Does man have a free will or not? And if he does, is it for everything?
There are certain matters which man has no choice.
A person has no choice regarding the country in which he was born, the people amidst whom he grew up, the parents who brought him into existence, the environment in which he was brought up and its impact on him, nor the way he was brought up.
His shape or colour, his height, intelligence, the talents he is endowed with or deprived of, what he inherited from his parents … etc.
On the other hand a person no doubt has free will with respect to his actions and works.
He has the choice either to do something or not, or to speak or to keep silent. He can even – if he wants – correct many things which he inherited and change what he acquired from the environment or while being brought up.
A person can set aside the whole past and begin a new life completely different, getting rid of all previous influences.
Many people were able – when they grew up to release themselves of the influence of the environment, education and inheritance which they had undergone in their childhood. They could do this by bringing themselves into the scope of new, different influences through reading, friendship and company, spiritual guides and new teachers or through religious life and meetings. There are actually some people who were brought up in a dissolute life but repented; and others who were brought up in spirituality yet they deviated.
Even with respect to talents …
A person can develop the talents with which he was born, or diminish them by neglecting them. Someone may have only few talents which he is careful to improve and protect, so they develop. Another may acquire new talents which he had not and become better than one with talents which are neglected.
Many things prove that man has free will:
1. The existence of God’s commandment is a proof that man has a free will.
If a man is directed and has no control over his will or freedom, why would there be a commandment? And what would be its use if a person is unable to comply with or is directed against it involuntarily? We remember here some words of a part which apply to this:
He was cast into the water with hands tied and he was warned not to get wet!
Even if a person is directed in the way which the commandment requires him to walk, the commandment will not be necessary since he will walk that same way whether there is a commandment or not!
It is logical then that since there is a commandment, man has free will. He has the choice either to follow God’s commandment or not. This is also the actual state of affairs which we see in life. A person is able to obey the commandment if he wants to and can disobey if he wants. God has endowed him with a free will and a free choice. God is put in his sight, but he is not forced to go along it.
2. The existence of sin is a proof that man has a free will.
If man has no free will, would it be reasonable that God leads him to sin? Would not that mean that God participates with man in committing sin? God forbid. It is unreasonable and does not conform with God’s nature as Holy and good, hates evil and does not accept it, but calls all people to repent and forsake sin.
When sin exists, it means that man has done it voluntarily by his own will while he had the choice to commit it or not.
If man has the free will to do evil, he is rather more free to do good and free to repent and forsake sin. God calls all people to repent, but leaves the matter to their choice either to repent or not.
3. The existence of a condemnation is a proof that man has free will.
Mere existence of punishment and reward is a proof that man is free to do whatever he wants; for the simplest rule of justice necessitates that no man may be condemned unless he is apt, free and willing. If a person is proved to have no choice or will, he will not be condemned nor justified; for no responsibility is there in the case of lack of free will.
Accordingly, God cannot condemn a sinner with eternal torment unless such a person has full choice and chose for himself bad conduct and walked in it, so he reaps the fruit of his choice and work and as far as a person has control over his will his punishment will be.
God never punishes a person who has no free will for he has no control over his will, but punishes him who led that person to sin. The same principle applies to reward; God rewards the person who does good voluntarily, by his own will and choice. If such a person has no free will, he will not deserve to be rewarded.
4. Finally, there are four remarks:
First: God urges everyone to do good and guides him to avoid wrongdoing whether through one’s own conscience, through guides, fathers and teachers and through the work of grace.
Yet God leaves to everyone the choice to accept or refuse.
Second: Sometimes, God interferes to stop certain evils and prevents some doing them. In this case, the person who was prevented from doing evil has no hand in this and will not be rewarded. Here God – for the sake of general benefit undertakes the matter or turns evil to good. As for the other affairs of a person and his conduct, he has the choice and the will.
Third: A person may lose his will by his own choice, such as when he submits to a certain sin by his own will until the sin becomes a habit or another nature to him which he follows afterwards as if he has become without any will.
It is in fact lack of will caused by a previous action taken by a person with his free will and choice.
Fourth: God will condemn everyone on the last day according to the reason and discretion endowed him by God and according to his capabilities, his will and choice. God takes into consideration man’s circumstances and the pressures he faces as well as his ability or non ability to overcome such pressures.