A Conflict of Wills

They stumble at the word, being disobedient, in regard to that which they were appointed.” 1 Peter 2:8.

Humanity is appointed to know God and, by grace, have fellowship with Him. Humanity was created for communion with God, this is its natural state. This state was corrupted by sin, which entered through the free choice (will) of mankind. Yet, despite the current state of fallenness that afflicts our race, our natural state remains that of communion with God. Whether we abide there or not is another question.

In true Christian theology human nature and its natural will are not in opposition to God. Due to the perversion of the use of the will through sin, it now can be utilized as a weapon against God, but this is a misuse, not a natural state. The deliberative misuse of the will (gnomic) in a manner contrary to its natural state is what makes the will fallen and enslaves it to the system of sin. Yet, this is an abnormal mode of existence, one that is contrary to humanity’s God created nature.

Fundamental to Orthodox anthropology and Christology is the right understanding of the human will. Sin, the active rejection of the Good, Who is God, is a choice. Likewise, the pursuit of righteousness, the active acceptance of the Good, is a choice. This is not to say that it is all up to man’s power. No, humanity stands in need of Grace but it is vital to understand that, contrary to later innovations in Western Christendom, the human will is not in dialectic opposition to God. That is, although the will suffers the effects of sin, it, nonetheless, retains the natural freedom which God instilled in it upon creation. This freedom is intended to cooperate with Grace, moreover, the will still retains the power of choice. St. Cyril of Jerusalem says, “Know also that thou hast a soul self-governed, the noblest work of God, made after the image of its Creator: immortal because of God that gives it immortality; a living being, rational, imperishable, because of Him that bestowed these gifts: having free power to do what it willeth. For it is not according to nativity (i.e. your birth, my note) that thou sinnest … We now sin of our free-will … There is not a class of souls sinning by nature, and a class of souls practicing righteousness by nature: both act from choice, the substance of their souls being of one kind only, alike in all … The soul is self-governed: and though the devil can suggest, he has not the power to compel against the will” (Catechetical Lectures, IV, 18-21).

Further St. Maximos the Confessor tells us, “The Spirit does not give birth to a disposition of the will without the consent of that will, but to the extent that the will is willing” (Orthodox Word, Nos. 312-313, pg. 36).

Only God is naturally Good, whereas humanity was created for the Good. We do not possess it as a fundamental state of existence. Humanity participates in the Good by grace in as much as it follows after and communes with God. Although naturally created for participation with the good, the free choice to do so (or not) has also remained from the beginning, Adam, our forefather, failed in the choosing of the Good. Thus, it is written, “And the Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who heareth say, ‘Come.’ And let the one thirsting, let him come; and the one desiring, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). And the Lord said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (cf. Matt. 11:15, Mark 4:9). 

It is not that the will is neutral, some sort of blank slate, no, the natural will is created for the Good. Neither is it a computer program that is compelled to follow its programming. The natural will, although created for communion and cooperation with God, can reject its natural state and freely choose the unnatural, that is sin.

St. Bede instructs, “Every human being has been naturally made for this purpose, that he may fear God and obey His commandments … ‘in which they also were appointed’ (cf. 1 Pet. 2:8) is to be understood according to what St. Paul says in speaking about God: ‘For in Him we live move and have our being (Acts 17:28)” (Commentary on 1 Peter, 86).

Every person, whether confessing Christ Jesus or not, remains a creation of God and remains accountable to that for which they were appointed. St. Irenaeus says, “No doubt, if anyone is unwilling to follow the Gospel itself, it is in his power to reject it, but it is not expedient. For it is in man’s power to disobey God, and to forfeit what is good; but such conduct brings no small amount of injury and mischief” (Against Heresies, Bk. IV, Chap. XVI[5]).

Tragically, many times humanity believes that if it pursues that which is “not God,” then it will somehow become its own god. Much of the conflict that is growing in the world, most of all exemplified in Western society’s rejection of its Christian roots, can be contextualized in this basic understanding of will. It is a conflict of wills. One that desires the Good and one that does not. Those pursuing the choice of active rejection of God, be it consciously or unconsciously, understand that those who are striving to follow after God stand as witnesses against their evil choice. This is why they so vehemently want to silence and obliterate those who desire to choose and follow after the way of God. As the Wisdom of Solomon elucidates, the wicked say of the righteous, “He claims to have a knowledge of God, and he calls himself a child of the Lord. He has become for us a refutation of our purposes; even seeing him is a burden to us … He avoids our ways as something immoral … Let us test him with insults and torture … Let us condemn him to a shameful death” (2:13ff). They know they are willingly choosing death, and they want none to testify against them.

Yet, humanity is appointed for Life, for Light, for Good; this is its natural state. Let us choose that for which we were naturally created.

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