Freedom of Choice Between Right and Wrong (2)
Thank you, Dr. Zaheer. Your responses are consistently well-presented, with good understanding. You are a good voice for God’s wisdom as presented in the Quran, and I have learned more about God from your sharing of that wisdom.
I do not mean to be stubborn and unaccepting of God’s love, nor do I intend to lack humility toward him or his works. But I am troubled by this conflict more than most any other I know in our understanding of God. I hope I can communicate with you what is central to that conflict for me.
We know that God is perfectly Good. There is no evil in him. Because he is good and wise, he has given man (and djin, etc.) the freedom of choice whereby their decisions are not determined by his will but by the will of the individual. I think this free and independent will is what sets us apart as beings created in “the image of God”; for we may say that our choices, and hence, our actions, are not at God’s will (usually) but at our own will.
I think we are in agreement about the importance and goodness of free will. We are not in agreement about how it is possible to choose to do wrong. You seem to believe that man is created by his good God in perfect goodness, without sin or vice, and yet he may somehow come to choose sin or vice. Let’s take an example and see if that helps.
Young Cassimir is an Armenian peasant who has found one of his neighbours lost sheep and is bound by law and conscience to return the sheep to its owner, but if instead he takes the sheep to his own herd, no-one but he and God will likely ever know the difference. He must choose which course of action to take. (Other choices are available, such as just leaving the sheep to die or find its way into one herd or another, but these choices too will be either good or bad to some degree; so we will focus on the two clear choices of right and wrong.)
You and I will both agree, I think, that Cassimir is able to know what he should do in this instance of decision, and we certainly agree that God has granted him a free Will by which to make a decision.
If God has made Cassimir a truly good and just person, I see no way in which Cassimir can choose to do wrong. Not that he isn’t free to do so, but he simply can have no desire to do wrong if he is truly good and just; it contradicts his essential nature. He desires to do good in all things and even in a conflicted situation will choose the most right or the least wrong.
But Cassimir, like all men, is not truly good and just. He is “kind of” good and just, he is a decent man who can be torn by such decisions as this with the sheep. Our truly good and loving God has made Cassimir, and all of us, imperfectly good and just, capable of desiring to do wrong, capable of desiring evil. What is truly (purely) good, if given free will, will choose only what is good or best. What we choose, you see, reveals what we are, what is in our soul. We cannot choose evil if evil is not in us to begin with. This is why I say that our good God has made us both good and evil when he could surely have made us good and loving, and still have given us free will. Perhaps it serves God’s good Will that we be imperfect in our moral fiber. We may certainly make that argument.
But I do not believe we can argue that God made us perfectly good, and that we perfectly good beings desire or choose to do bad things. That is an untenable conflict to me. You say that “Man knows right from wrong but still chooses the latter because of its immediate temptations. God hasn’t created evil. He is the creator of only goodness.” It is clear that we disagree here. It is not free Will that creates the possibility of evil coming into existence through our bad choices. We cannot make bad choices, and would have absolutely no desire to, if we are created of “only goodness.” Evil action can only manifest from evil choice, and evil choice can only arise from evil nature. Therefore, we cannot be purely good, for we do not desire or choose or act perfectly good. God has made us both good and evil, and the moral conflict in which we live our lives arises from that duality within our soul.
I hope you see what truly bothers me now. I have tried to express as clearly as I can the way my mind understands the foundations of good and evil, right and wrong. It is not the freedom of our Will, but the impurity of it that leads to our misdeeds.
Thanks for exposing the weakness in my previous answer. I do acknowledge that it wasn’t completely satisfactory.
Let’s take the example of our Armenian friend first. If he returns the animal to the rightful owner, he does the ideal thing. If he keeps it to himself, he is doing something evil. But that’s not about all. Even while he keeps the sheep to himself, he can have regrets in his heart. Even by returning the animal to his neighbour, he could boast of for making the right choice to others and spoil the good effect of his correct decision.
What I am saying is that man has a variety of choices at his disposal and he is expected to go for the right, or let’s say the better, ones. Not only that, he himself has a ‘bias’ for the right choices in that even if he goes for the wrong ones he carries regrets in his heart. That’s one aspect of what I meant when I claimed that God is the creator of good and has desired, and arranged for man, to succeed in the struggle.
Had our friend Cassimir been designed to return the sheep to his neighbour and not doing so would have been no possibility for him, he would not have been in a state of test. If not a robot, he would have been an angel. The fact that he had the possibility of doing the wrong act was an option for him caused him to do it. The fact that he felt guilty even after doing it meant that he was ‘designed’ to be good. The fact that despite his bias for goodness, he had the possibility of doing bad meant that he was going through a fair test.
The important thing to appreciate is the role of free decision-making ability of Cassimir. If he cannot complain that he was forced by someone else to commit the moral error and continued with his decision despite his conscience pricking him, he has only to blame himself. If he would complain that despite knowing the act to be bad, he was compelled by his circumstances to go for it, his God would know if he was saying the right thing. And if the merciful God would know that his appeal had substance, He would give consideration to it.
What are the prominent causes of evil in this world? Probably they are love for wealth, ego, and sex. None of them is an evil per se. Wealth is a manifestation of worldly possessions. If leaning towards it is kept within limits, it is a blessing. Ego, within its limits, causes one to have self respect. Sex is a means of human reproduction and a reason why husband and wife are attracted towards each other. In other words, what we normally condemn as causes of evil aren’t really evil. They all have good roles to play in life. It’s only their misuse that causes them to be evil. Their misuse is also the consequence of freedom of choice man has been given. That freedom too is a great blessing, because it is through the proper exercise of it that man is going to enter the paradise. Without it this life would have been mechanical, insipid, and meaningless.
If you ask: Was it not God who caused excessive love of wealth, ego, and sex in man, I would say this: God caused the positive love of all these elements to be there in man and designed a law that if he is going to indulge in misusing these elements, he will get more deeper in desiring them and causing himself to become evil. I am proposing that this law doesn’t implicate God in creating evil. You are claiming that in making the possibility of evil available to man, God’s involvement in it cannot be denied. I think it’s now a difference of semantics. If we agree with the basic theme, let’s also agree that each of us has a right to describe it in his own way.