the illusion that they are the ultimate authority in their own life.
One might wonder at the Lord for sometimes asking the obvious question. For example, to the paralytic who for 38 years sat by the pool of Bethesda, Jesus asked, “Do you wish to get well?” (John 5:6). Or, in Genesis 3:9, as the all-knowing Lord walked in the Garden of Eden He called out, “Where are you?” Do we honestly think that God did not know the answers? Instead He is asking if the hearers themselves understand their real need!
In philosophy there is a desire to understand ontology (the nature of being—where do we come from?), epistemology (the nature of truth—how do I know?), and teleology (purpose—what do I do?). People search down many paths to try and answer these important questions for themselves only to be disappointed. God breaks the news to us that apart from Him we are searching in vain. In Isaiah 55:8-9 He says, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
The Bible’s answer to these questions is found in what many say is just an allegory, or a myth, in Genesis 3. It is, in fact, history. It is actually the answer to the quest of philosophy.
The setting is Eden, a perfect environment. There is one simple word that God has given to man-not in order to withhold something good from him, but because it will be detrimental to the perfect relationship man is enjoying. God says, “Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17). In Hebrew, the phrase “good and evil” is a metonymy—words that are joined to represent an entire concept, like “day and night” refer to all time within 24 hours, or simply to all time; or “heaven and earth” may refer to the entire created realm. The knowledge—daath—of good and evil that God refers to stands for personal, experiential knowledge of all the range of moral decision, from the worst to the best.
Man had everything; a perfect, loving God who was taking care of everything. All man had to do was enjoy. There was absolutely no need for man to try to discern good and evil—in a practical sense evil did not exist for man at that time! Then the serpent presented only a half truth; “You surely shall not die! For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:4-5).
Eve could simply have replied back to Satan, “Let me go talk with God and get His input,” but she did not. She decided that she was capable of deciding truth for herself. She suspected that God did not have her best interest at heart and was trying to keep something better from her, after all, the fruit was “good for food... a delight to the eyes and... desirable to make one wise (Gen. 3:6).
Satan suggested that God had lied about the consequences to scare them into compliance, and though they would not die physically for some time, several critical changes affected mankind in that moment. They died immediately in the spiritual sense, which is why they hid themselves from God as He walked through the garden (Gen 3:8). They pulled away from a relationship with God to a solo relationship. They now carried a burden never intended for them to bear, that of trying to discern morality for themselves.
They assumed that they were capable of being the final authority of what is true and false. Not realizing what was really happening, they incorrectly decided that their experience confirmed that they were right in their assumption. They, like Satan before them (Isaiah 14:12-14) had become “like God” in their own lives. They could decide morality; they could question God’s Word and determine what they liked about it; they could determine when and if they wanted Him involved. They created their own worldview to their ultimate ruin! They were physically designed for eternal life, but died and were buried back in the dust from which they were made 900 years later.
Sin is not just “doing bad things.” It is a systemic part of the fallen creation corrupted from its designed perfection. The creature is not capable of restoring it. The grand illusion of both Satan and man is that somehow the limited created being is superior in discernment, ability, and authority to the unlimited Creator. It is a very powerful delusion. It assumes that if I am acting as God, why would I need God? It says, even though I have the revealed Word of Truth (the Bible), I will create my own version of truth. I will answer the questions of ontology, epistemology, and teleology on my own.
The book of Romans, chapter one, captures this thinking. “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 1:21-25)
The foolishness of the Gospel is that Christ paid the price to redeem me from sin and restore me to the original design of dependence and enjoyment of God for eternity. But, I must understand my need to be redeemed. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:18-21). I cannot earn it; it is a simple gift (Ephesians 2:8-9) that a man may choose to accept or reject. Once accepted, the old corrupted nature is born again into a new man (2 Cor. 5:17-18; Eph 2:13-16). This new man is freed from the slavery entered into in Genesis 3. Romans 6:5-6: “For if we have become united with Him [Jesus Christ] in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” You see, the illusion that we are free apart from Christ is just that, an illusion. The nature of human choice is always subject to the one whom we serve, whether Satan or the Lord of Glory.
Romans 6:17-19: “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.” Note what is said, “as you presented” yourself to serve sin, “now present yourself” in just as committed a fashion to righteousness; either way, human choice must be engaged. The question then is, will we choose to be humble enough to admit our need, or will we choose rather to live under the burden of trying to live life under the misapprehension that we are free apart from God.