The Christian Perspective

Matthew 23:37 has Christ lamenting over Jerusalem, saying, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!"

A claim frequently made is that Christ, God the Son, wants something in particular, and yet because the people of Jerusalem wanted the opposite, Christ does not get what He wants. Many argue that this means humans are not controlled by Christ, who is God, and that we are capable of doing things in opposition to His overarching plan.

In other words, we have free-will.

It seems to me that the conclusion of autonomous human free-will does not follow from the text, and cannot possibly be the intent of the author, or the intent of the speaker, Christ.

I say this because we are created. And if we are created, our wills are created. And if our wills are created, we want what we want because that's how God made us.

To say that God gave us free-will is to say that God caused to exist within us uncaused desires, preferences, and inclinations. In other words, to say that God gave us free-will is to say that God caused the uncaused, which, at least in my view, is an incoherent and meaningless contradiction.

However, there are other ways of reading this that seem to make far more sense of the text and also seem to be completely within the context of the passage. For example, a little later in Matthew 26:39, we read a quote from the same person, Christ, speaking using the same Greek word for "will" in a very similar context, written by the exact same author. While Matthew 23:37 points to an apparent conflict of wills between Christ and the people of Jerusalem, Matthew 26:39 points to a very similar conflict of wills between Christ and God the Father. In both cases Christ's expressed will is the one that is not done.

My point is this. The Father's will is done. Not necessarily Christ's will. If it is the Father's will that the people of Jerusalem rebel against Christ (and we know that it was the Father's will for this to happen because we are expressly told this in Acts 4:27-28, Acts 2:23, and Isaiah 53:10), then the contradictory concept of autonomous human free-will is not in view. Instead, the Father caused the people to reject the Son -- the people didn't do it autonomously. While the verse itself doesn't explicitly say the Father caused the people to reject the Son, it also doesn't explicitly say the people have free-will. But the former seems true, because the Bible seems to say it is elsewhere and also because plain logic seems to demand it, while the latter seems false, because it entails a contradiction.

So no, this passage does not seem, at least in my mind, to say that man has free-will.

Because God made us, we are within His authoritative domain, and He alone has the inherent right to pass judgment on us. And we will be condemned for all of our unrighteous behavior if we do not repent and turn to Jesus Christ for forgiveness (1 John 5:12). Even as God predestined the sin of the people who executed His Son (Acts 4:27-28), so He has predestined our sin. And even as they would be condemned if they did not repent, the same holds true for us (Acts 2:38-39).