Thursday, October 18, 2007

More free will... this time with special guest, Jonah!

After the previous post about free will, I started thinking about stories of prophets from the Bible. Lucky for me, they also happen to be mentioned in the Quran so it makes it that much easier to converse with both sides. Initially, I began by recalling the story of Jonah (Yunus in Islam.)

Although God had given Jonah free will, He still had a plan for him. God wanted Jonah to go to Ninevah, a large city that was full of sin and sinners, and warn them against their wrong deeds. Jonah didn't want to do this and attempted to escape his God-given responsibilities. He tries to run away and sail to another country when the ship he had hired hit a great storm. Once the sailors realize that Jonah is the cause of the storm and there's no other escape, they throw him overboard and the waters calm. Jonah is then swallowed by a great fish where he is stranded for three days and eventually repents and asks for God's forgiveness. The fish then spits Jonah onto the shore where he fulfills his duty and prophesies to Ninevah (there's a little more to the story but it doesn't apply to this conversation.)

In this story we see that God has chosen Jonah for a particular role. However, Jonah, being a man, has the gift of free will. His will just happens to oppose God's will, as is evidenced by his attempted escape. However, Jonah's will is feeble compared to God's will and Jonah's greatest attempt to avoid God's calling is a joke compared to God's overarching dominion of the universe. God didn't impose on Jonah's will by simply changing his desire to avoid his responsibility. Jonah's will remained intact and God simply reminded him that God knows best and man doesn't.

It actually kind of reminds me of a parent-child relationship. The parent knows best but the child sometimes rebels. When the parent makes a child eat vegetables, the child's will remains unchanged but even the strongest, most stubborn child will give in given enough time and coercion. God has a plan for each of us; we can make decisions to resist that plan and rebel but given enough time and coercion, we'll bend and accept God's will.

Obviously, many people are more than happy to accept God's will from the beginning. Our free will still gets in the way and we rebel from time to time but when one's will aligns with God's will, your spiritual life should go smoothly even though you might have to occasionally withstand the slings and arrows of a cruel, secular world.

This brings up a related question, though. If we all eventually give in to God's overpowering will, why wouldn't everyone eventually go to Heaven? I think that God's always pushing and prying us to follow Him, which provides the coercion, so eventually everyone would come to the truth. However, since man has only a finite lifespan, those who are stubborn enough can make it through their whole life without listening to God's constant call. To go back to the parent-child analogy, if the child is stubborn enough, eventually the evening has passed and it's bedtime. If the vegetables are still sitting on the plate and the kid's still sitting at the table, you've got to give up, accept defeat, and send the kid to bed.

However, this theory somewhat contradicts "whomever Allah guides, there is none who can lead them astray and whomever Allah leads astray, there is none who can guide them." This implies that there are some people whom God completely refuses the prospect of Heaven. This means that God is not calling all people and it's up to each individual person to choose to follow God. This means that some people are called by God and others are turned away. Those who are called are already accepted into Heaven and those who aren't can't ever attain Heaven regardless of their wills. I find this hard to accept.

My frequent (and possibly only) reader Azooz commented on my last post with a story about a smart farmer with 6 sons, the father can "predict" how each one will perform in a situation and thus chose among them - each son would have characteristics and behaviors and from those the father could "guess" fairly well how each would behave, God created it all, the father and his sons, and would know beater than all.

This makes sense to me. God created us all and knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what we'll think, what we'll say, and how we'll act long before we do. In this case, God's not choosing to guide or lead astray but, rather, He's simply not wasting time on those who won't accept His guidance. He truly wants everyone to follow him but, because He gave man the option not to, He knows many will refuse Him and go their own way.

I can accept this but I still don't think this explanation quite meshes with the "whomever Allah..." phrase. We'll have to think about it some more.


Anonymous said...

Your attempt to compare the Bible and Koran is admirable but ignores the historical origin of both.

The Old Testament was written by many different human authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit over a period of some 1500 years and the New Testament also had several inspired human authors over a period of 40 years.

The Koran was written entirely by Muhammed hundreds of years after the New Testament and draws heavily from the Jewish Old Testament and Nestorian (an early Christian heresy) interpretations of the New and Old Testaments.

Rather than comparing the two, you would be better off looking at the historical origins and then decide which to trust. In my case I chose to trust the Bible rather than the Koran because it (the Bible) is historically older, more diverse, and better attested in early manuscripts.

Azooz said...

A see that Azooz needs to mind his grammar and spelling more - and I also "predict" that my comments will be lost in the crowd when your blog becomes popular in 3 to 6 months God willing :)

Welcome Anonymous, and I am glad to see a knowlegable Christian here to even things out, and hope to see more.

I go by the Arabic Quran, no human can write anything like it, it has never been equaled and can never be equaled - I know this for sure on a language basis alone, and history has proved this to date. Please do not say it was written by a goat herder, that just upsets the poets :)

The stories of the prophets are not the same, Johna's (pbuh) free will was not tested, it was his patiance that was tested - long story but his people were late for an an apointment with him, again and again. One thing to notice, the Quran also states that Johna (pbuh) was in the whale's mouth not his belly.

It also goes to the two meaning of the word "chosen" - most of the the messengers and prohets "chose" themselves first by leading good lives and haveing (or searching) for faith. God "choses" the best of all humans as his messengers - they "chose" to be the best in - He judges who is best.

>>If we all eventually give in to
>>God's overpowering will, why
>>wouldn't everyone eventually
>>go to Heaven?
Thou Shall Not Murder, and a few other Shalls and shall nots - His will, His orders - go by them and your are safe from hell, stick closer to them and you will be safer, those "chosen" were very very carefull to mind the rules. The going to bed part is great example, I do not like vegetables much but it pleases mom to see me eat them :)

The farmer again, what son of his would he chose to send to buy a cow? - or he tells all his sons not to look at his neighbors daughter - the sons can change to the better or the worst on the spur of a moment, free choice - their choice to honor their father is theirs alone.

>>"whomever Allah..." phrase
Those that God guides: all humans have within them the rules - all know wrong from right, wherever and whenever they are born. This is called Fitrah (instinct) like a baby knowing how to drink milk or a bea knowing to get honey. Humans also have the ability to "misguide" themselves and listen to other orders to do wrong, they have the free will to either obey or disobey - God gives us both. A person's knowing right from wrong does not mean doing right, but when they do they have God to thank for it.

Do not let it go, stick to it till you have it down firm, you will always have more questions that well show up when any are answered - always. One question I gave up on myself was the one about "reality" in the Quran - it still makes my head ache - you might explain it to me some day.


Azooz said...

The Quran's version of many of the prophet's stories differs from the older versions. The daughters of Lot (pbuh), for example, are mentioned in the Quran - but when he offers the men "his daughters" he was telling the men to marry the women of his city, for when an old man speaks of "daughters" that is what it means and he would have called them sisters if he were younger.

The differences are are many between the holy books, Muslims accept the Bible and Torah but the Quran is what Muslims accept. When there is something mentioned in other books but not mentioned in the Quran we do not deny it nor accept it.

The story of Jonah (pbuh) in the Quran is not about free will and he did not refuse being "chosen", he was just a bit too impatient with the people of Ninevah (Nay-na-wah) - they all accepted him as God's messenger later on as did many others.

This opens the question of the messengers chosen at birth, Jesus (pbuh) - it has to do with why his mother (pbuh) was "the best women in all creation" according to the Quran but takes pages to explain, but Jesus to was tested, as were they all.

You will notice that the Quran groups some of them in certain verses for common charecteristices - Lot for example is in the "Good" catagory (Salih-een), we are never to think "bad" of him in any way, for it means that he was tested in very deep ways that may not be all known to us and did very well as judged by God. Johnah was loved by his people and is highly praised in Hadeeth, so he did well to in the end.

The Quranic stories of the messengers are explained fully in books called Qasas alanbiya (stories of the prophets) - these collect, reflect and merge all the mentions and "hints" of them in the Quran. They differ from the "tafesser" only in that they are purely about the prophets, and make great reading.