God, who is love, created man as a rational being in His own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). In His relationship with man, God does not look at him as if just one of millions of creatures He made; He deals with him as His beloved one. Before He created man, He formed the entire world for his sake, and gave him authority over the earth, seas, and air. He created him in His likeness and image to live as a free being. Man, in his freedom, has the choice even to deny or to resist God Himself.
Man, in his essence, is an image of God: “Love.” He is always hungry and thirsty to love, and desired to be loved by everyone, and also to give love to others. No one can satisfy man’s thirst for love like God Himself, because He is the origin that attracts the image and He is the eternal “Love.”
The human nature consists of a body, soul and Spirit (1Thessalonians 5:23) in unity. Man is not a mere spirit that is clothed by a body as a superfluous thing added to it, but he is one being. Man is characterized by having mind and continence. Man is also full of feelings, emotions, desires, instincts, talents, and capabilities. All things made by God, including man in his human nature, are beautiful and pure, “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). The Apostle Paul says, “We are God’s offspring” (Acts 17:28). This one being of human nature can’t be separated into parts e.g. body, senses, mind, emotions etc; but one component or more could dominate the others, like the mind and emotions, or struggle against each other, as St. Paul for example says, “For the flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another” (Galatians 5:17).
Man’s Free Will
Man’s freedom is the most important divine gift that God bestowed on him. It means free choice between good and evil. He has the freedom to sin or not to sin; otherwise he could not be condemned. The first man was innocent because he was created in incorruption, advanced towards perfection. Therefore he was able to be in close contact with God. In this atmosphere, He received God’s commandment, not as restriction to suffer, but to prove his love for God through obedience by his own free will. In other words, without this commandment our first parents would find no way to accept God’s love by practicing love, and had no way to have experienced their free choice.
According to St. Athanasius of Alexandria, The first man, Adam, had a pure mind that was not enslaved to carnal lusts, so he could reflect God with his pure soul. After his disobedience, corruption affected the human nature leading to death. St. Paul says, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
We are free, but because of this corruption, our minds are involved in evil desires and materialism, and it is very difficult to be lifted up towards God and to have heavenly experience. Now, we are in need of God’s grace to make our minds free so that we can enjoy communion with God with a pure heart.
Free Will and God’s Providence
God, who in His goodness grants us free will, through His infinite wisdom used this human freedom for the edification of His children, for He changes even evil deeds to salvation for others. St. Clement of Alexandria gives a Biblical example. When Jacob’s sons sold Joseph, their brother, as a slave, God used this evil action for Joseph’s benefit. Joseph said to his brothers, “But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life… so now it was not you who sent me here, but God, and He has made me a father of Pharaoh, and lord of all… But as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 45:5-9; 50:20). Another example is Judas, the traitor, who misused his free will which was granted to him, and God used even his evil act for the salvation of mankind by the crucifixion of the Savior.
God does not create evil, but still He does not prevent it when it is displayed by some, although He could do so. On the other hand, He deals with evil, and those who exhibit it, for necessary purposes. By using our free choice, we’ll be worthy to receive our eternal reward if we select good, or suffer eternal consequences for selecting evil. He respects the free will He granted us, but out of His love for us, He is declaring to us what is good and evil, and warning us against selecting evil, “See I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. In that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess… I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).
God is not pushing Himself against our free will, but rather respects it. He declared that clearly by saying, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20). You need to accept Him by your own free will as your expression of loving Him.