The introduction gave us the biblical foundation for the discussion of the image of God. Before going into the view that sees free-will as the image of God, I would like to stress one thing. When we speak on the “image of God”, we are not going to be emphasizing the creature-Creator distinction. This is not to say that this is disregarded, for it is, in truth, an essential doctrine. But the very nature of the discussion is drawing our attention to the creature-Creator connection. We are wanting to know in what sense man is created in the “likeness of God”.
Can free-will be the image of God? It is a common conception, especially of those in
the semi-Palagian and Palagian (1) camps, that the creature-Creator connection is the free-will of man. As God has free-will, so God has given to man this characteristic. It it free-will that makes man superior to the beast. It is free-will that is the key to man’s destiny; whether he will choose good and blessedness, or choose evil and the consequent judgments. This notion of free-will being the image of God in man, however, has a few internal difficulties as well as a lack of Biblical support. Those who are of a Pelagian bent tend to see the image of God as constituting free-will to support their already assumed theodicy. The argument seems to be more an assumption than something arrived at through investigation of Biblical texts. It is posed in this manner, “God has free-will and man has free-will. Therefore, free-will is the image of God”. But this simply begs the question.
Besides begging the question, this view has some internal inconsistencies. The most obvious internal inconsistency is if God has free-will, man cannot also have free-will given the meaning of “freedom” to begin with. Those who hold that God, in His freedom, made a being who in turn thwarts the free-will of God, is, to say the least, problematic. Does God give up His freedom to give man free-will? To suppose He does, for the sake of argument, only demonstrates this cannot possibly be the image of God since God Himself ends up losing the attribute of free-will. And how, then, could man be said to be created in the likeness of God? As theologian and philosopher Gordon Clark says in relation to this, “[I]f man were free, God could not confront him imperiously, from which Feuerbach had already deduced atheism, and modernism had deified man.” (2)
The point is simple: If man has free-will to frustrate God in His purposes, man’s will- not God’s will – is established. Man’s will, then, is ultimate, not God’s. And from this proposition atheism has flourished, and from it likewise man has been seen as his own god determining for himself good and evil.
The second problem is the ambiguity of the word “free-will”. If it means the ability to choose between two incompatible courses of action then the above refutation stands. If it means freedom to act outside of one’s nature then not even God has that freedom. God cannot lie, cannot become weak, and cannot speak in contradictory propositions. Man, by his constitution after the fall cannot will to do something that is outside if his natural bent. Man before and after the fall was determined by his nature. The difference now is that since the fall, man has become corrupted in all his faculties so he is free only to do that which is evil. Man is said to be “born in sin” (Ps. 51:5) and speaking lies as soon as he is born (Ps. 58:3)
The above establishes this conclusion: Free-will is not the image of God in man. It must be sought elsewhere. The next one that shall be examined is “Language and Creativity”: Is it the image of God?
(1) The works of Gordon Clark, vol. IV, page 309