I know that the Church teaches that God gives everyone free will, and I am not questioning this, but I am confused about something. What about with children who die before they are too young to commit sin? Or with people who live their wholes lives with severe mental illness and are unable to sin because of it? How do these people have free will? Can someone please explain this?
This does not directly answer your (very good) question, but it just so happens that I was struggling with free will myself earlier today and came upon is excellent article through a Google search: econfaculty.gmu.edu/bcaplan/freewill Sorry if it’s not exactly what you are looking for but I enjoyed it enough to think it worth sharing here.
These people do have “free will” - within their own personal capacity.
The thing to recognize is that “free will” is not simply a matter of “free to sin or not”.
Free will is the freedom to think, to learn and to choose.
It is impossible to know precisely what occurs in a person’s mind because we can judge only by physical appearances. A friend of mine was in a deep coma shortly before she died but she groaned when she heard a piano being played…
Free will is the ability to choose. Both of these types of people have it. However, they need to know the difference between right and wrong to be able to sin. We are ultimately unaware of what happens to unbaptized infants if they die in infancy, but we can trust in the mercy of God that they are welcome into heaven. If a mentally ill person is unable to decide between right and wrong, they are not guilty of any of the sins they committed while they were unable to discern what is correct. If they had a time in their life where they were able to decide and sinned during this period, they would be guilty of those sins, however.
Why would God gave mercy on unbaptized infants? Isn’t baptism supposed to be a requirement for salvation?
Please use the search function to find a multitude other threads on baptism and salvation. I believe is not relevant to the topic of this thread.
I beleive that the Church teaches that people are not morally responsible unless they have fully rational mental understanding, but I don’t see how this conflicts with free will.
I’m sure that it doesn’t, because I trust the Church, but it seems like it does, so I was just hoping that someone could explain how it doesn’t.
I guess I am just confused on why you would see it conflicting with free will. Are you saying because some people can’t be as culpable for their actions then it’s difficult to see how they are in control of them? I would say free will is the ability to instantiate one’s actions according to what they choose, only God can know how responsible a person is and how much ability they have to discern between reason.
The problem is that no one says “God gives everyone free will.” What is said is that man, by nature, has free will. It is also the case that man, by nature, takes some time to get to the point where his will is truly free and informed, and thus is capable of sin. And there are obvious deficiencies in which a man may never be able to exercise free will, i.e., he is in a coma or something.
A mentally ill man doesn’t not have free will. Circumstances just conspire to keep him from dealing with it. Free will means the will is loosed from the intellect.
To answer your main question, a person who lacks full consent of the will cannot mortally sin. If you cannot mortally sin, you are innocent of actual sin. If you are furthermore baptized in some way, you are innocent of original sin. Innocence of original + actual sin = Heaven.
This topic falls under my “We’re all in this together” principle.
God intends us to be social creatures, not independent islands of life.
So Jesus’s sacrifice and the merits therefrom are shared by all who accept them.
And so, to the extent that an individual does not desire to do evil, God accepts this as the individual wishing the good of humanity. It doesn’t matter if the individual is an infant, or profoundly retarded or otherwise mentally impaired, God’s mercy includes him in the salvation provided by Christ.
Do these mentally immature or impaired people have free will? Not to the extent of choosing between good and evil, but since they cannot choose evil they are all saved.
Adam’s sin did not condemn all men to hell unless they made a conscious free choice of the good. On the contrary, the Fall meant we are created in the fallen state in which we are damned only if we make a final choice to choose evil, which infants and the handicapped can’t do.
The bottom line: someone who dies without having had freedom of choice cannot be damned because that would not be justice and God is just. It is just, however, for God to take this individual to Heaven, because God offers Heaven free to everyone provided they don’t say no.