Free Will?

In reading the Bible, one comes away with a couple of inescapable messages:

Most of the Old Testament consists of a mixture of two themes;

    1. Exhortations to repent of ungodliness and to live for and honor God – to be faithful to God
    2. Pleas to God for his mercy and protection; sometimes His help in destroying enemies

The presumption throughout these narratives seems, again, to consist of two main ideas;

  1. People’s behavior and “righteousness” (or the lack thereof) can be changed
  2. Pleas to God can have the effect of changing God’s outcome for you/your people.

Most of the New Testament consists of:

  1. Exhortations to repent of ungodliness and to live for and honor God – to be faithful to God
  2. Explanations of how to do (1)

If God decided the destiny of every person that would ever live before the foundation of the world, why bother exhorting people to change their lives?

If God directs every (significant) action and outcome of everyone’s life, why tell them to change?  They’re just doing what God specifies they do.

If God didn’t provide humans with free will, why then spend many Biblical books appealing to those same wills to change what they think and believe, telling them what they should choose to think and believe instead?

Unless God left the scriptures as a kind of placebo to keep humanity conscious of their need to live differently without having any intention, on His part, to change His predetermined plan, why did He leave it for us?

I conclude that people do have wills they can exercise to change ( i.e. “renew”) their minds and patterns of living.  Therefore, the scriptures are left for us to learn how and why we are to use them to change.

How then are we to interpret Romans 8:28-30 (or the similar Ephesians 1:4-5)?

[28] And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. [29] For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. [30] And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Ephesians 1:4-5 [4] even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love [5] he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

The key is the word “foreknew” – knew beforehand.  Well of course God knew beforehand.  He is outside of time.  As the physicists will tell you, time was created when the Universe was created, so He could hardly be operating within or be the least bit constrained by our time.  Being outside of time, not only can He view all of time, from beginning to end, and therefore every event that has or ever will occur in time, but it was His plan He implemented through the Creation event.  He didn’t create without a goal, and a plan to achieve that goal.  So for Him, seeing the second-by-second history of every person who ever did or will live at a glance wasn’t a way to find out what each did and thought, it was simply a way of confirming that His plan had worked perfectly and gloriously as He intended.

The Calvinists hang their hat, substantially, on Paul’s Ephesians statement that “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world”.  At the same time, they reject the idea that He did so by seeing, at the Creation, who would choose Him, to which I would agree.  God knew in formulating His plan that there would be those who would choose Him.  He didn’t need to know who, individually, though He did stipulate some key details of the plan; that there would be an Abraham figure; there would be a people like the Hebrews; there would be a Moses figure and a Pharaoh figure, a David, prophet figures with whom He would interact; and of course, at the right moment, a Mary and a Caiaphas and a Pilot and a Judas – and Apostles.  But He didn’t need to stipulate the details; only that for every possible detail of the plan, He would be glorified.  (Calvinists, despite their avowed reverence for God’s majesty and sovereignty, give God an absolutely pitiful level of credit for knowing how best to bring glory to Himself.  In their myopic view, God only gets glory if He’s a kind of cosmic puppeteer of fatally defective puppets, not an orchestrator of a symphony of persons He created in His image.)

At this point, you will have to take it on faith (since it’s a much longer subject) that a perfect, all-knowing God can create a Creation in which its humanity is given by Him the ability to make effective choices for themselves – including whether or not to trust and commit their lives to He and His Son – within the framework of His plan.  That is to say, His will and His purpose in Creation is not jeopardized by His conveying to me the ability and freedom to make a decision.

Think about it for a moment.  Do you really believe a human’s ability to make a decision could possibly jeopardize the success of God’s plan?  An infinitely intelligent, creative, good and loving God can set in motion a Creation that achieves His purpose – His glory – despite (and potentially because of) us operating ourselves independently (though within His plan).  His perfect Sovereignty is not challenged in the least.  His was a perfect, and perfectly glorifying plan in all of its possible eventualities, and is in its implementation.

Now, in saying God “knew” those He predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, we’re not just saying that upon the implementation of His plan (Creation) God had the knowledge of who would exercise their will to pursue and serve and love Him.  As elsewhere in the Bible, “knowing” has a deeper connotation of intimate relationship; mutual love and dedication – faithfulness.  Paul alludes to this being the case in verse 28 when he talks about “for those who love God all things work together for good.”  (BTW, this statement gives credence to my point:  God is apparently capable of seeing to it that whatever happens to people who love Him, He is going to ensure that those outcomes are going to work together “for good”.  Sounds to me like His plan accommodates every eventuality for His glory.)  The people these verses are talking about are those who have responded to God’s love by returning it (1 John 4:19).

Are those who come to love and trust God for their lives any different than those who don’t?  They’re apparently no different in terms of their design.  Within limits, we all have the same knowledge and awareness and proclivity to sin, and limitations.  And here I would agree with the Calvinists that before responding to God’s invitation (Romans 1:20-21), we’re all equally ungodly.  Continuing this agreement, those who come to love God simply have nothing to boast of for themselves.  All they have done is respond to an invitation extended to everyone (Matthew 22:1-14).  Accepting it doesn’t make a person a better person; it makes him a forgiven and redeemed person in God’s eyes.  Thus He immediately confers on him the process of conforming him to Christ.   And, that person is adopted into God’s family as a co-heir with Christ (“the firstborn among many brothers.”), which is the primary purpose of His will for Creation.  The remainder of the actions listed by Paul are simply the states of God’s will for Christ’s brothers and sisters – calling to Himself, justification and glorification.

Those who would argue for God’s meticulous providence (controlling all actions), predestination of the pre-foundation of the world elect to salvation, and non-elect to eternal damnation, and humanity’s inability to choose to trust God for their lives, should force themselves to at least think through their views in the context of these main themes of God’s word, noted above.  It is extremely difficult (and I believe impossible) to reconcile the one with the other.

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