Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Free-will, Freedom, Universalism, and the Allure of Love (John A.T. Robinson)


It is probable that the mental picture usually conjured up of the relation between divine omnipotence and human freedom is that of two irresistible forces each pulling in opposite directions. If, per impos­sibile, one were to gain a painful inch here or there, it could only be at the expense of the other’s loss: submission to the power of God must involve the abandonment of the freedom of man. But have we any rea­son to think that this is at all an accurate picture of what happens when will meets will in the personal relationship of love? Surely, it is grossly misleading.

We all know times, when a man or woman really shows his or her love for us, whether it be in some costly manifestation of forgiveness or self-sacrifice or in some small act of kindness or consideration, that we feel constrained to respond—we cannot help ourselves, everything within us tells us that we must. Our defenses are down, the power of love captures the very citadel of our will, and we answer with the spon­taneous surrender of our whole being. Yet, at the same time, we know perfectly well that at such moments we can, if we choose, remain un­moved; there is no physical compulsion to commit ourselves. Everyone may point to instances in which he has been constrained to thankful re­sponse by the overmastering power of love. And yet, under this strange compulsion, has anyone ever felt his freedom infringed or his personal­ity violated? Is it not precisely at these moments that he becomes con­scious, perhaps only for a fleeting space of time, of being himself in a way he never knew before, of attaining a fullness and integration of life which is inextricably bound up with the decision drawn from him by the other’s love? Moreover, this is true however strong be the con­straint laid upon him; or, rather, it is truer the stronger it is. Under the constraint of the love of God in Christ this sense of self-fulfillment is at its maximum. The testimony of generations is that here, as nowhere else, service is perfect freedom. When faced by an overpowering act of love, we realize how absurd it is to say that the freedom and integrity of our moral personality are safeguarded only if we set our teeth and determine not to allow ourselves to be won to its service. If, then, we do not lose, but rather find, our freedom in yielding to the constraining power of love, is there anything to be gained for the cause of liberty by demanding that when it is under the control of self-will it shall in the end be stronger than when it is under the control of love? May we not imagine a love so strong that ultimately no one will be able to restrain himself from free and grateful surrender? If the miracle of the forcing of pride’s intransigence—which is no forcing but a gentle leading—can be achieved in one case (St. Paul would say, in my case), who are we to say that God cannot repeat it in all? One by one, may not each come to the point at which he finds himself constrained to confess in the words of Charles Wesley:
I yield, I yield,
I can hold out no more;
I sink by dying love compelled
To own thee conqueror!


In The End, God…, by John A.T. Robinson, p 105-106

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