Fate, Luck, and Divine Will
For one thing, although human beings can surely will, they can never know why they will, at least not completely. You may will, but you cannot will whatever you wish.
For example, all the will power in the world will not make you attracted to people or things that don't attract you. Or, if you do will it, you will just be running roughshod over parts of the psyche that want other things. Man is usually at cross purposes with himself, but could this be true of God? It seems impossible that there could be one part of God that wants one thing, and another part that wants something else. There are distinctions in God, but no divisions.
Being that we are in the image of the Creator, there must be some manner in which our will is analogous to God's. Perhaps it is just that we possess free will at all, conflicted though it may be. All other animals may will, but they do not will freely. They do not consciously entertain choices, much less between good and evil.
But there is a part of man that transcends this or that choice of action, and chooses between them. It would be extremely problematic to attribute this kind of free will to God -- as if there is an array of choices before him, and he chooses this or that one.
To the extent that freedom exists, it comes from above, not below, for the converse is impossible. The higher we travel up the vertical, the more freedom; the lower down, the less. In all of creation, human beings obviously possess the most freedom, at least until the left vanquishes the last remnant of it.
Since the source of our freedom is above, this would imply that God is absolute freedom. But what could absolute freedom mean, and how is it to be distinguished from complete arbitrariness? In other words, absolute freedom seems to devolve to absolute nihilism, which is one of the central points of the existentialists -- that man is condemned to freedom.
John Duns Scotus concluded that "Because God is absolutely free, everything that He does and effects has the character of nonnecessity, of being in a particular sense 'accidental' (contingent)" (Pieper). In other words, since God is radical freedom, there can be no "necessary reasons" for anything he does, which begins to sound more like madness than divinity.
Indeed, as Pieper says, the word "arbitrary" is "almost too mild a term for this will, which is conceived as being completely unconditioned by 'grounds' in the sense of reasons." God is radically spontaneous, like a free jazz musician, with no chords and no melody and no fans.
This then comes close to the Islamic view of a God that is completely beyond any human ability to know, and who simply "doeth what he will." Perhaps not surprisingly, this also comes close to a description of the ontology of psychosis, in that for the psychotic person, each moment is a kind of catastrophic novelty that comes out of "nowhere" and never ends. In other words, it is "eternal catastrophe," if such an oxymoron may be permitted.
To a large extent, this is the dilemma that Thomas attempted to resolve, for ultimately it comes down to how we may reconcile the vertical and horizontal, faith and reason, heaven and earth, transcendence and immanence. For a brief historical moment, the cosmic center "held" in the synthesis of Thomas, only to fly apart again shortly after his death.
This has led to the general situation of, on the one hand, fideism without intelligence, and on the other, intellectualism without intellect -- or, to the needless polarization of scientism and religionism. This is the great battle of the concrete and literal-minded for the soul of man. Little do they know that they are pulling on the same end of the rope civilization is at the end of.
Dennis Prager's most recent column discusses the element of blind luck in one's life. He writes that the older he gets, the more he appreciates just how large a role it plays:
"Let's begin with life itself. Whether one lives to 62 -- or to 92 (my father's age) -- and whether in health or in sickness is largely a matter of luck. I strongly believe in taking care of one's health, but for most people, living long and in good health is a matter of good luck. My wife's sister died of cancer at 35. The brother of my radio show's producer died of a brain tumor at 57. Friends of mine lost their son at the age of 13."
For some reason, many religious people are uncomfortable with the idea of luck -- one will often hear the banality that "everything happens for a reason," or that "there are no accidents." If there were no accidents, then we couldn't know it, because we would be programmed like robots, with no freedom to even entertain that possibility. Conversely, if God is radical freedom, then there is no reason for what he does -- or certainly no reason man could understand, and we're back wid' allah 'dat nonsense.
"As a religious person myself, I reject this outlook. Are we to believe that God chose every one of Mao's 75 million victims to die? That He willed the deaths of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust? That every person who suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease or Multiple Sclerosis was chosen by God to suffer until death?
"That may indeed be the case. But for those of us who do not believe in such a God -- and I respect those who do -- all these people simply had terrible luck. I am alive because my grandparents came to America instead of staying in Eastern Europe, where they would have almost certainly been murdered in the Holocaust. They were lucky . And if one insists that they were wise rather than lucky, that somehow they realized that calamity awaited them in Russia and Poland, then my parents and I were lucky that they were wise" (Prager).
To be continued....