Thoughts on Natures and Freedom

I happened upon a comment made in regards to Johnathan Edward’s book on freedom of the will, in which it is stated that man always acts in accordance with his nature. This is interesting to me, for a number of reasons. What follows are some jumbled thoughts on the subject.

First off, let’s forget about ‘free will’ in the sense of being able to choose X over Y, since as I’ve argued before, the freedom of the will has very little to do with volition or choosing. Edwards’ claim is that we always choose according to our inclinations and affections. This seems to me demonstrably false – it is not my natural inclination to run 2 miles every day (even if it is a slow pace) or to limit from my diet beer, soda and cake, yet I do so in defiance of my inclinations (which is to sit on my couch, drink beer and get fat). I certainly hope I’m misunderstanding something here, because to ascribe inclinations and affections such determinative power seems quite silly.

What then is a nature? It’s not something which determines how I act, since I can always act outside my nature. In fact, I don’t think ‘nature’ has a whole lot to do with volition, or choosing, or inclinations, or any of the standard ways in which the will is usually explained. Theologically, human nature, humanity, is Christ. Jesus is true human nature. Torrance goes a bit more technically into defining nature – he takes a cue from Heidegger and defines it as the being of something which is revealed out from its hidden-ness. He ties it very closely to being.

Man’s nature is oriented towards the Good, though the effects of sin often make this fact a hard one to believe. One is not free by choosing X over Y. Instead of the nature being that which determines how we act, our nature is that to which we are oriented and which we may or may not move towards. True human nature is Christ. True freedom is the realization of our being in Christ. Freedom is not the ability to choose according to our natures. Freedom is attaining that to which our nature is oriented.

9 thoughts on “Thoughts on Natures and Freedom

  1. Taylor Terzek November 30, 2013 / 5:57 pm

    Great post!

    I really enjoy your clarity and honesty. I am a lover of Edwards, simply because of his biblical centrality and logical writing. I recently reviewed his ‘Freedom of the Will,’ and as you have noted, the will’s determination to motive is the essential claim of his treatise – this allows the freedom of the will, while retaining its determination, as to elucidate the biblical dynamic between God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility.

    I believe that Edwards would respond that your higher motive still determined your choices. The high motive of a healthy lifestyle, then, governed your will to choose accordingly. I know that is just as compelling as your option; nevertheless, both are possible. The crux of the decision (for Edwards, at least) comes from Biblical teaching. Does Scripture lean towards a depiction of the will that is determined to motive? In regards to the will’s ability towards the things of God, which is the whole purpose of the argument for Edwards, the Scripture seems to answer “Yes” (cf. John 1:13; 6:63-65; 8:43-47; Romans 8:7). And so, one might say, “Well, what about these other texts that depict people choosing good things, or choosing to follow Christ?” Edwards read those texts as well, I assure you, and it goes back to a depiction of changed motive. The real question is how their motive was changed, and thus continues the ‘ULIP’ of those 5 points.

    Your continued analysis of nature, being, and anthropology is extremely interesting – that bit about ‘humanity is Christ’ sounds very Barthian, which is always an interesting dig. Following your line of thought: if humanity is Christ, then is not Christ (in us) needed for our humanity to be restored? If Christ is humanity, this does not mean that man without Christ is good; if anything it means that man is still in need of Christ, who is good. I would agree that freedom is only attained in Christ, but the whole question of Edwards’ treatise is “How do we attain Christ?”

    Thanks again for your post,



    • whitefrozen November 30, 2013 / 6:03 pm

      I’m going to reply to your outstanding comment a bit later, as I’m making dinner and then have to run errands – but I shall be back to go a bit more in depth on this topic 🙂


      • Taylor Terzek November 30, 2013 / 6:06 pm

        Sounds great, and I apologize for the length. I’ll happily wait for a response at your convenience, as I expect you to return the favor at a later time.



    • whitefrozen November 30, 2013 / 8:16 pm

      There’s a number of fairly subtle issues at play here, so bear with me. I’ll elaborate a bit on my overall underlying metaphysic.

      I am very much influenced by the theological anthropology of Maximos the Confessor, particularly his distinction between the natural and the gnomic will. This to me is an essential distinction because it allows one to have a proper anthrolpology. Man’s natural will is oriented towards God, for Maximos. There is no concept of Total Depravity here – no fallen human nature, and here’s the underlying logic: if evil is privation then the fall is not about what we are but what we are not. Restated: there isn’t fallen human nature, but rather a disunion between God and man. That’s the basic metaphysic here.

      I realize I didn’t really go point-by-point through your questions – if this little overview wasn’t helpful i’ll try and go a bit more systematically through your questions.


      • Taylor Terzek December 2, 2013 / 12:33 am

        Certainly, your description of will and nature is foreign to my biblical categories. That is fine by me, as it is probably a mere semantic discussion that we must have before we truly discuss our positions. “Natural will” would be the greatest clarification for me. Is this will at all tainted by the fall? If not in its essence, how then in its application?

        When you continue to describe your understanding of the fall, I get a little lost. It is an extremely interesting point of view, however, one that I have not heard conveyed in such a way.

        I guess my essential question is this: how does man become united with Christ? If through the will, how then is the will motivated? (We can agree that the will is governed by an external motivation, as this is the only logical option, yes?) Your answer to those questions will allow me to better understand your understanding of soteriology, incorporating man’s spiritual condition.



        • whitefrozen December 2, 2013 / 12:49 pm

          I’ll paste a few comments made in a similar discussion I had with a good friend – this should hopefully serve to clarify some of the conceptual/semantic issues and lay a bit more firm groundwork:

          As a prolemenga (sp?), let me say that I generally operate with the metaphysic developed by Maximus the confessor in regards to the will and nature(s), and broadly within an eastern orthodox theology though i’m not myself Orthodox.

          The key is to make a distincton in the will – between the ‘gnomic’ and the ‘natural’ as Maximus called them.

          “The gnomic refers to the manner in which we exercise or misuse our natural will (it is a use of the will rather than a separate, distinct will). Gnomic is related to the concept of opinionated action; as you might know the word heresy is similarly translatable as opinion). It is a function of fallen hypostases.

          Genesis proclaimed all things created by God to be good. A question being pressed hard during St. Maximos’s generation was how man, if man’s nature (Gk. ousia/essence) was created good by God, could have ever fallen. In answering this question St. Maximos distinguished between natural (re. ousia/essence) and personal (hypostatic) aspects of the will. The latter is grounded in the former, but is the particular, personal expression; the fall does not imply any “created evil/privation” of the good of the natural will created by God. This was an expression of the universal conviction of the fathers that all things created by God were good (vs. e.g. Gnostics and Manichaeans) and the capacity of mankind to sin presupposing freedom of the will (all the early fathers held tenaciously to both of these views).

          Christ, according to St. Maximos, did not have a gnomic will, but a natural will. Quoting a cyber-friend of mine, John Sanidopoulos (who I do not always agree with, but who I do fully concur with on the following), “Despite what many Orthodox theologians say who have been influenced by Karl Barth, Christ did not assume a fallen human nature, but received the entirety of humanity in a pre-fallen state as a new Adam restoring fallen man to Paradise… There was never a time when Christ in his flesh was in a fallen state, because there was never a point in his humanity that he was ever separated from his divinity. This is basic Chalcedonian Christology… Taking on our humanity in its pre-fallen state, he took on the whole of human nature and only in this way could he restore mankind from a state condemned to death through sin.”

          To avoid confusion it is important to realize the manner in which the East and Latin West were diverging even at an early stage in using overlapping terms for paradigmatically quite different realities, especially per created/uncreated vs. nature/grace (cf. brackets below; we might recall the Hebrews lacked even a name for nature but spoke rather of creation): “Maximos calls the logoi and virtues natural only insofar as the type of participation that man has in them, and not the notion of grace = nature as the Pelagians held. Neither is Maximos semi-Pelagian, for the uncreated logoi being uncreated have no similarity whatsoever with created essences. This is a strong metaphysical distinction between nature and grace from this perspective [note: Orthodox see a more critical distinction in created/uncreated as opposed to the Latin nature/grace]. In regard to man’s abilities after the Fall, man’s ignorance of whether or not acts end in good or an evil act becomes increasingly worse, and his ability to actualize the divine energy is only buttressed by the Incarnation itself.”

          “But the important point is that true human nature is not fallen; true human nature is Christ. True human nature is created. Whereas the early fathers held evil was privation, not an ontological nature, later Western throught followed Augustine who regarded a heritable guilt nature transmitted through sexual propagation. The fallen nature had ontological status and its locus was in human biological seed. The West thus focused upon the dualism of nature VS grace. The Eastern Church rejects that dualism and instead emphasizes CREATED & UNCREATED; per the latter rather than a wall of separation we have (as Ephesians affirms) God in all, with all, and through all things. But I would deny Barth/Torrance where they speak of Christ taking upon himself a fallen nature. He was incarnate as true human, as God intended, and by union or theosis true human nature becomes ours as we become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet 1). ”

          You are quite right in saying that the will is always subject to the external – and such was Maximus’s thought in regards to the gnomic will. I’m on my lunch break so I can’t say too much more at the moment but will, again, be back 🙂


        • whitefrozen December 2, 2013 / 8:29 pm

          As for the specific question of what motivates the will, I think of it less in terms of being motivated and more in terms of being drawn. The soul has a rational desire for the transcendent and as such is always drawn by and always moving towards that ultimate Good – the telelogical dimension of the will is important here. Our end is the Transcendant, and is that to which we will naturally tend.


  2. Taylor Terzek December 14, 2013 / 12:35 pm

    I realize I never replied to your lengthy comments, and I apologize for that.

    I believe it got pushed to the back of my mind because I simply could not find a point of intersection. It is as if we start from different places, and thus move in different directions – you, East to West, and I from North to South. I am not saying this means I am right and you are wrong, or that I am wrong and you are right, but I simply didn’t have the time to labor in making North go East or West go South – this is no simple turn of the compass.

    Maybe one day.


    • whitefrozen December 14, 2013 / 3:56 pm

      It’s definitely a somewhat awkard discussion, since, as you pointed out, there is little to no common ground between the classical reformed viewpoint and the eastern viewpoint i hold to.


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