Given the popularity of the section we posted from Paul Zahl’s Grace in Practice a few weeks ago on Competition in Marriage, here’s one that’s bound to be a little less popular… πŸ˜‰ It can be found under the rather unsexy heading of “The Relation of the Un-Free Will to Compassion”–and yet it is one of the most important passages in the book, spelling out much of what lies behind this site’s focus on human limitation, i.e. its relation to love:

als-pal-coverrrr-511x600Perhaps the man you live with is smoldering with resentment. Most of his resentments are founded on half-facts and subjectivity. Most of them are not only falsely founded but damaging to those around him. They make him impossible to live with. He is a cauldron of angry thoughts. The fact of the matter is that he cannot control himself. He is deeply wrong about many things, but he cannot control himself. He needs help. If you, as the person trying to love him, believe in free will, specifically if you think he has free will in this area, then you are going to fall out of love with him fast. You say to yourself, “Can’t he see what he is doing, not only to us and to our children, but to himself?” You reason to yourself, “I have pointed out to him a thousand times how skewed his perceptions are. I have told him as plain as day that he is factually wrong about his grievances. But he doesn’t seem to listen. He just goes on, railing against such-and-such and so-and-so. What is wrong with him that he cannot see what is painfully clear to everybody else?”

What is wrong with the man is that he does not have free will. He is operating out of no freedom. There is a deep uncontrollable anger in him, probably going way back in his life and genes, which is not about to succumb to rational argument. Something deeper and more powerful is required. The entry point for the person trying to love him is this: the poor man does not possess free will.

The relation of the un-free will to compassion is that the un-free will enables compassion. You can see this in the various sorts of Christianity encountered in the world. Forms of Christianity that stress free will create refugees. They get into the business of judging, and especially of judging Christians.

My wife and I could not begin to number the lapsed Roman Catholics and lapsed evangelicals we have known who have bailed out of Christianity on account of one word: “judgment”. It always come back to that two-syllable word. If you were to interview the millions of people who feel they have left Christianity although they were brought up in it, you would find that one two-syllable word, “judgment,” tops the list of their objections to it. It tops it by a mile. Questions of doubt, dogmatics, and authority, which are often put forward as the principal objections to Christianity are important. The big questions of theodicy, which is to ask, “Why did my son die?” “Why did my mother die?” “Why is my life a misery?” are hugely important. But the really heavy question, the one on everybody’s lips, is this one: “How dare that Christian person or that Christian church sit in judgment on me?” It is judgment that drives people away from Christianity. Ironically, it is judgment–the absence of it–which drew people to Christ.

The idea behind judgment, the driving idea of this species of Christianity that drives away, is the “free will.” You see this in primary evangelism. The speaker gets up and makes a call to decision at the end of an affecting address. But he says that we all have a choice. If you decide in favor of faith, good for you. But if you decide, tonight, on this very spot, against faith, then, well, “poor choice.” Such thinking, the concept that a hurt and hurting person has the full freedom to say Yes or No to love, is misconceived. It is simply not true. People “decide” for all kinds of reasons, some of which are hidden even from them. We have to smile when we see phrases on food packages such as “the heart-healthy choice” or “the smart cereal.” Those are appeals to someone who does not exist. Just ask a person who likes to eat, or sadder, the person who eats to comfort himself or herself.

There is a South Park episode entitled “Weight Gain 4000,” in which the Eric Cartman character gains so much weight that he has to be lifted out of bed by the end of the episode. National television interviews him at the end of the episode: “What is your advice to the young people of America, Mr. Cartman?” they inquire. “Stay . . .” (huff and puff) “true . . .” (gasping for air) “to . . .” (totally out of breath) “your dreams” (collapsing back on the bed). That is perfect. Cartman lives to eat, he cannot control himself, yet he tells others to “be all that they can be.” The two writers of South Park see through the myth of “free will.” That myth has been accepted by most Christians, and the result of it is thousands upon thousands of refugees.

“Free will” creates judgment creates rejection creates flight. The un-free will creates sympathy creates mercy creates comfort creates change. Actually, there is only despair and hatred in the concept of free will. There is hope and mercy in the concept of the un-free will. The un-free will is true biblically, it is true experientially, and it is true from the standpoint of its grace-filled fruit. (pg. 108-110)

Couldn’t resist adding one clarifying paragraph from pg. 104:

Often when the subject of the un-free will comes up, people jump ahead of my claim. They think I am talking about predestination. They think I mean Pavlov and little dogs with bells and shocks. They think I am trying to corner them into some kind of idea that makes people into puppets. To this I say, “You’re ahead of the game. I am talking about one thing, and one thing only: how people actually act and whether they are under compulsion in certain situations. Please don’t talk to me about puppets until you have answered me about addicts.”