I don’t often comment on the free will/predestination conundrum. If I had to “pick a side”, I would err on the side of free will. It’s a conundrum because the Bible includes verses and passages that seem to support free will and verses and passages that seem to support the idea of predestination.
Some people say this is an example of contradictions in the Bible. Some people land on one side or the other, seemingly ignoring or explaining away the verses that suggest otherwise.
I say it’s a paradox. A paradox is “a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.” A paradox may appear to be a contradiction, but it turns out to be true, and noncontradictory.
How are man’s free will and God’s preordainment true? I don’t honestly know. That we human beings think that we must figure everything out, or it cannot be true, is frankly an arrogant thought, finite creatures that we are. At the same time, we are not completely unreasonable to seek some explanation or understanding.
If you expect, now , that I will give one, I have to apologize in advance. I do have some thoughts about it and will explore them in one of those verses that affirms the free will of men:
“As he approached and saw the city, he wept for it, saying, ‘If you knew this day what would bring peace — but now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days will come on you when your enemies will build a barricade around you, surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you and your children among you to the ground, and they will not leave one stone on another in your midst, because you did not recognize the time when God visited you.’”
Luke 19:41-44 CSB
Jesus wept for Jerusalem thinking of the future tragedy of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the carnage that accompanied. Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple, and he ostensibly knew the brutal way the Romans would put down the Jewish rebellion as he made this statement.
People who fall on the predestination side of the equation would say that Jesus knew these things because God foreordained them to happen. People on the free side of the equation would say that Jesus wept because it didn’t have to be that way. If only the people in Jerusalem recognized God in their midst, things would have been different.
The statement from Jesus suggests they could have avoided the Roman attack on Jerusalem if the people had recognized that Jesus was God in the flesh. He doesn’t say how that would change things, but I think we should take him at his word that things would have been different.
On the other hand, we also know that Jesus came to give up his life. He said so. He predicted many times that he would die. His death was prophesied in the Old Testament. It had to be so, right?
Does this mean that the people of Jerusalem had no choice in the matter? God forewarned it; thus, God knew it beforehand. If God knew it, it must be preordained. Right?
Surely, nothing happens that an all-powerful, sovereign God does not allow. Right? If God allows it, He could have disallowed it. If God knew it would happen, God could have prevented it if He wanted to. If he could not prevent it, He is not sovereign or all-powerful. Right?
These things are logically true, but assuming there is no middle way is to fall for a false dichotomy and fail to consider a third way. I believe these things can all be true, yet God still accommodates an effective choice for men.
Christians believe that God is separate from His universe. God had no beginning or cause. He is timeless and immaterial, causing time and the material universe to begin. Because God is timeless, He is not bounded by time. He is today, yesterday and forever, and He can see today, any moment in time yesterday, and any moment in the future.
In essence, God can see how time unfolds and how the events in history play out. Just because He can see how the events play out doesn’t mean that He caused those events or chose them to occur.
CS – Lewis describes God has a chess player. He moves his pieces in response to the choices people make and the laws He put in place that are constant.
I don’t think this means that everything that happens is a response by God. Again God created a universe that is governed by a very intricate set of constant laws and some less constant laws we call quantum mechanics that operate on a basis we have yet to understand well.
Rather, I would say that God controls the ultimate outcomes. He moves pieces as He needs to move them to make sure His ultimate goals, purposes, and end game is accomplished.
Therein, I believe, lies the real reason for the way things are: God’s ultimate purposes. I will preface the next things I will with this: Though I have read the Bible, thought about it, and meditated on it for 40 years (certainly not continuously), I may have it wrong.
With that said, I believe God’s purposes are fairly clear. He desires people to seek Him, to find Him, to know Him, AND to love Him. Paul covers the first two things in his address to the people in Athens:
“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’”Acts 17:26-28
Now we only know in part, but then (when we are finally at home with God) we shall fully know even as we are fully known. (1 Cor. 13:12) The greatest command, Jesus said, is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matt. 22:37)
All of these things – seeking, finding, knowing, & loving – require some intentionality and exercise of will. It may be that we are absolutely incapable of carrying out that intention and exercising that will without some help from God. We must, however, have some willingness in the process.
I say that in light of the greatest command – to love. Love in the biblical sense of the word is not feeling; it is doing. It is laying down one’s life. It is counting others more worthy than ourselves. It is putting others first and being servant to them.
Above all, though, how can we love anyone, let alone love God, without our will? Love is a choice. Love is choosing to say, “no”, to our baser desires and to honor others, forgive them, be kind, be patient, and treat them as we want to be treated. Loving God is getting to know Him and His will and yielding to Him in Trust.
Jesus wept because God came to the world, and the world didn’t recognize Him; He came to His own people, and they didn’t receive Him. (John 1:9-11) Jesus wept because the fate of Jerusalem was dark because they didn’t recognize Him.
Jesus wept because it could have been different. It didn’t have to be the way it played out. So why didn’t He just intervene?
I believe the answer lies in the purposes of God – to cultivate a people who are willing to seek, willing to find, willing to know, and willing to love Him.
“He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”John 1:11-13
They didn’t inherit what God was offering them. They didn’t obtain it by human tradition or fiat. They didn’t gain it by marrying into it. They received what God offered them – they accepted God on God’s terms – and they were born again.
God determines the terms by which we become His children. He is sovereign in that way, but His yoke is easy and His burden is light. He offers it as a free gift to all who will receive it. No one earns it so that no one can boast about it.
God predestined the way it would work. God chose how people would receive Him. Jesus is that way, and the truth and the life. Yet, an integral part of God’s purposes includes our unfettered will to enter into that narrow gate – to seek Him, to find Him, to know Him, and to love Him because we want to. Not because we have no other choice.