Here’s my take on predestination as a concept. This post is a reaction to a set of questions Chris asked in response to an earlier post I made. Please everyone keep in mind that it is only my take. I absolutely do not claim (let alone boast) any special wisdom or education or skill which makes my thoughts more valuable than any other’s. If I have knowledge, it is because God revealed it to me. And the same God who has given me what wisdom I have gives it liberally to all men without finding fault.
Also please understand that I’m not posting this to pick a fight. If you want to discuss this topic civilly, I’d be happy to try (though it’s a very tough topic, I fully admit). If you post something about how hateful and stupid I am or anyone else is, then I’m just going to delete your comment. So, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Alrighty then, with that context in place, I’ll opine…
Predestination is the theological belief that God in His limitless sovereignty orders every atom, every decision, every action in the universe. It goes beyond the very common belief that God is aware of everything, even past the belief that God permits everything, and settles uncomfortably (for most) on the belief that God causes everything. If there is an earthquake, then God caused it. If a man murders his whole family, then God caused it. Etc.
The “opposing” theological position probably has an equally loaded Latin-based name, but I didn’t find it in a quick search, so we’ll just call it “free will theology” for lack of better terminology. This is the belief that man guides his own destiny through his free will. Almost all who subscribe to this theory belief that God knows and sees everything. Some, not all, even believe that God permits everything. But this camp would differ sharply with the concept that God causes most things to happen. They believe God directly acts to keep planets and quarks spinning, to regulate butterfly breeding rates, or to keep gravity pulling down, etc. But they believe He balances these actions with man’s actions. Man – God’s prize creation – makes decisions too, and the unfolding of time and the universe is a complex interaction between God’s decisions and man’s decisions. An even more extreme version views God as a clock maker, who created the universe (the “clock”) and the laws that govern the clock, and then basically went on vacation – allowing the chips to fall where they may, so to speak. The laws govern the universe in which man makes good and bad choices, and God will be back someday to clean up the mess.
So, with that background in mind, let’s talk about Chris’ statement (in my last post) that God, in his view, does not cause suffering as I described, but rather allows man to cause that suffering (essentially) all by himself. I disagree. But I can’t be forced into taking a “predestination vs free will” position either. I have long held that there is significant folly in considering these to be “opposing” views. Here’s how I see it…
Both these concepts are exactly correct. It is BOTH true that God sovereignly orders every atom, every decision, every crossed “I” or dotted “T” in the whole universe. Every nanosecond. Every action of man. God is present. He is aware of, permits, and controls all of them. It can’t be otherwise. The very atoms of the universe are held together by God’s conscious will. The reliability of the laws of physics is in fact the reliability of God’s character as He holds stars and quarks and man in His right hand. God can no more be separated from what happens in the universe than a man weaving a tapestry can be separated from the tapestry.
But God has also given free will to man, a gift that is like no other. No attribute of any other person, place or thing in God’s creation has even close to the kind of responsibility that we have. We are God’s prized creations. We were made in His image … which means that we are so much like Him that it’s kinda scary. Even the echo of God in us carries with it astounding power, astounding responsibility, astounding consequences for the misuse of that power. That’s us. When I choose, *I* have chosen. I am responsible. I will be held accountable. I make no claims that somehow God’s sovereignty absolves me from responsibility for my actions.
However, God cannot be removed from the equation either. Whatever knowledge I use to make a decision comes from God. Whatever IQ, God made it. Whatever wealth, God gave me the skills to create it. Whatever mood I’m in, God created the circumstances for it (from the weather to whether or not my furnace went out yesterday to the traffic patterns during my commute). Whatever family background, God was responsible there too. Even if I believed that I was alone in my decision making, then I’d be forced to ask myself where all the resources and variables and history and context that go into my decisions come from.
There is also no sense in which God is ever surprised by an action. There are no “plan B’s” in God’s world. None. He reacts to nothing. Everything is action. There isn’t even time where God “lives”. Therefore no change. Therefore no calculus (the mathematical study of change). In God’s economy, there is no sense in which He does something and then I do something and then He does something, in order, sequentially. There is only the sense that I am and that He is. That’s why God said is called the great “I AM”. No was. No will be. He just is. Always. Eternally. To God, the same is true of me. I am only what I have been since He made me and always will be. I am not different tomorrow. I do not grow and change. I am eternally the sum total of Jeff.
But to us, in our perspective, life is like a movie. We see one frame at a time as we walk through it. Not true for God. His view of the universe is more like a canvas on which He’s painted an amazing work of art. And not one stroke at a time, either. God spoke, and the painting burst into existence. No time elapsed. Just one moment there was nothing, and the next moment there was everything – including the sum total of history and time as we understand and experience it. But the coolest thing, around which I can barely wrap my head, is that we as the colors in the painting are spiritually alive (physical life in this context is meaningless) and are – kinda, a little, enough to matter – like God.
God spoke, and in some way I don’t fully understand, His decisions and ours mixed together to create the painting. We make choices. There is no escape from the accountability for them. The Bible is clear. But every curve and line and color and hue on the canvas are God’s. He is the artist. He made the picture. At absolute most, we could be said to have made the picture with Him. He condescended to allow us participation. But in no sense is it our picture. God too is responsible. God is accountable for the picture far more than we are.
But the difference is that God is accountable to Himself. We are accountable to Him, and will be judged against Him. He is accountable to Himself and won’t be judged, nor should He be. There is no one to judge Him. He is the universal standard for everything since everything was made by Him … by the expression of His creative character.
Here’s a (bad) analogy… It would be like watching Jeff play basketball. I stink. If you could find a higher authority against which to judge me, like say Michael Jordan, then you could legitimately criticize my skills. You’d be judging me against MJ’s standards. But if I was the only person who ever played basketball in the history of the universe, then the only standard against which there’d be to judge me would be me. You’d effectively be asking “How well has Jeff been like Jeff?”. The answer, no matter what Jeff did or how little others understood what Jeff did, would be “perfectly”. By definition. I’m always perfectly like me.
Whatever God paints is good and right, because God is the one who painted it. So, if God paints an Obama victory in the 2008 presidential election or a murdered family or an earthquake that claims the lives of thousands or Hurricane Katrina or the WWII holocaust, then…. And it’s hard for me to say this… It is ultimately good. It doesn’t feel good. It seems bad. Lots of people made bad decisions that were a part of it happening. But if we really believe Romans 8:28 that all things work together for the good of those who love God and keep His commands and Romans 1:20 (among others) that God is eternal, then I think we’re forced to admit God’s role in these things as well. Again, man was involved. Man is responsible for his actions. No free passes. Sin leads to death. But we have to “hold God responsible”. It is God’s plan unfolding … God’s painting being created. God was never out of control. He’s doing something that seems out of control, no doubt. He’s doing things we don’t understand. But He can be trusted to redeem even horrible things, even things we would never have wanted. Maybe even things He didn’t “want” per se, but were necessary to the rest of the plan in a way you and I will never understand.
I tried for a while to write a spiffy conclusion, but I don’t have one. I also know that this is hard stuff, and that it won’t sit well with most. I have a hard time with it myself. And it doesn’t help that it hurts my head even to think about it. Truth is that I’m not qualified to write about it (who is, really?), so maybe I shouldn’t be. But we all also know that I’m a blabbermouth, so I threw it out there. I hope it’s useful.
I praise God for His majesty, infinite power, and for His goodness. I know it’s hard to trust God, harder for some than others. It’s hard for me sometimes too. But as I get older, I think I’m finding myself able to trust Him more. And I really relate to the comment Mother Theresa made to a man she met once who asked her to pray for him that he would have greater understanding and wisdom in a difficult situation he was facing. She said she would not, and after a pause (and no doubt a seriously troubled look from the man), she said that instead she would pray that he would trust God more even without the understanding and wisdom that he wanted. The older I get, the more sense this makes to me. And as I’m sure I’ve demonstrated in this blog entry, I’m not sure I can adequately explain why.