Hi @jimmy ,
I was not quite sure how to link your question to JI Packer’s definitions on Free will and Free agency from his article, " The distinction between Free Will and Free Agency". You are probably more aware of the philosophical issues around the discussion of free will than I am. I had to do some reading for definitions of different concepts of free will that JI Packer was referring to for more clarity -
Free will, however, has been defined by Christian teachers from the second century on as the ability to choose all the moral options that a situation offers, and Augustine affirmed against Pelagius and most of the Greek Fathers that original sin has robbed us of free will in this sense
The concept of free will held by Pelagius and Greek Fathers is what theologians call, Libertarianism, a freedom that is determined by human free will alone, independent of our natural desires or divine causes. Libertarians argue moral responsibility needs a free will because choices would be meaningless if they are are pre-determined. A truly free person must be able to rise above their desires and nature and even may go against it.
Augustine on the other hand argued for a compatibilist concept of free will in which God’s pre-determination and and man’s freedom are “compatible” with one another. God ultimate determines the choices that are made but he brings it through secondary means without direct coercion by influencing human desires, natures and motives. A truly free person is not one who is not influenced at all by even his own desires but one who is set free from the corrupt sinful nature that influences his desires. Choices are never arbitrary as man always follows his strongest motives.
JPS seems to argue for free will based on this verse. This is God’s instruction to Cain after the fall. This is after our desires came under the bondage of sinful nature scripturally. Cain could have exerted his will to control his passions but what God seeks in us scripturally is not just control of passions by ourselves but a righteousness that comes by faith in God. We dont have a freedom that can set us free from our sinful nature in ourselves and thanks be to God that we have it in Jesus ( John 8: 32 - 36).
As I think about the Rabbi’s comments, I think they are describing man’s search for liberation from the impact of sin. Romans 2:14-15 seems to describe some of this phenomenon of human productivity. But the problem is that in our human limitations we are always partially blind to what is truly good.
I found John Frame’s article on , “Free will and moral responsibility”, helpful in understanding Reformed theology. Some points he makes that may be relevant here -
According to Westminster Confession of Faith* , 3.1 “God did… ordain whatsoever comes to pass,” but also says in 9.1 that man’s will “is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined to good, or evil” (compare 5.2)
Reformed theology recognizes that all people have freedom in the compatibilist sense. Adam before the Fall acted according to his desires, which then were godly. After the fall, sinners still act according to their desires, but those desires are sinful. The redeemed are enabled by God’s grace, and progressively, to desire things which are excellent; and they are free to act according to those desires. The glorified saints in heaven will have only pure desires, and they will act in accordance with those.
libertarianism, rather than guaranteeing moral responsibility, actually destroys it. How can we be held responsible for decisions, if those decisions are “psychological accidents,” unconnected with any of our desires?
Neither before nor after the fall did Adam have freedom in the libertarian sense (freedom from God’s decree). But freedom from sin is something different. Adam had that before the fall, but lost it as a result of the fall. …Our choices are not coerced …i.e. we do not choose against what we want or desire, yet we never make choices contrary to God’s sovereign decree. What God determines will always come to pass (Eph 1:11)
Jimmy, I am not sure I understood your question correctly, but hopefully some of this is helpful. These theological concepts are new to me and difficult to grasp but hopefully with more participation understanding will come.