CHAPTER TWO

FREE CHOICE AND NECESSITY



First, then, there are some preliminaries that have to be discussed. At the outset, we must get into several philosophical questions: the difference between the fact that something "has to happen" because a fact is a fact, and so has to be the fact which it is, and that something has to happen because there are no real options except one. If the crucifixion didn't have to happen in this latter sense, this opens up the possibility that, though the crucifixion was prophesied, it was still possible for it not to occur.

Then we will have to discuss the relation of God to the world he created; how it can be free, and yet how he has control over it; also the relation of eternity to time, and how the future can affect the past (which we know actually has happened, as in prophesy).

The final philosophical preliminary will be an examination of what "good" and "bad" are, to show that from God's point of view there is simply limited reality, and that God has no ideals which "ought" to be realized.

Passing from there to Theology, the first thing we will have to do is examine whether the "Jesus of history" was or was not identical to the "Christ of faith": that is, if the fantastic tales of walking on water and so on actually happened or not. There is no point in trying to say what Jesus was claiming about the kingdom he was to rule over if what we have to go on are reports made over a hundred years after he died, full of all sorts of additions and interpolations from people who had no contact with him.

On the assumption that we can make out a case that what the Gospels report was what happened, I will then try to examine the Gospels from a point of view which does not use hindsight. That is, what would the open-minded, attentive listener (one who had "ears to hear") have understood Jesus to mean from what he was saying? What would Jesus himself have meant on the assumption that he intended eventually to have his claims as the Prince accepted, and would actually take the throne of Judea (that is, that the kingdom would be an actual political kingdom)?

I intend to begin with John's Report, since that is not only the one that gave me the basic insight I mentioned, but seems clearest in revealing that Jesus (a) knew from the beginning that he was the Prince, the descendant of David, (b) that he knew that he was God, (c) that he was gradually revealing what his proposal for the future of Israel was, (d) that he explicitly said that those who accepted him would not die, and in a context where he distinguished that from dying and coming back to life, (e) that his miracles had the definite function of proving that he was capable of doing whatever he said he could do.

In the light of this, I would like then to examine the Synoptic Gospels, to see how this intention of Jesus gives a different meaning to things like the analogies of the Kingdom and the Sermon on the Mount, which seems to have been the first manifesto of the new kingdom; and why the stories were necessary precisely so that people would hear and not understand.

Then I would like to discuss the Passion and the predictions of the Passion as how God coped with the actual second rejection of his grace by the representatives of mankind in the leaders of his Chosen People and the vicar of the ruler of the rest of the world, Pilate.

The thesis here is that Salvation History is the solution to what might be called two Divine Dilemmas posed by the two rejections of grace by mankind's legitimate representatives.

The first dilemma was this: the initial rejection of grace by the one who was the progenitor of the human race could not simply be ignored; and yet it was unjust to say that because Adam sinned, every single one of his descendants, if put in his place, would have committed the same sin, and so deserved a like expulsion from the face of God. The dilemma was solved by having Adam pass on to his descendants a rebellion of the animal aspect of humanity from the spiritual aspect (even to a final separation in death), which, though it made sin more likely, at the same time made redemption possible because the human was not, like Adam, in full control of information or his own impulses. No one's total personality is wrapped up in his sin, as we now exist; and so, unlike Satan, it is possible to transform us to a Godlike spirit once again without totally annihilating us.

The second dilemma was the rejection of the transformation back to the state Adam was in, which again could not go unacknowledged, but which did not mean that every person, either in Judea or in the pagan world (think of John himself or Joseph of Arimathea and Longinus, for example) collaborated in the rejection, still less that every future person would have joined the Jews or Pilate. And the solution to this dilemma was to leave death and suffering intact, but now to use this death and suffering as a uniting to the death and suffering of Jesus on the cross, so that (a) the salvation of mankind was won by Jesus' suffering, (b) Jesus prolonged himself by diffusing his life into others through the Eucharist, making them cells in a social body which was literally his body, and (c) the redemption bought on the cross was and is applied to each human being through and in the suffering of the cells of that mystical body, instead of having it simply vanish. And Revelation tells us that when that mystical body has all of its cells complete (and when the waste has all been sloughed off), then the condition of eternal bodily life without suffering will finally occur.

Thus, in one sense we are being punished for each of the rejections we gave God in our representatives: we are weak and lack complete control over ourselves, we suffer, and we die. But in each case, that punishment is itself the key to our restoration into a state of happiness and companionship with God: in the first case, because our weakness allows for the possibility of a change of mind, and in the second because the very suffering and death become redemptive, and the irrational takes on meaning.

The first thing, then, to clear up is whether the crucifixion had to happen. Here we must distinguish between the necessity that is a restatement of the Principle of Identity (A is necessarily A; a fact is what it is and can't be anything other than what it is) and the necessity that implies powerlessness over what a fact is to be.

Thus, I am now typing these words into my computer. Given that I am in fact typing them, it is impossible for me not to be typing them (i.e. impossible for me to be typing-them-when-not-typing-them). This is the necessity of a fact to be what it is, and simply acknowledges that facts are facts.

But this does not by any means imply that it is impossible for me to refuse to type the words. That is, typing these words depends on my choice, which is self-determining, and at any moment I may choose to stop typing. (I did in fact stop typing just after I wrote the word "determining," because something caught my eye out the window as I was thinking how to phrase the sentence.) This does not deny the first kind of necessity, of course, because if I choose to type (and carry out my choice) then it is impossible for me to type-while-not-typing. But it is possible for me not to type at all.

So in the sense in which I have control over what I am doing, it is even at this moment possible for me not to be typing; even though, since I am exercising my control and actually typing, it is not possible for me not to be typing (since I am in fact typing). These are two different senses of "possible," that is all.

That "necessity" connected with a fact's being what it is should not really be called a "necessity" at all, because there is really nothing necessary (in the sense of inevitable) about it; and to say that it is necessarily the case that if A is A, then A cannot not be A, uses "necessary" in a trivial instance as if it meant something other than that A is in fact A.

Hence, the fact that the crucifixion occurred does not mean that the crucifixion had to occur. It may be "necessary" in this trivial sense and not inevitable at all; and in fact it depended, clearly, on the free choices of the Jews and of Pilate. They could have chosen to free Jesus; and in fact, Jesus gave both of them an opportunity to do so by the way he gave or did not give his testimony; and the evangelists depict Pilate as wavering.

I am not going to try to establish here that we do in fact make free (that is, self-determining) choices. A person who denies this needs more than having certain philosophical points clarified. I refer him to my Modes of the Finite for a discussion of the subject of free choice versus determinism. For purposes of the present discussion we will simply take it as true that human choices have real options open to them and that any one of the known options can be chosen. In other words, we have control over which option we choose; nothing makes it inevitable that we choose one option over another; and so in that sense the option we choose does not have to be chosen.

Therefore, there is nothing in the actual situation of the crucifixion that indicates that it was inevitable; and the fact that Jesus prayed for it not to happen "if it is possible" indicates that he saw that in some sense it was not a foregone conclusion. Granted, there are other interpretations for this (e.g. that he knew it was inevitable, but was terrified of it); but his prayer certainly supports the contention that he thought the worst could be avoided.

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