The concept of libertarian free will is entirely foreign to the Scriptures and, therefore, a concept which should be utterly rejected by the Christian seeking to be faithful to the teaching of the Bible. Scripture declares that God is completely Sovereign over the creation, sustaining, and judgment of the creation. It teaches, moreover, that God is completely Sovereign over geographically particular events, anatomically particular events, and even atomically particular events. Yet it also teaches, further, that God is completely Sovereign over the minds of men. This is a disturbing thought to many of us, Christian and non-Christian alike, for we mistakenly take for granted the false idea that we are sovereign and have the right to refuse anyone, including God, access to our minds. Yet the Scripture says what it says. And what does it say? Man thinks only what God causes him to think, no more and no less.
The book of Daniel, and in particular chapters 1-5, demonstrate this very clearly. What follows is a brief look into God’s exercise of absolute Sovereignty over the very thoughts of men in the book of Daniel. I have chosen to divide this little study into two parts dealing with (1.)mental health and (2.)mental collapse. I don’t use the terms as contemporary science uses them, it should be noted. Rather, mental health denotes regular mental functionality, whereas mental collapse denotes the cessation of regular mental functionality. These two parts will be further divided into the following subsections:
1. Mental Health:
a. Sanity: Dan 4
b. Epistemic Self-Consciousness: Dan 2
c. Language & Interpretation: Dan 4 & 5
d. Symbol Interpretation: Dan 2 & 4
2. Mental Collapse:
a. Insanity: Dan 4
b. Epistemic Ignorance: Dan 2
c. Language & Interpretation: Dan 5
d. Symbol Interpretation: Dan 2 & 4
The implications of God’s Sovereignty over the minds of men are not only soteriological but, obviously, epistemological, demonstrating that man’s knowledge has only one necessary cause, viz. the will of God. What God wills a man to know, that man will know. And what God wills a man to not know, that man will not know.
This, moreover, has implications for the development of a linguistics applied to textual criticism and hermeneutics. For instance, if God grants Daniel the contents of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and the interpretation of the dream, then God grants Daniel knowledge of the symbols in the dream, the syntax of the dream, and the semantic content of the dream. God, in other words, reveals the symbols, their individual meanings, their relationship to one another, and the meaning supervenient upon their relationship to one another.
1. Mental Health
Parts 1 and 2, textually, run parallel to one another, but for the sake of precision and clarity I’ve chosen to address them individually. Mental health was, technically speaking, conditioned upon obedience Adam’s fulfilment of the Covenant of Works in Genesis 2:15-17. Adam’s failure to fulfill his obligation to the Law of God in Gen 2 resulted in his mind, and the mind of man universally, becoming darkened by sin, rendered foolish (cf. Rom 1:18-32). Thus, whatever degree of clarity in thinking and whatever quantity of truth we have obtained has been obtained only by God’s mercy. God has mercifully given most of us, and caused most of us to act in accordance with, the laws of logic and basic arithmetic and linguistic truths. When the question of mental health arises, therefore, it must be understood in this postlapsarian context. The normal functioning of our minds is mercifully sustained by God in his Sovereign providence, and this is what we see the book of Daniel.
a. Sanity: As articulated above, sanity must be understood in a postlapsarian context. It is not sane to, on the one hand, assert that there are logical, ethical, and mathematical absolutes against which we may appropriately and fruitfully compare our own intellectual and moral commitments and speculations, and yet, on the other hand, deny that God is the source of these absolutes. Yet fallen man irrationally tries to deny his Creator by appealing to creation, including his own knowledge of God’s truth. So we must understand sanity as it respects fallen man.
In the case of Nebuchadnezzar, we see what postlapsarian sanity, in the unbeliever,
looks like. Daniel 4:34 & 36 tell us that sanity is reason/understanding/the power to know. This is given by God to whomever he wills, according to Dan 2:21. It is, moreover, taken away by God whenever he wishes, as we learn from Nebuchadnezzar’s story.
b. Epistemic Self-Consciousness: According to the prophet Daniel, he was given knowledge of the contents and meaning of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream “that [he would] know the thoughts of [his] mind.” (Dan 2:30b) This indicates that knowledge of one’s own thoughts is either upheld or removed by God. This capacity to know our own thoughts was compromised in the fall, and here we see that God is able to remove that capacity and restore it at will. Regarding presuppositionalism, then, this verse shows us that self-deception is not the only method of suppressing the truth available to men. Nebuchadnezzar seeks to know what he is thinking, but the one who suppresses the truth in unrighteousness does not truly seek to know his own thoughts. God is at work in Nebuchadnezzar, causing him to question and think, and seek out the God who alone is Wise.
c. Language & Interpretation: Many in our era claim that meaning is always “lost in translation.” This seemingly obvious aphorism is, despite its prima facie truth value, false. Daniel’s ability to understand the language of Nebuchadnezzar would have been impossible if the aphorism about meaning being lost in translation were true. What is correct in the aphorism, nevertheless, is the fact that God alone causes men to able to understand how language’s interface (i.e. how languages inter-translate). Dan 4 is part of the Hebrew canon, and it is written in Aramaic. Moreover, the book of Daniel, as a whole, includes linguistic influences from the Greek, Akkadian, and Persian languages. Apparently, these different languages did not present an insurmountable problem for the Holy Spirit as he caused Daniel to write them down for future generations to read, translate, interpret, and be edified by. Even more explicitly, however, we learn of Daniel’s divinely bestowed gift of interpreting language in Daniel 5. As he tells king Bellshazar: “I will read the writing…and make known to him the interpretation.” (5:17b)
d. Symbol Interpretation: This section could also be included in subsection c. However, differentiating purely symbolic coding from linguistic-symbolic coding helps clarify the extent to which God controls Sovereignty over the minds of men. In Daniel 2 and 4, we are shown Daniel’s ability to interpret the meaning of non-linguistic symbols. Daniel identifies these symbols and then interprets them for the king, showing that God’s control is not only over linguistic sign systems but also non-linguistic sign systems. It also reinforces the idea that while we may be finite and, hence, limited in understanding how non-linguistic sign systems translate propositionally, the task is not impossible. Rather, if God grants a man understanding, as he did Daniel, then the meaning will be evident to him.
Soli. Deo. Gloria.
[Continued in Part 2.]