The Confessionally-minded Reformed theologians of the 17th century understood that the divine action does not, and cannot depend on, or is affected by, anything that is not ultimately in the character and will of God. In other words God’s freedom is freedom from any factor outside of God, who is after ‘most wise, most holy’ and before ‘most absolute’.
In the Westminster Confession’s (and its relations’) chapter on ‘Of God, and the Holy Trinity’, (Ch II.1) tucked in a long list of divine perfections, there is the expression ‘most free’. It is nestled after ‘most wise, most holy’ and before ‘most absolute’. What does ‘most free’ mean? What is it to be ‘most free’ in a list of divine perfections? (Note, the listing continues in Ch. II.2)
It is interesting that while much attention has been given to free will at the creaturely level, comparatively little has been devoted to divine freedom. Where it has occurred it has been spread over a variety of theological topics, creation, providence, the decrees.
The Confessionally-minded Reformed theologians of the 17th century referred to this state of affairs as what they call ‘indifference’. By this they understood that the divine action does not, and cannot depend on, or is affected by, anything that is not ultimately in the character and will of God. In other words God’s freedom is freedom from any factor outside of God, who is after ‘most wise, most holy’ and before ‘most absolute’. These are the sources of his action ad extra, as a Creator and what is to occur in that creation. His own knowledge of what is possible. ‘most absolute’, the ‘most free’. His absoluteness means that God did nothing because there was a need to, a lack that he had to act to fill. These expressions appear to imply that God’s independence and unconditioned character, and his freedom, are capable of degrees. If he is most free then there is no greater degree of freedom that God enjoys in doing what he does. This echoes the way that God’s character is referred to by the superlative ‘most’ in Scripture, as in ‘Most holy’. If he is most holy, this refers to the greatest degree of holiness. So we must think of those perfections either side in the Confession, expressing in his creation his wisdom and holiness and whatever is due to his wonderful, perfect self, his identity.
So much for God’s freedom understood as ‘freedom from’. He is free from every possible condition implied by the creation and its contents. This idea introduces another notion, the self-sufficiency of God, his independence or aseity. These attributes or powers – freedom from, self-sufficiency, independence, aseity – are characteristics of God’s creatorship. They are absent from his creation. It – we – are creaturely, of the dust of the ground, breathed in by God’s Spirit, made in God’s image, fallen in Adam. We depend on our creator, despite talk about human autonomy. We live, move and having our being in him, and for our latest breath. Through our brains, spirits, and bodies, and the powers inherent in the non-human and inanimate creation, we devise and work with tools, and cooperate into developing our environment. Everything we do therefore bears testimony to our dependence.