In brief, I will describe how there are two elements to free will.
1. The creative power of the primordial Divine Self
We are all Beings who have existed from eternity. And as Beings we have the capability to originate thought. Therefore, we are not merely passive and reactive - but can generate thought from our-selves.
2. The directive power of the Conscious Self
For there to be free will - more is required; and that extra was provided by God when he 'created' us; that is, when he made us into Children of God ('Sons of God').
What God provided was the Conscious Self, which has the ability to direct the attention of the Divine Self.
It is the Divine Self that enables us to originate thought (independent of external causes). The Divine Self is what make's each Being (and each Man) and uncaused case.
But in our primordial situation, before God created us, this originative thought was passively responsive to whatever external situation we were in.
We would have been able to think, to originate uncaused thoughts; but we had no control over what it was that we thought.
There could therefore be no free will primordially, because there was no control over the originative properties of the Divine Self. Free will was made possible by God's creation of Men.
When the Conscious Self is added to the Divine Self, free will becomes possible; because the Conscious Self can 'point' the Divine Self at one thing or another.
The Conscious Self could also be termed our 'will' - in other words, we can consciously will our Divine Self to attend to what we are observing, making, reading, doing - or whatever it may be. When this happens, we are able to choose where to deploy our divine creativity.
The Conscious Self cannot 'control' what comes-out-of our Divine self. Because nothing can control the Divine Self - the Divine Self is the basis and reality of our ultimate freedom, autonomy; our capacity to create-from-ourselves.
But we can consciously control the subject matter attended to by our Divine self - we can therefore choose what the Divine Self deploys-itself-upon.
So, conscious will can direct our Divine Self; and that is why we need to be conscious in order to be free.
If the Conscious Self was not present, or not actually conscious; then the Divine Self only responds to whatever external circumstances present to it. But with consciousness, potentially we can voluntarily influence what we think about.
And that is how free will works, what free will does; and why it is important for Man to become more conscious...
Because consciousness is what enables freedom; and freedom is what enables us to choose to accept Jesus Christ's gift of eternal resurrected life.
The way I understand it, the body is a necessary ingredient for Free Will. In the terms of your post, the gift of the Conscious Self is perhaps equivalent to the gift of the body.
The body is given to the Divine Self, which perhaps doesn't know at first what to "do" with it. Bodily instinct and the imprinting of childhood/socialization is how free will "gets going". At first we are passive "watchers" of what the body is doing/experiencing; but over time we (hopefully?) attain a kind of theophany, when we realize our own Divinity and free will is born.
Free will as a potential is qualitative - we either have it or we don't; free will as a reailty is quantitative. Some people have more or less of it, and the path of theosis is the path of ever-increasing freedom of will - the Divinization of the Conscious Self.
But without the body our will has nothing to act upon. The body allows the Divine Self to engage with the world, with others, and to consider itself as with a mirror.
@JG - I am unsure about that. I agree that the body (incarnation) must be of some vital importance - or else it would not have been necessary for Jesus Christ to enable resurrection for Men to enter Heaven (and join with the work of Heaven). But I vacillate about whether that means there was qualitatively No free will before incarnation - or perhaps simply a much lesser quantitative capacity to direct attention.
I suppose it does seem rather strong to say that there was no free will before the incarnation. And it contradicts the belief, which I share, that there was some choice involved in becoming incarnated.
Perhaps my intuition about the necessity of the body is "solved" if one considers the possibility of an etheric body. But the etheric body doesn't seem to have much to "act" upon compared to a physical body incarnated in a shared time/reality, with enough insulation from other beings to be truly free in choice.
On an odd note which may vex..., your excellent essay up until the start of the last concluding paragraph...Is very much consistent with the biblical commentary on free will (11th century) of the the Spanish Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Ben Nachman aka Rambam
@RJC - Are you sure?
I doubt that a Rabbi would be arguing from my (Mormon theology-like) assumptions of metaphysical pluralism, with multiple eternally existing Beings (co-eternal with God) - each a 'mini-god' and capable of creation; living within God the Creator's universe organized from pre-existent stuff (thus not created ex nihilo) etc...
I didn't make all this explicit, but it's in there; and surely no Jew has ever thought thus?
When there is a similarity on the surface but deep metaphysical difference; then it is probably superficial likeness, with very different implications.
His is/was not mainstream orthodoxy. There plurality of thought on these matters among different Rabbinical traditions. Yes, there are in his (and others) perspective multiple beings and co-creators of the universe (again not the mainstream). We humans are given free will by G-d and what we do in physical plane reverberates throughout--for good or ill. As for the pre-existent--agreed its not addressed and the implications are different. But given that G-d has given us the gift of free will and discernment, I think that in some instances the similarities are a bit more than superficial as in reality it all comes from the same source its in understanding and discernment where differences lay.
@RJC - The essence of what I am proposing is that free will is Not a gift of God, but an innate property of our Divine Self - which is 'an uncaused cause'; spontaneously creative, output without need for input (as it were). That is the root of it. God gave us the Consciousness to direct this creatively generative self - but that which makes us free is Not from God.
I see. That is a key difference. It would have been (or may even be) a delight to discuss these matters (such as if free will and consciousness are distinct or if one flows from the other) with you over coffee.
A very interesting way of conceptualizing free will. I will probably have more to say about it after digesting it a bit.
@Wm - I regard my philosophizing on free will as being analogous to playing you in a game of correspondence chess in a world with slow communications. We each 'make a move' every six months or so...
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