Dabar [theme]

He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou find refuge: His truth is a shield and buckler
Psalms 91:4

Be it ours,when we cannot see the face of God, to trust under the shadow of His wings. C.H. Spugeon

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Freedom of Faith


"Such freedom is united with destiny in such a way that the psychological material which enters into the moral act represents the pole of destiny, while the deliberating and deciding self represents the pole of freedom..."

Is it to be inferred that the psychological make-up, the pole of destiny is predetermined or is it in essence the decisions made which reveal the character of the individual? I would also like to know if this means those decisions which reflect on the concept of self-fulfilling prophecy? I mean our nature forecasting our failures and successes because we have an inherent bent? That would mean that the pole of freedom is the new direction and parameters of faith in God liberating the person from past inclinations to a redeemed existence without the fears alienating them from their true self? Am I out-to-lunch? This is what I asked of Tracy Whitham on his blog, Tillich on Transcendence @ http://metaponderance.blogspot.com/ His complete answer is available at that link and is called Tillich on Freedom and Humanity. The take on his blog is towards agape love, mine is towards faith, so I have quoted his blog and used the thoughts as they apply to a discussion of faith.

"Instead of separating the spirit from the conditioning psychological realm, we shall try to describe the rise of an act of the spirit out of a constellation of psychological factors. Every act of the spirit presupposes given psychological material and, at the same time, constitutes a leap which is possible only for a totally centered self, that is to say, one that is free." (Systematic Theology, Vol. III, p. 27.)

John Stuart asked for a clarification of this uniting of destiny and freedom in Tillich's thought--above, "the conditioning psychological realm" and "the rise of an act of the spirit out of a constellation of psychological factors." Specifically, he was interested in whether destiny is predetermined or character influences choices.

Here is Tillich taking that question head on:

"...the whole complex of acts, in which this [act of choosing] happens has the character of freedom, not freedom in the bad sense of indeterminacy (vague or imprecise) of an act of the will, but freedom in the sense of a total reaction of a centered self which deliberates and decides. Such freedom is united with destiny in such a way that the psychological material which enters into the moral act represents the pole of destiny, while the deliberating and deciding self represents the pole of freedom, according to the ontological polarity of freedom and destiny." (Vol. III, p. 28.) My choices are determined by the point of view that leads to that choice.

In an ordinary spatial frame of reference we have up/down, near/far, left/right. We do not ask whether these "opposites" exclude each other. We understand that they describe poles within a complete frame of reference. In the same way that we cannot have a meaningful sense of "right" without "left" in a physical space we cannot have a meaningful sense of freedom without destiny as its pole in Tillich's formulation of the reality of freedom in human life. If I make a "choice" for no reason, it is a meaningless freedom, a vacuous choice. If my choice is constituted by a meaning that determines it, it cannot be viewed in the traditional way as being incompatible with determinism. In fact, to be meaningful, freedom must be compatible with determinism. But how?

Determinism is the doctrine that all actions are determined by the current state and immutable laws of the universe, with no possibility of choice. Each state, condition or decision depends and is limited by the immediately previous state, condition or decision. Choice and/or freedom is narrowed by the determined variables which exist after each decision. In this is developed the concept of fate and destiny. In reality, we are taught and we learn of consequence through either pleasure or pain. Each consequence of a decision affirms and/or limits the following decision based upon our desire to enhance our pleasure or our determination to avoid pain. As philosophical viewpoints, “ … free-will and determinism, as actual creeds, will probably always be …, postulates of rationality, namely, different assumptions which different thinkers make, … to cast the world into what seems … the most intelligible form.” "What we say about reality depends on the perspective into which we throw it. The that of it is its own; but the what depends on the which; and the which depends on us."

John asked a great question precisely because it requires us to get beyond this impasse where the discussion traditionally stalls. Here's the further question that will help us specify how freedom is manifest in the framework of destiny and the "rise of an act of the spirit" by which a choice is made: What constitutes the cognitive space in which the pole of freedom manifests itself?

Since Tillich does not confront this question specifically--and it is this question that will allow us to best understand his perspective on freedom--I will: we can always go to a further logical level of understanding or explore further in the present psychological and cognitive context, or seek out another person's advice. That is, we are free because our cognitive/psychological frame of reference is open.

This is where faith comes in, a means by which the cognitive/psychological frame of reference is affirmed through a belief system which either allows for the continuance of current, accepted, and possibly dysfunctional behavior or a radical change in the frame of reference upon realization the old forms where ineffective in dealing wholesomely with life's challenges and the awareness of a need for a new frame of reference. Romans 3:3, "For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?" The faith-frame must be active in the Christian context or it becomes atheistic by intent; not trusting in the love and promises of God and devalues the love of God to mere rhetoric.
At any impasse in the decision-making process -- the God variable, those things evident in faith, hope and love -- hold the ability to remove the shackles of memory, situation, and circumstance and open the heart, mind and soul to the vista of possibilities existing within the realm of God’s purposes for those He loves. The change comes as a result of faith, faith which is unresolved until action is taken. This is contrary to our conditioned response to the ambiguities previously experienced “ … in voluntary action … (where) the act is foreseen from the very first. The idea of it always precedes its execution. This … is the sine qua non (an
essential or indispensable element or condition) and essence of every voluntary action. And it is an immediate consequence of this that no act can possibly be voluntary the first time it is performed. Until we have done it … we have no idea (the outcome) … and do not know in what direction to set our will … One cannot will into the void." Faith in God never calls us to step into a void, we cannot walk anywhere where the grace of God has not already provided safe passage.

“The important point comes in here: at any point in time doesn't the view of freedom reduce to the perspective that determines it, and if not, then doesn't it reduce to an act of freedom separated from that which determines it” ...in other words faith that is active strives to attain “the growth of the will out of a blind impulsive soil.” Faith requires that the volitional and psychological motivations of an acquired memory and of action premised by the pre-existing mind-set to be continually evaluated based upon the new revelation of God, and that revelation affecting the strictures created by the past and offering a new hope for the future, leaving aside the bondage of previous life experiences. A new set of memories; a new framework, is being created to move a person to the very real understanding of a God Who loves in the context of a world fraught with pain and suffering. “For we are not given a Spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

Faith says, “Be my reality, however disagreeable you may prove,” and declares my “fiat”, the authoritative command or order; the word, so that faith is realized to its full extent. This is not blindness to the realities of the consequences of decisions, but the actuation of faith, believing that above all consequence, God's love is real and in that love, He will never fail, in whatever context you wish to place that promise. As we fill our minds with the thought of God's love for us the will becomes acutely invigorated towards the effort and exercise of faith, intensely and fixedly believing in the permanency of that love. In this we are free. This is part of an ongoing and active evaluation of all of life based on a belief that "through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come, t'was grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home ..." The effort of will required for faith consists then, like all other efforts of the will, in the forcible, fatal holding fast to an incongenial, incompatible, otherworldly idea or notion of what our perceived life is to be; a life which transcends the frail and temporal. Faith enables the will to act and decide in light of what is not known as a consequence, on the strength of the steadfastness of God's love. Faith allows a life to be not imprisoned in the present or the past, but, holding to the promise of the love of God that views " .. our light affliction, which is but for a moment, (as) working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,..." The imprisonment of the prior conditioning psychological realm is shattered by the reality of living life within the love of God, and believing that in that love “… all things work for good …” “The will, mentally considered, (and acting upon faith and belief), is consent(ing) to a fact ..., a fact in which we ourselves may play an active, a neutral or a suffering part. The fact always appears to us in an idea; and it is willed by its idea becoming victorious over internal and external ideas and remaining in stable possession of the mind. It is a fact that as a consequence of faith we act.”

… What if the breaks themselves should prove at last
The most consummate of contrivances
To train a man's eye, teach him what is faith?
And so we stumble at truth's very test!
All we have gained then by our unbelief
Is a life of doubt diversified by faith,
For one of faith diversified by doubt:…


… Belief or unbelief
Bears upon life, determines its whole course,
Begins at its beginning. See the world
Such as it is,--you made it not, nor I;
I mean to take it as it is,--and you,
Not so you'll take it,--though you get nought else.
I know the special kind of life I like,
What suits the most my idiosyncrasy,
Brings out the best of me and bears me fruit
In power, peace, pleasantness and length of days.
I find that positive belief does this
For me, and unbelief, no whit of this ….


… "Believe!"--I say, faith is my waking life:
One sleeps, indeed, and dreams at intervals,
We know, but waking's the main point with us
And my provision's for life's waking part.
Accordingly, I use heart, head and hand
All day, I build, scheme, study, and make friends;
And when night overtakes me, down I lie,
Sleep, dream a little, and get done with it,
The sooner the better, to begin afresh.
What's midnight doubt before the dayspring's faith? (Browning)




The only thing which no theory, no printed directions, can teach us is how to will. What faith might do, what faith might have done had it exercised the will in the path God had set before us; what faith shall do, depends on the inalienable centered-self of each individual, and that center being found in the understanding of the love of God.

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