Monday, June 12, 2017

Does Love Require Free Will?

Central to God’s plan and desire for people is that we learn to love.  He wants us to love Him, and He wants us to love each other.  That love is central to God’s plan is expressed in many ways in Scripture:

NIV Matthew 22:37 Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'
38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

NIV 1 Timothy 1:5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

NIV 1 John 4:7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

The question I want to look at is whether the type of giving, sacrificial love which God wants to characterize our lives requires free will. The Bible does not address this question directly.  So, first I will offer two analogies from our experience of love, and then I will offer some Biblical evidence, all of which seems to suggest that love does in fact require free will.

Two Suitors

Imagine two different young men, each of whom is attracted to a young lady.  These two men employ very different strategies.

The first young man watches the girl he is interested in and learns some of her habits, including the path she often takes when walking home.  One night he hides in a woody area along the path.  As she walks by, he leaps out, grabs her, and drags her into the woods where he puts a knife to her throat.

The second young man also watches the girl he is interested in and learns some of her habits.  He begins to try to start conversations about things she likes.  He sends her flowers that are her favorite color.  He then works up the courage to ask her to dinner at a restaurant that serves her favorite type of food.

Unless the young lady in question is a martial arts expert or is carrying a weapon, the first young man will almost certainly get something from her that he wants.  But will he get her love? Of course, not.

The second young man is not guaranteed success.  No matter how loving and attractive his advances, the girl may very well turn him down.  The young man is risking his heart being hurt.  But if she does accept him, he may very well win her love.

Two Grenades

Imagine two groups of soldiers standing around in a camp near the frontlines.  Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a hand grenade is thrown towards them.

In the first group the grenade lands right behind one of the men who is unaware of it.  In a split second it explodes.  The man’s body takes the brunt of the blast and he himself is killed while his friends are all spared.

In the second group the grenade lands right in the middle of the group of soldiers.  One of the soldiers who sees it leaps on it.  His body absorbs the blast and he is killed while all his friends are saved.

In both stories one soldier’s death saves the others.  But in only one of the stories do we see clearly that the sacrifice was an act of love.  Why?

One Great Example from the Bible

Does the Bible have a similar example which teaches the same lesson as the stories above?  I believe it does. Consider the words of Christ,

NIV John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.

But does this sacrifice need to involve free will?  In the case of Jesus, He emphasizes that His sacrifice was an act of His own free will:

John 10: 11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
. . . .
17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life-- only to take it up again.
 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father."

So, the greatest act of love in the universe was a sacrifice for others which involved an act of free will. Does God want us to have this type of love for others?  The answer is yes:

NIV Ephesians 5:1 Follow God's example, therefore, as dearly loved children
2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

1 John 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.


I’m not claiming that the evidence presented above forms an airtight proof that love requires free will. And I’m not even attempting to address the various types of free will which philosophers have proposed or discuss which of those types is needed to allow true, sacrificial, Christ-like love.  I’m only claiming that our own experience of love and Christ’s great example of love point in the direction that love, at least the type that God wants us to have, does in fact require free will.

If this is true, it could help explain the way the world is and why our good and loving God is temporarily allowing so much evil in the world He created. Winning true love from a multitude of people may be worth the price of being rejected by many others. What do you think?

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .


  1. I believe that the ability to love is in every person . I also believe that every person makes a conscious choice whether or not we love another person. Therefore I believe we have free will to love and that God wants us to use that free will to choose love for one another.