I think that C.S. Lewis states the dilemma of Election and Free Will quite accurately in his book The Silver Chair. He outlines the basic question of how can they both be present and then describes how it is so in a conversation between Jill and Aslan. Jill wonders how Aslan could say he called her when she called him. Aslan begins,
“”But your task will be the harder because of what you have done.”
“Please, what task, Sir?” said Jill.
“The task for which I called you and him here out of your own world.”
This puzzled Jill very much…
“I was wondering – I mean – could there be some mistake? Because nobody called me and [Eustace], you know. It was we who asked to come here. [Eustace] said we were to call to [you]… and perhaps [you] would let us in. And we did, and then we found the door open.”
“You would not have called to me unless I had been calling you,” said the Lion.”¹
In this excerpt Aslan describes how he calls us when we call him. It is a wonder at the complicity of this concept yet, Lewis does a wonderful job at showing the simplicity of the real matter. It is God who calls us and so we call to him with our own free will.
¹ – C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair pp. 22-23 [Italics added for purpose of highlighting topic]
Have you ever thought about what heaven will be like? I do all the time. Someone once told me that we are like glass cups. Jesus gives us the free will to choose what shape and size we will be made in. As we choose what we want to look like He slowly molds us with fire to that shape (see Mark 9:49). Some of us will choose to be large glasses, others only want to be small glasses. Before we choose, however, Jesus lays out the conditions: none. He tells us he will make us as small as we want or as large as we want. But He also gives us a promise. He promises to fill us up entirely when we get to heaven. When we enter heaven we will be full!
This is a great analogy. It shows how Jesus promises us that He will satisfy all of our needs in heaven. He will fill us up completely. It also goes to show that our choices can limit or increase the amount He will fill up. Each of us will be perfectly content in heaven, but some of us will be filled up more (more intimately close to Jesus). Amazing isn’t it! The power we hold. Ironic isn’t it that we will gain more by ‘seemingly’ giving it up?
Good works, apart from Christ, are worthless. As Isaiah says in chapter 64, ” all our righteous acts are like filthy rags”. This is why I think that without Christ Jesus, none of our “good” works are really all that good. When religions say that you can “work” your way to heaven by making sure that your “good” acts outweigh your bad ones, I say that their good acts are really bad ones? Why do I say that? Well, because when they do the good acts they are not doing them out of love. They are doing them out of self-preservation. They are doing them so that “I can go to heaven”. I also think that when a good act occurs it has nothing to do with the individual. Philippians 2:13 says that “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” Therefore it is really God who is doing the good act and it it only the individual displaying it. God willed the individual to desire to do the good work. Therefore, when and individual displays a good work it is really God who is doing it. This means that an individual does nothing and God does everything and therefore the individual’s salvation by works is controlled by the One and Only.
You may wonder how then we have free will. Well, and again I cannot say “this is what it is”, but I can take a shot (and this is not necessarily what I believe, but is the only way I can explain it when going through with this thought train). We have free will; and when Adam and Eve were in the garden of Eden they had free will to choose God’s ways or Their ways. And when they chose the bad option, they lost their privilege of free will. They became enslaved to the sinful nature and no longer had the power to choose good. But God can and does! And He chose every elected individual and enabled them to have the privilege of free will again (no longer enslaved by the sinful nature). Now that we are in Christ we can choose good once again! Only by his grace, however, are we able to do this.
Another thought, we have free will (even when we are enslaved) in the sense that we can and do make decisions everyday (neutral decisions).
With this thought train it seems that free will and election are both possible when coexistent.