Jeremy Christian: Image of God and Free Will?

Paul Ricoeur, a twentieth century French philosopher best known for combining phenomenological description with hermeneutics, argued that there is no defined meaning of the Imago Dei, or at the very least the author of Genesis 1 “certainly did not master at once all its implicit wealth of meaning.”

He went on to say that “In the very essence of the individual, in terms of its quality as a subject; the image of God, we believe, is the very personal and solitary power to think and to choose; it is interiority.” He eventually concluded that the Image of God is best summed up as free will.

I have a slightly different perspective that’s very close. I have argued here before that the pre-Adam humans were distinct from Adam’s line in that they did not have free will. That free will was introduced into the world through Adam.

So in this light, can Imago Dei be speaking of the “interiority” of Gen6 humans? So that humans who do not have a will free of God’s will are therefore an accurate ‘image’ of God in thinking/behaving, reflecting, representing God’s will? A true image of God?


I’m assuming that there would be no way for an observer to distinguish people with free will from people without free will. Is that correct?


Only in behavior.

That’s what I was talking about. OK, so their behavior would be different. In what way? How would you recognize them?

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What behavior? How do you distinguish the free agent from the p-zombie?

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The problem here is that “free will” is not a rigorous scientific concept and even theologians and philosophers have much disagreement on what it means. So, I don’t see any scientific experiment on human behavior being widely accepted by anyone. (Edit: I mean with regards to its philosophical consequences for free will.)

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Well, from a biblical context, you could look for behavior that’s more consistent with what Jesus described…
Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Homo Sapiens, up until the dawn of the first civilizations, held no regard for possessions. Just shared amongst the tribe.

It is said sin entered into the world through Adam. So the beginnings of all the behaviors later deemed sin by the commandments started then and there. Stealing possessions from others, coveting what others have, killing. War. Aggression.

From a philosophical perspective, living consistent with God’s behavior would mean you exist in harmony with the natural world around you. So the distinction would be the point at which humanity stopped living in harmony with nature and began to instead inflict their will on it.

To be clear here, what I’m looking for is Hebrew/Theology contextual consistency. Does this definition fit/conflict?

That seems to imply people who don’t follow the bible either don’t have free will, or that if they follow the bible less they have a lesser degree of freedom?

Are you a YEC? Because if not, I’m pretty sure our animal ancestors “coveted” each other’s possessions for much longer than whenever it is you think Adam first sinned. Hyenas seem to covet the lion’s latest kills.

Presumably they did so even before Adam sinned?

This harmony with nature idea is difficult to grapple with, without a more rigorous definition.

How do you tell the difference between harmony and not? And at what point does it cross over from “harmony” to “inflicting my will”? What I mean is, if I till the ground to plant seeds in it, am I not in some sense inflicting my will on it already? If I hunt and kill an animal for food, or pluck a fruit to eat it, am I not inflicting my will on those too? Have I not already altered something in nature that would have turned out different if I had not?

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So free will is the same thing as sin?

I believe you have him backwards. It’s the sinners who have free will, and it’s those who follow God’s rules who lack it. Free will, apparently, is a bad thing.

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Not at all. Free will gives us all the greatest things of humanity. It’s just it also makes sin possible. It’s not all bad. It’s a powerful responsibility.

Well, I for one don’t think there is any such thing, and Jeremy’s idea of free will seems to be idiosyncratic in the extreme. So there may be no point of contact between either of us and any of the usual concepts of free will.

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Does that mean God doesn’t have free will either?

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It’s a powerful responsibility that God didn’t want us to have, right? It’s the result of Adam’s sin, disobedience to God. And Jesus wants us to live like the pre-Adamites did, the ones who lacked free will. That, at least, is what you said. So if we’re supposed to live as if we lacked it, why is free will not bad?

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A free will, at least in the context I am speaking, is a will apart from God’s. All of the natural world and everything in it behaves exactly according to God’s will. God’s will is one and the same as natural law. We humans are the only thing in all of the known universe to behave contrary to God’s will/natural law.

After 100,000’s years of human existence, 6000 years ago in the cradle of civilization, there was a distinct shift in behavior. Male dominance. War. Class stratification. All of what humanity is best and most well known for now didn’t used to be in our nature at all.

I am not a YEC. There’s nothing wrong with survival in the natural world. All life was commanded to be fruitful and multiply, and that’s what life does. But there’s a definite shift in the normal behavior patterns of humanity where/when Adam showed up.

The Sumerians talk about it as well. The “gifts of civilization” that the gods brought to them that birthed civilization also included things like a distinction between “truth” and “falsehood”, “the troubled heart”. - Me (mythology) - Wikipedia

Farming is still within harmony of nature. You’re working with nature, not against it.

You’re right. I have found over the years through discussions that my view is unique.

I think of it in the context of what we know scientifically. If all we as humans are is the product of the physical elements of our physical brains, then there cannot be free will. All actions and behaviors can only be determined by the natural law that governs the behavior of those elements. In this context each of our lives, we can be no more than passive observers, with no real control over what we do. Doomed to live out whatever our make-up/chemistry/genetics determined before we took our first breath. Yet, under the illusion throughout that we actually are deciding our course according to our own volition.

Free will is the element that elevates this life and gives it purpose and meaning. But it’s simply not possible in a purely material world. And in that context, with free will being an element that doesn’t stay in harmony with the environment it exists in, it can and often will be destructive.

No, Adam/Eve could not have done what God commanded was forbidden if they did not already have free will. They were created with free will. The whole garden scenario is basically a controlled experiment to test His new creation and its new capability.

The trick is to behave within God’s will while still having free will. That’s what Jesus accomplished that none of the rest of us can.

God basically made each of us creators. We’re each able to create and add things to this existence that are not “of God” but that are “of us”. That’s a big responsibility. And it has to be wielded responsibly. That’s what this whole life experiment is about in my view. A means to create free will.

But apparently the only way we can spot free will is to notice people behaving badly, since all the signs of it you noted are of that sort. Free will in agreement with God’s will is invisible, since it’s indistinguishable from non-free-will. Is that right?


Let me give you some insight into the shift in behavior I’m referring to. The Ubaid period is the first archaeological period of the Sumerian civilization. Ubaid is at ground zero as far as the geography of Genesis describes. It is here that this shift began as the people of the Ubaid were the people in the background of the early stories of Genesis …

“The Ubaid period as a whole, based upon the analysis of grave goods, was one of increasingly polarised social stratification and decreasing egalitarianism.” - Ubaid period - Wikipedia

Elites and Social Stratification

In the 1990s, Ubaid was considered a fairly egalitarian society, and it is true that social ranking is not very apparent in any Ubaid site. Given the presence of elaborated pottery in the early period, and public architecture in the later, however, that doesn’t seem very likely, and archaeologists have recognized subtle cues which appear to support the subdued presence of elites even from Ubaid 0, although it’s possible that elite roles might have been transitory early on.

By Ubaid 2 and 3, there is clearly a shift in labor from decorated single pots to an emphasis on public architecture, such as buttressed temples, which would have benefited the entire community rather than a small group of elites. Scholars suggest that might have been a deliberate action to avoid ostentatious displays of wealth and power by elites and instead highlight community alliances. That suggests that power depended on alliance networks and control of local resources. - Ubaidian Culture and the Roots of Mesopotamia