Freewill: What the Eastern Orthodox Church Teaches
Editor’s Note: FāVS has launched a new series on Freewill. For the next few weeks our columnists will answer questions on the topic, including: What is free will? Do human beings have it? Is it possible to have some form of free will in one or more areas of life and not in others? What role, if any, does God play? If it exists, does it bring a sense of security, if it doesn’t exist does it lead to complacency? How does your view impact concepts of justice and accountability?
The general perception of freewill is our ability to choose between good and evil, right from wrong. However, what is right is not always what is good, nor does what is wrong always mean it is evil. An example of this was in Germany in WWII. It was against the law (not the right thing to do) to give shelter or aid to a person of Jewish decent. However, to conceal this person and aid them in their escape from persecution from the authorities was a good thing to do.
As an Icon of God
Man’s natural inherent will is the desire for good. In Galatians 2:20, Saint Paul says, “….it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me….” Once the choice is made to have Christ live in you and to allow his will to become your will, then there is no need for freewill.
Man Knows Good and Evil
If man knows what is good, then why is it necessary for the freedom of choice? If man chooses other than good, he often yields to the impulses of the flesh and is dragged into the abyss of misdirection.
We know that God’s will for us is 100% for our benefit. Abiding in us, he aids us in governing our feelings, our mind, and thoughts. It is said when the Kingdom of God enters a man’s heart, the veil of ignorance is discarded from his mind.
Freedom of choice or freewill is a sign of imperfection, more often making choices that are not of good, increasing the propensity to sin, and leading to a gradual loss of divine nature and a clouded perception of reality. It is free choice that often leads us into slavery of the passions of pride, anger, jealousy, lust, gluttony, etc. It is only when we follow the good that benefits us and become truly free.
Orthodox Christians, in submission and obedience to their beliefs, may be seen in Western Christianity as a loss of something, an end to individualism and identity, restriction, confinement, a type of control or slavery, and most of all, a loss of freedom. Christ did not come to take anything away from us. On the contrary. He came to transform us from our fallen state to our original state of creation, to make dead men alive.
The Word of God implies I have come to free you, not to enslave you.