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.’”
Sometimes, we gloss over what we read in the Bible too quickly, and we don’t spend enough time digging deeper. I have read over the following verse in John 1 many times before I thought, “Wait a minute!”
“But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”
John wrote that “all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, HE GAVE THE RIGHT to become children of God”. My emphasis added is the phrase that caught my attention.
For all the verses in Scripture about God choosing us, predestining us, foreordaining us, we find verses like this that put agency squarely in our own hearts and wills. But that isn’t the beginning of the story – or the end of it.
Yes, God chooses us; and in choosing us He gives us “the right to become children of God”.[i]
Yes, He made that choice before the foundation[ii] of the world, and He made us children of God not by blood descent, not by the will of parents or anyone else – maybe not even by our own will – but by His own choice.[iii]
We didn’t choose Him; He chose us, but the vehicle of the choosing was to give those who received Him the right to become children of God. The implication is that He didn’t those who did not receive Him the same right to become His children.
I do not have a systematic theology. I am not a theologian. My understanding of systematic theology is limited, but free will has always seemed self-evident to me as I read Scripture.
“But 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 blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)
Johns packs a lot into these short verses, tucked into the first chapter of his Gospel that is profoundly full of other significant meaning:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. All things were made through him….In him was life, and the life was the light of men…. The true light…. was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him… he gave the right to become children of God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us….”
These are some of the most profound and remarkable verses in all of Scripture. God became flesh, and He lived among the people He chose as His own, but they didn’t even recognize who He was. But those who received – who believed Him – He gave the right to become children of God.
I see two choices here: the choice of receiving Christ and the choice God gives us after receiving Christ – the right tobecome children of God. My Reformed friends might be tempted to overlook the import of this power-packed passage. I am little unnerved by it myself, truth be told. I don’t trust my own heart to make the right choices!
God lets us choose Him: “But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” But that isn’t the beginning of the story – or the end of it.
God chooses us. He gives us the right to become children of God[i], and He made that choice before the foundation[ii] of the world. We become the children of God not by blood descent, not by the will of parents or anyone else – maybe not even by our own will – but by God’s choice.[iii]
I do not have a systematic theology. I am not a theologian, and my understanding of systematic theology is limited, but free will has always seemed self-evident to me. It also seems eminently biblical. God created us in his own image[iv], and a primary characteristic of God is agency. We see in the story of Adam and Eve that God gave us agency too, by giving them dominion over the animals of the earth and in the choice to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The freedom to choose is also a necessary condition of love. God is love[v], and he created us in His image to reflect Him, to glorify Him and to love Him.
The point of an image is to image. Images are erected to display the original. Point to the original. Glorify the original. God made humans in his image so that the world would be filled with reflectors of God. Images of God. Seven billion statues of God. So that nobody would miss the point of creation. Nobody (unless they were stone blind) could miss the point of humanity, namely, God. Knowing, loving, showing God.[vi]
God created us to love him. Therefore, we must have agency/free will in order to be able to reflect back His love as He intended.
But there is another side to this. There is not only what we call faith; there is grace. There is God’s unmerited favor. God chooses us. We call this predestination and attribute it to God’s sovereignty
Imagine, if you will, a God creating a creature in his own image, a God who “naturally” exists outside of time and space, who is infinite. The creature, however, could not be infinite, regardless of the image of the God she bears. The creature would be limited to time and space, but the creature would have the capacity to create like God and to choose, including the choice to go its own way.
Giving this creature choice is dangerous, but it’s the only way for the creature to be able to understand love and to be able to return that love to its creator. This God loved the creature and desired to give love to this creature and receive love in return.
This is the divine experiment.
And, the very fact that we can reject God is proof that God loves us.