Free will, whose will? Some theological questions for the day

As the news is full of speculation about an election that none of us can vote in, here are my theological questions of the day:

Why did a presumably loving God permit evil in the world?

Usual Christian answer: to test people by offering them free will to choose between good and evil, and if applicable to punish them for bad choices.

Why, then, do many people pray to God to help them make an important decision, and then attribute the results to God’s will?

Answer: because they don’t trust their own free will?

Why does this have anything to do with a blog on politics?

Ask Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell Jr. and Mike Huckabee.

The polis (“city”) is where our public life plays out, and if religion is part of the mix we see in the daily news and in campaigns for office, it is part of politics, the life of the city.

The cardinals who have now gone into seclusion aren’t allowed to politick about the papal election, but can engage in murmuratio (discreet “murmuring” with others). Wouldn’t that be a refreshing way to conduct a US political campaign–individuals talking to people they know or newly meet, without the glare of glossy mailers and TV ads?

And do the cardinals rely entirely on their own free will? Hardly. As described in Nicole Winfield, AP, “Conclave to elect next pope opens amid uncertainty,” Daily Local News, 3/12/13):

…At 10 a.m., the dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, will lead the celebration of the “Pro eligendo Pontificie” Mass, the Mass for the election of a pope inside St. Peter’s Basilica, joined by the 115 cardinals who will vote.

This is followed at 4:30 p.m. with a procession into the Sistine Chapel, with the cardinals intoning the Litany of Saints, the hypnotic Gregorian chant imploring the saints to help guide their voting. After another chant calling on the Holy Spirit to intervene….

So if they make a good or bad choice, do they get credit or blame for their exercise of free will? Or just for being good or bad listeners?

(I know free will in theology is a highly complex topic; see, for example, The Catholic Encyclopedia on Evil and Free Will.)

About the potential guidance from on high: it seems (according to no less an authority than the Pope) that it may not always be available. As quoted in Nick Squires, “Pope’s final address: God was asleep on my watch,” The Telegraph, 2/27/13, Benedict said:

“There were moments of joy and light but also moments that were not easy … there were moments, as there were throughout the history of the Church, when the seas were rough and the wind blew against us and it seemed that the Lord was sleeping.”

So then, perhaps the Church has been, at least off and on, relying on plain old human free will to navigate those stormy seas that have been all too present in the news of late?

The concept of the sleep of reason is well known from Goya’s haunting series of prints “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” (see Wikipedia, source of the image below).

Surely the sleep of God could be even more catastrophic?



About politicswestchesterview

Nathaniel regards himself as a progressive Democrat who sees a serious need to involve more Americans in the political process if we are to rise to Ben Franklin's challenge "A republic, madam, if you can keep it," after a passerby asked him what form of government the founders had chosen. This blog gives my views and background information on the local, state, and national political scenes. My career in higher education was mainly in the areas of international studies, foreign languages, and student advising, most recently at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, from which I retired in 2006. I have lived in West Chester since 1986.
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3 Responses to Free will, whose will? Some theological questions for the day

  1. Pingback: More on free will: who’s responsible when bad things happen? | politicswestchesterview

  2. Pingback: More on free will: who’s responsible when bad things happen? | progressivenetwork

  3. Pingback: Exodus, the parable of the talents, and the accumulation of wealth | politicswestchesterview

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