Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Line Cannot Comprehend the Cube

No, this will not be an exhaustive treatise on the issue of Free Will and Election. I don't have time for that. However, I do have some thoughts that aren't mine and are quite profound. It all grew out of a conversation we were having last night during the Godspell dinner break. We began talking about this issue, and Eli quoted Randy Alcorn as saying "Free will and election are parallel lines that meet in heaven." I thought that was a profound way of saying it. I am a firm believer in the doctrine of predestination, but at the same time I believe that man does have free will. How does this work? How can I believe both? It basically comes down to two things.

First, I believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. It tells us all that we need to know. I also believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. What it tells us is totally true. So the way I approach this question is as follows: 1) The Bible tells us clearly that God plans out our steps and directs our actions. But 2) the Bible also tells us clearly that we are held responsible for our actions. I know that both of these facts are completely true, but in my finite human mind I cannot completely match them up. They are an apparent contradiction, a paradox. I can work as much as possible to reconcile the two facts, but I must never downplay either fact.

Second, what I find to be the best reconciliation between the two is from Jonathan Edwards. He said (and this is a paraphrase since I can't find the exact quote), "Free will is the ability to choose that which we most desire." The definition of free will is terribly important to this whole discussion, and this is the best definition I've been able to find. Edwards goes on to explain that while we are perfectly free to choose what we most desire, because of our sinful natures we can only ever choose sin. It takes God to reach down and transform our desires so that we begin to desire good things. We don't reach for him. So we find that in this definition, we are able to uphold, to a certain extent, both free will and predestination.

This helps us to a point, but it still leaves us with questions about God authoring sin, how we still have much freedom in choosing anything, etc. Here is my very Calvinistic answer: It's a mystery to me. And I'm okay with that. My Apologetics teacher Nathan Sasser once said that Arminianism is the refuge for people afraid of mystery. They don't want to believe that there's anything they can't understand, so they've decided to play down predestination and play up free will in order for things to make sense to them. It takes a truly humble man, though, to be able to admit that he doesn't know something. That's where I stand on this and many other doctrinal topics. I seek to understand them as much as I can, but I must eventually cede that I am like a line, and God is like a cube. How can I possibly comprehend what is in a complete other dimension?


Andrew said...

Amen and amen. We are so simple, trying to grasp Someone and things so vast. Like ants trying to comprehend New York City or "Swan Lake" (the analogy kinda breaks down around the ant/human relationship, but hey, analogies are loose). Great post, good reminder.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sam,

I read your post on the social board and decided to stop by. I especially like your profile picture. :-) I hope you've recovered from your cold!

I don't really have the time from schoolwork to start a really lengthy theological debate, but your post did remind me some of the reasons I don't accept predestination. I'm going to lay out my most basic beliefs here --Yes, God knows what we will do, but that's a completely different thing from willing our actions. Our differing interpretations of Scipture are going to come into play here naturally, but the Bible doesn't say God makes us do things. Rather he knows what our actions will be and, with that knowledge, arranges the world in his infinite wisdom. God is a perfect being and he cannot, by his (perfectly good, perfectly loving, etc) nature, will evil. We are all born with original sin, our inheritance from Adam, but that's different from saying that God created something with a corrupted nature. We are less perfect, obviously, but not bad. In fact, regardless of whether we have been baptized or not, we all yearn for God because we have ALL been made for him, not some elect few. As St. Augustine wrote, "You have made us for yourself, oh God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."

Yes, I completely believe that we are saved through God's grace. But God has also granted us the free will to refuse his grace - and that is what accounts for evil - and keeps us from being his robots at the same time.

I would love to hear your thoughts on my (somewhat awkwardly expressed) ideas....keeping in mind that I do believe in many, many mysteries myself!


Sam B. said...

Hey Claire, thanks for chiming in. I just have a few comments on what you said:

1) You said "Yes, God knows what we will do, but that's a completely different thing from willing our actions." So are you saying that God has no control over our actions? We choose something, and then he sees that that's what we're going to do? How then can Scripture say "God works all things together for good" (Romans 8:28)? If he has no control over the events, then he is unable to work anything for good, he just has to sit back and take things as they come to him. This view would seem to completely outrule God's sovereignty and God's omnipotence.

2) On the specific example of salvation, one of the key verses I look at is Ephesians 1:3-5:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.

This verse is pretty explicit about three things: first, he "chose us in him before the foundation of the world." In other words, before time began God didn't just know that we would choose him, he actually physically chose us. Second, he "predestined us for adoption as sons." This is similarly explicit that he didn't forsee our choice, but he actually chose us for adoption as sons (and daughters). Third, it was all through the "purpose of his will" that he chose us, as if Paul was foreseeing the people arguing that God doesn't predestine things to happen. He wills it all to happen, he doesn't just let it happen.

3) You said "God is a perfect being and he cannot, by his (perfectly good, perfectly loving, etc) nature, will evil." I agree, and yet somehow we must reconcile that with the fact that if God is sovereign over the universe, then he must have some control over evil. Like I said before, if God works everything out for the good, then he must have some hand in predestining evil. Saying that he sits back and looks at an act of sin and says "Oh great, now I have to try and work that out too" is an affront to his sovereignty. I've heard it argued that the reason God can predestine evil is because he will ultimately work good out of that evil. Is that the right answer? I'm not sure. What I do know is that saying that God does not predestine evil means that he is not in control of evil, and that scares me.

Thanks for your thoughts, and I hope you continue with this conversation.

Sam B. said...

A further thought on God and evil: although God predestines evil, he still holds us accountable for it. He predestines it, but he is not the author of it. How does that work? I have no idea.

Allison said...

Very well said Sam. I think this is the first time that I've actually felt like I understand the free-will/predestination argument, as well as why you've chosen the stand you have. It's a hard concept, but really interesting to think about. Thanks for a good post!

Karyn said...

Hi Sam,
This is a great blog. I hope you don't mind my dropping in to comment, too.

So on the predesitination issue, I argee with Claire, I beleive that God knows all that will happen, and he can step in to intervene when He wants to, but if God predestined all our actions, then Adam and Eve would never have sinned. God would not will somebody to sin, that would be separating them from Himself which would be completly against His character. In addition, it just wouldn't make sense. Why would you purpously will something to happen that you would have to die to fix?

You do bring up a good point as to why there is evil in the world and if God has control over it. I say that yes, He has control over evil, He is all powerful, but He gave us dominion of the Earth. He gave the Earth to us to do with as we chose. We, consequently, were not very good stewards and gave the world right over to Satan. God did know that would happen, but he didn't want it to. He did not want that hundreds of billions of people are now forever cursed to hell becasue of that choice. But He allowed us to make that choice, because He respects our free will. This respect is another reason why I don't beleive in predestination. God wants us to make our own choices because He wants a relationship with us. He does not want a bunch of worshiping robots who have to love Him because He willed it to be so. There is no relationship without choice. God loves us and wants us to choose to love Him. That was a dangerous thing to do because that also gives us the choice not to love Him, and many have made that choice.

Even though he completly respects our free will, there are times when He intervenes (take Pharoah's heart for instance). So it's clear that He has complete control over evil, but becasue He gave the Earth to us, he respects our choices with how we are using it (both physically and spiritually). Why He chooses to intervene when He does, or why at times He chooses to do nothing (so it would seem), is a mystery to me. I don't know why God works the way He does. But it seems more in line with God's character that He would choose when He wants to intervene and when He doesn't, than to beleive that somehow God wills evil.

I hope that this made sense, I'd love to hear what you think.


Anonymous said...

Ooh, predestination!! It’s such a fascinating topic, but, like Allison, I think that it’s rather difficult and complex. Everyone has raised some really good points, but I have to say that I side with Sam on this one. How could we, as sinful beings, choose Him? Without the intervention of God, we would run away from Him, but out of His kindness to us, He has saved us from an eternal life in Hell. He made us and can do with us however He desires. It says this clearly in Romans 9:21, “Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” God has the power, and He has the will to predestine some for salvation and others for damnation. I am going to paste a section from a website that I find really interesting. This sort of answers your question, Karyn, about Adam, but it doesn’t really go into much detail. I'll keep thinking about it:

“Calvinism, along with other views of predestination, teaches that God’s decree was made both before the Fall, and in light of the Fall. Why is this important? Because the Calvinistic view of predestination always accents the gracious character of God’s redemption. When God predestines people to salvation He is predestinating people to be saved whom He knows really need to be saved. They need to be saved because they are sinners in Adam, not because He forced them to be sinners. Calvinism sees Adam sinning by his own free will, not by divine coercion.

“To be sure, God knew before the Fall that there would most certainly be a Fall and He took action to redeem some. He ordained the Fall in the sense that He chose to allow it, but not in the sense that He chose to coerce it. His predestinating grace is gracious precisely because He chooses to save people whom He knows in advance will be spiritually dead,” (R.C. Sproul,

Does that make sense? It's rather vague...I'll try to post something else here soon. I would love to hear others’ thoughts on Karyn’s question about Adam. It’s a really good one. Also, great blog, Sam! You make some really good points here.

~Michelle (from the AP English class)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response, Sam. I'm going to respond to your points, but the following question, I believe, is the crux of the debate - why would God make men to damn them?

That he would do so is completely inconsistent with the idea of an infinitely loving God. I do not deny his sovereignity. He is completely self-sufficient and created us out of love. I believe that he created us to know, love, and serve him in this world and to be happy with him in heaven. To say that God loves us all but wants some of us to go to hell is utterly wrong. If he wanted that, he would be evil. How can a good God predestine evil?

"So are you saying that God has no control over our actions?" God is all-powerful, but we determine our actions. He has chosen to give us this ability, just like every breath we take is because he wills us to live.

"We choose something, and then he sees that that's what we're going to do?" We choose, but he knows what our choice will be already. He is all-knowing. (Furthermore, God is eternal, so his conception of time would be nothing like you described.)

"If he has no control over the events, then he is unable to work anything for good, he just has to sit back and take things as they come to him." I certainly believe in divine providence, by which God does guide the course of events for good. But he respects our free will always. Hell exists because men exercise their free will to go there, not because God wills them there. For him to do so would be utterly hateful.

"In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will." Yes, God has chosen and predestined and elected ALL of us. He extends his grace to all men. Since we have free will, we can refuse it, and choose separation from him in the form of hell.

"Like I said before, if God works everything out for the good, then he must have some hand in predestining evil." Nope. As I said before :), he knew some would exercise their free will to choose evil. Could he defeat all evil in an instant? Yes, I believe that completely. But he doesn't because he respects our free will, even when we abuse it.

"What I do know is that saying that God does not predestine evil means that he is not in control of evil, and that scares me." I disagree, for the same reason as above. I'm assuming you believe in the you think God willed Lucifer's rebellion, and the Satan and his devils and the existence of hell are just one big plot predestined by God? If not, what else can they be?

I know I was a bit repetitive, but I hope I was clear. I'm really interested in your response.


Karyn said...

Just to add-on to Claire's question, why would God create men just to damn them?

Also, what about when the Bible says that Jesus died so that ALL men can be saved.

Also, in response to Michelle question about how we can choose God. I beleive that left to our own, we couldn't. But the Holy Spirit brings conviction and puts a desire in our hearts for God. However, it's up to us to listen.

So, that's all.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Karyn - that's exactly it. And I should have mentioned as well that I believe we could not be redeemed with the grace of God - and our cooperation with it.