CS Lewis in his influential book The Problem of Pain makes an argument that explains the presence of evil in the world as a consequence of free will. In his chapter on “Divine Omnipotence,” Lewis states “Again, the freedom of a creature must mean freedom to choose: and choice implies the existence of things to choose between.”
Later, Lewis draws out the implication of this freedom: “But such a world would be one in which wrong actions were impossible, and in which, therefore, freedom of the will would be void… Try to exclude the possibility of suffering [which is the consequence of freely choosing the wrong]… and you find that you have excluded life itself.”
In other words, Lewis is saying that for human beings, having free will means having the ability to truly choose. And this includes the ability to choose right and wrong. God made the world good. Choosing the wrong brings about sin, evil, and suffering in the world. In order for Lewis to remove the suffering in this world, he would have to remove free will and its consequences. Lewis puts it more plainly in “The Shocking Alternative” chapter of Mere Christianity:
“Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”
In human beings, to remove free choice (and thus the possibility of evil), God would have to remove love. But God believes love is worth the risk.
The purpose of this essay is not to completely go through Lewis’ argument against the problem of pain. If you have not, you should do yourself a favor and read that book.
Instead, I wanted to raise an objection to Lewis’ explanation of freedom. If having a free will means being able to choose between good and evil, then does God have a free will?
On a cursory view of Lewis’ argument, it would seem that God does not have free will. We say that God is all-good. If that is the case, then there can be no evil in God. If there can be no evil in God, then it would be impossible for Him to choose evil. But on Lewis’ definition, having a free will means being able to choose between good and evil. So it would seem like God does not have a free will.
To address this problem, we need to make a few distinctions.
The first is that whenever we talk about attributes of God that are also found in humans like freedom, consciousness, thinking, etc, we must remember that we speak of these qualities in God only by analogy. We must remember that God is not a creature like us. He is the infinite and eternal Creator. There is no way we could fully comprehend how He lives and exists. But we have some idea because reflected in us are analogous qualities.
We are made in the image and likeness of God. Imagine a painter does a self portrait of himself. There are great similarities, but they are all analogous. If the painter drew a hand on the portrait, you could say that the picture has a “hand” in the sense of a two-dimensional drawing of an end of a limb that appears to have five digits. But it is only analogous the real hand which is made of flesh and blood, not paint and canvas. In the same way, our free will is similar to God’s free will, but ours is like the paint and canvas version of the Divine thing.
The second distinction we have to make is that Lewis is clearly only talking about freedom in human creatures and not God. If creatures are made by Goodness Itself, but these creatures are not Goodness Itself, and these creatures are free, then it must follow that if they are free they must have the real choice between good and evil. Lewis is not speaking here about freedom as applies to God.
So is God free?
The short answer is yes.