An English II essay on free will in the Bible.
I think it’s from early October.
It’s pretty much the same as when I turned it in, except for that I broke up the paragraphs, added some useful little things (!), and deleted a pointless paragraph which came after the introduction (you know the part where you introduce what you ARE going to talk about?) which basically introduced what I WASN’T going to talk about. If I remember correctly, my teacher put a large X through it with the question: “Why include all this?”
And so, without further ado, I give you. . .
A Paper on Free Will in Exodus!
“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows” (Orwell 72) George Orwell claims in his dystopian novel, 1984. No one knows this better than Big Brother and God (who might well be one and the same) as demonstrated by the lengths they go to in order to prevent their people from possessing any type of freedom.
In the Bible, God applies Orwell’s principle to the trivialities of life in order to control the rest of His congregation’s existence. Particularly well demonstrated in His treatment of the Israelites in the Torah, this concept lays the foundation for the Almighty-controlled Biblical society and strengthens the image of an insecure Lord established in Genesis. It is on the principles examined by Orwell in 1984 that God bases his doctrines, insofar as though He recognizes free will, He does not promote it, for He sees it only as a threat to Himself and His position.
Simply, free will is the ability to make choices. More complexly, it is a term “for a particular sort of capacity of rational agents to choose a course of action from among various alternatives” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Free Will). It boils down to the same issue: choice. In fundamentals, this makes sense, but the world knows nothing of fundamentals.
The world has laws and rules and suggestions and codes which are meant to restrict choice or at least guide a person down one path while tricking their mind into believing that they made the choice themselves. With such limitations on choice can free will really be free? It is common knowledge that it is wrong to kill, but is a person born knowing that or must they be told or shown after birth and then have it drummed into their heads that the result of the action of murder is a life of exile? With such a knowledge of cause and effect imposed on people by restriction, can free will really exist? Perhaps so, if only concretely in trivialities and vaguely in the greater matters of life.
Whatever God might think of free will, He at least recognizes it for He must do so in order to restrict it. Early on in the Exodus story this is demonstrated by God’s complete restriction of the Pharaoh’s free will. As God explains His plot to Moses for releasing the Israelite people from Egypt, He explains to Moses that He “will harden [the Pharaoh’s] heart, so that he will not let the people go” (Ex. 4.21). In choosing the modal auxiliary “will”, God indicates that He has obligated the Pharaoh to prevent the people from leaving Egypt, presenting fully that God restricts his free will. Indeed, it is likely that the Pharaoh is completely unaware of the fact that he is not in control at all for in this extreme case, God does not merely command but take control of completely, making up the Pharaoh’s mind for him.
Of course, it may be argued that such an episode only occurred because the Pharaoh is Egyptian, not of the chosen people who are privileged with their own set of rules. And this may be true as far as issues of extremity go, however it cannot be denied that God must recognize the concept of free will in some form to restrict it so completely even in someone outside His congregation.
It is also not as if this were the only example of restriction on free will by the Lord. As God explains to Moses and Aaron how the people will finally exit Egypt he lays down a set of expansive rules regarding the actual release of the people as well as their generations to come. “Tell the whole congregation of Israel” (Ex. 12.3) God commands the two chosen ones, “that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family … [they] shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight” (Ex. 12.3-6). He goes on to describe the complicated ritual of Passover and the smallest details that the people must remember to obey to the letter or else they “shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel” (Ex. 12.19). And that is only for eating leavened bread at a certain time of the year!
It is clear from this that God seeks to control every facet of his people’s lifestyle as well as that He knows He has something to restrict. For why bother making the rules if the people were not in some way free to disobey them?
True, it is a very dreary kind of free will that allows one to go against the grain only to be thrown out forever, but the idea is still intact. Still, it seems absurd for the omnipotent Lord to worry about the restriction of free will, particularly in such matters as the type of bread his followers consume.
It is because God feels threatened by the free will the Israelites posses that He attempts to stamp it out of them through a series of restrictive edicts regarding every aspect of their lives. During the forty days and forty nights Moses spends on Mount Sinai with God, Aaron and the Hebrews grow restless and, without God breathing down their necks, are given a chance at making their own decisions.
Unsurprisingly they make the choice to turn from a god who has seemingly abandoned them, and place their faith in a golden calf Aaron creates as their new deity. God, upon learning of this, reacts extremely violently saying “‘Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them’” (Ex. 32.10), for He, being a jealous God as He Himself admits, worries that His power will be diminished if the people exercise their free will to worship a different god.
Born from this fear is a desire to control His flock so that they may not utilize their free will and make their own choices, guaranteeing God’s position at their head. The Ten Commandments (and their numerous counterparts so often forgotten) are God’s main solution to the problem. Big Brother-type Laws governing every angle of a person’s life from the morally obvious to the day-to-day obscure ensure that the people do not do as they like but what God wants, eliminating the prospect of dangerous free will.
In order to maintain these laws and also out of His fear of the people’s free will, God strictly punishes those who violate His edicts, going so far as to punish “children for the iniquity of their parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject [Him]” (Ex. 20.5). Such extremity is hardly necessary; God clearly worries about His position to such an extent that He feels He must go to great lengths to protect it, punishing those not even responsible for the offense to make a point. From this behavior it must be assumed that free will threatens God more than anything else for it jeopardizes His controlling position.
On the other hand, there is an argument that posits that God never even recognizes free will and therefore He cannot promote or value it for the soul reason that He is unaware of its existence. According to this theory, recognition of free will involves allowing people a chance at it, which God never does throughout the Exodus story, preferring to control the Hebrews like pieces on His own personalized chessboard.
To really recognize free will, in situations like that of the introduction of the manna God would not have immediately set down such an extensive set of laws from “‘Gather as much of it [the manna] as each of you needs’” (Ex. 16.16) which is really quite reasonable, to “‘let no one leave any of it over until morning’” (Ex. 16.19) which is a completely unnecessary rule, instigated only to assert God’s authority.
Even in the most everyday matters, God insists on imposing himself on the Israelites, never once handing them a taste of freedom or at least the freedom to make a choice beyond life and death, inclusion and exile. It seems unlikely that He would really find it necessary to dictate such simple matters as His flock’s breakfast, so it follows that not only does God not recognize free will in the sense that he does not acknowledge it, but also in the more literal sense that He cannot identify the idea at all. Therefore the question of whether or not He promotes or values free will is hardly valid, for it is more the case that He cannot recognize them.
The ideas of free will and freedom of choice, though known to God, only cause Him trepidation for He fears that He might lose His standing to the Israelites as well as His control over them. This presents an interesting take on the usually almighty, omnipotent, and just representation of God so well known across the world. Who is this cowardly, insecure, domineering tyrant introduced so abruptly the moment Exodus begins? Surely this cannot be the God little children ask their souls to keep on bended knees every night before bed!
Unfortunately or fortunately as the case may be, He is the very same. But now His true nature is revealed as He unhesitatingly deprives His own people—willing and steadfast believers in his own faith—of their once-thought-to-be basic right of free will. On the most principal level, free will can be equated with freedom of choice, a seemingly obvious entitlement.
Not so for God however, who, in His unveiled form, ensures that His people are denied basic, every day freedoms such as choice regarding needs like food, water, or shelter. He goes to such trouble in order to allay His fears that the people might rise up against Him if they were given an inch to move, displaying His insecurity as well as divine megalomania. Such a God goes against all that He and His religion stand for, cheating the people once again. Exodus demonstrates that God is not the best of people, having more flaws than most and choosing to inflict these flaws on those around Him out of insecurity.