Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Predestination & Free Will

It's been a while since I've written anything, and for that I apologize. Mayhaps I took a long break to get a new perspective on things, especially with regards to the current topic at hand. I spent a lot of time on the "predestination pages" of Facebook and anything that I could find on Google, and a lot of that searching led me to one conclusion: people are LOST when it comes to understanding predestination. Throw in "Free Will" and things only get more confusing; then people start to claim that Free Will and Predestination are mutually exclusive, i.e. both cannot exist together.

My take on the matter is simply this: "Predestination" & "Free Will" do exist in close union. They are literally different sides of the same coin. It is one of life's mysteries, and as such it doesn't totally have to 'make sense' (to us), but this does not invalidate the mystery's truth, and neither does it mean that it is illogical.

In order to start to understand this mystery, people first need to have the correct basis. In my reading, I find that all the misconceptions tied to this topic stem from a flawed understanding that is simply a consequence of a 'foundational' flaw. Free Will is actually not that hard to understand (fathoming its inherent beauty is the main problem people face); Predestination is the main problem, so that's where I'll begin.

So first, let's set the ground for predestination; it is a whole lot easier to believe in it if you believe in God (A Supreme monotheistic Benevolent God works best). The opposite of this would be to turn "Fate" into the ultimate force that runs your life, and, understandably, Fate does not have to work towards your self-interest. This easily turns into a Fatalist view, and I'm sure it's what scares a lot of people who as yet don't believe in God from discussing Predestination.

The second part is to understand who your God actually is and what His relationship is to you. The main question to ask is this: "Why did God make me?"

It would seem to be an easy enough question to answer, but this is by far the biggest stumbling block for people who already believe in God. And here is a short list of some of the misconceptions that have cropped up in relation to understanding & answering this question.

1. "God created us to worship Him." Yes indeed, the Father created us, but not essentially to worship Him. The whole creation gives praise to God just by its MERE existence, the intricacy that keeps it running & its inherent beauty. And, if we were meant chiefly for worship, wouldn't the Father have crafted us in the manner of the 4 living creatures before God's throne (Rev 4:8) who worship Him without ceasing?

But humans are indeed a different case from the rest of the creation; sure enough, our mere presence automatically gives God praise (for His excellent work), but also, with our Free Will, we WILLINGLY give praise to the Father

Note that the Father does not need us to worship Him (contrary to what Psalm 30:9 might imply), for remember that even if we deny Him praise, the rest of the creation will rightly give Him what is already His. Better yet, even when we do praise Him, we should be humble enough to remember that we are only giving back what is already His (1 Chronicles 29:14).

2. "God is glorified through us." This is true, but note that even without us He is still glorified. The worst form in which this could be misconstrued was a simple declaration that I once read online which basically sounded something like this:

Before the universe was even created, we know that God/Jesus/the Holy Spirit were there always. Now, even after the creation of Adam and Eve, Christ and the Holy Spirit still didn't have a purpose. Man, thus, had to sin so that Christ would provide a way to atone for Man's sins & the Holy Spirit would regenerate and fill certain hearts...and in this way, they would be GLORIFIED.

This is dangerous thinking to say the least. But to draw one back to the logical basis, one need only be reminded of the scheme of things as they were laid out in John 1:1-3:

"Through Him (Christ) all things were made; without Him, nothing was made that has been made."

3. "God was obligated to create us." This one is not entirely different from the above position. Some of the religious would argue thus: God planned to create us, but God, All-Knowing as He is, surely knew that we would betray Him by sinning. However, since He already had it in His mind to create us, He had no choice but to make us.

This ends up being carried to other extremes, especially when people try to correlate Predestination with the presence of sin in the world. The more common one would read like this:
"Since God created us knowing that we would sin, Christ was thus obligated to come die for our sins so that we might be saved."

People would argue that they still believe God is sovereign, but the downside of this manner of thinking is that we confine God to His act of creation. He is bound by it as if it is something that He has to do; He is trapped by obligation - a condition that would never exist for a truly sovereign God. A position that is similar in relation to this is the "God as the first cause of everything" stance.

4. "God as the first cause of everything." Truththfully, God did create this world and everything in it; and honestly, no one could do it better. But in trying to give praise to God, some people go the extra mile and add things to His plate that probably do Him a disservice; these things are none other than Sin and Suffering. Of course they would state that nothing happens without God willing it, and nothing can occur outside of God's will - hence, God wills sin and suffering into existence.
People hindered by this view would further use the defense that

"We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)."

The problem here is two-fold: confusion concerning God's sovereignty & a misunderstanding of the world we live in. Now, by all means, we know that the world we live in is only a shell of what God originally meant it to be; it was a frustration of His original perfect plan brought about by man's sin. Therefore, one cannot understand God's perfect plan if they only restrict themselves to this 'frustrated imperfect reality' that we find ourselves in. Sin and suffering were not in the original plan, but they are something we have to deal with in this, our flawed reality.

Also, God's sovereignty is where a lot of people miss the point. They act as if there is a way in which God's sovereignty can actually be diminished; hence, He has to control everything so tightly. God goes from being "The Benevolent Father" to "The Overbearing Father". Sure enough, someone can believe that He's working for their good...but never has a smothering parent been considered a good thing, even if they have our best interests at heart.

But our Father is indeed Benevolent. And, just as God IS, so is His sovereignity. NOTHING any of us will ever do can ever change God's sovereignity. He, thus, isn't OBLIGATED to control things ("strong-arm") as tightly as some people would have us believe. But mind you, He is always in control!!!

5. "God created us for His pleasure." Very true; however, if this sentiment goes hand-in-hand with the feeling that God is a harsh vindictive Father, then it leads people down a desperate path.

"I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. (Romans 9:14-15)"

This is a beautiful verse because it shows us that God really does have the final say. However, if people are burdened by this view that God abitrarily chooses whom to show compassion, then they can't really reflect on the beauty of the above reading, and this way they never really know what God is playing at. You end up with people convinced that they are called to a supreme fate, and, on the flipside, others who've been summarily neglected.

6. "God as a vending machine" This is the mindset behind any kind of "Works" system; you see it in many forms these days whereby people believe that the blessings in their lives have to mirror how much devotion they show to God. It is the basis for the Prosperity Gospel, and even much earlier than that (for it is quite an old mindset), it was the same standard that people used to condemn Job for his afflictions.

I do not have to mention the obvious - "GOD IS NOT A VENDING MACHINE".

7. "God as a drama-queen." This is a combination of various mindsets, and it is a logical outcome if we believe that God is vindictive, created us for His pleasure, and treats us as pawns in this game of life that He constructed simply to frustrate us. Surely, why else would evil men triumph so much and good men suffer?

People need to remember that God is Benevolent, even in those times when it's hard to see it. People should also remember that the Father will set things straight. This lifetime is but a mist that passes by quickly, but the Lord will certainly balance all accounts when the time is right; and only then will people realize the benefit of living a 'good' life. This stuff is not just "a pie in the sky."

These are a just a few of the ways in which people go wrong with regards to Predestination. What is does show is that one misunderstanding of even those truths that have already been plainly revealed to us really mars one's view of Predestination; fortunately, the ultimate basis for why God created us is easy enough to understand: it's HIS LOVE; it has nothing to do with what we did, or anything we will ever do.

"We Love because He first Loved us... (1 John 4:19) "

And this is why God ALLOWS you to share His vast bounty.

There is a third step though. It is not enough to know that God loves us. A basic misunderstanding always happens when people start to believe that the Lord loves them more than others. One show of this misconception that I read centered on Malachi 1:5 ("Jacob Loved, Esau Hated"). People mistakenly reflect this back to Genesis 25:23 where God basically states that "the older will serve the younger sibling," and they try to correlate this with the 'Love/Hate' spoken of in Malachi's verse.

But, this is not a curse! With Joseph's 2 sons - Ephraim and Manasseh - didn't the same exact situation play out (Genesis 48:12-20)? And what then would people say of God's decision to have Solomon construct the Temple, and NOT David, though David was unquestionably capable, willing & Loved by the Father (1 Chronicles 28:1-7)?

This was not God saying that He loved anyone less; He just had a different plan for the people involved. God is not a "vending machine" such that He will bless you according to how much He loves you.

[NOTE that Malachi 1:1-5 is a different context altogether; there was ample reason for God to be annoyed with Esau based on his actions, particularly forsaking his birth-right and the women he chose to marry]

Everytime I come across people who claim that they are "chosen" and "loved more than others", I find that they cannot conclusively answer why they were chosen as opposed to other people. They do agree that it wasn't based on anything they did or could ever do; there is nothing different about them than other people because each human being is a unique entity crafted by God so that no two will ever be alike.

Hence, there is no basis for assuming that God loves some people more than others. God loves US ALL EQUALLY. God is not Random!

From this, we can go on to the last and probably most important point of Predestination - How we actually see Predestination in our lives. Whenever I broach this topic with Christians I am likely to be referred to the Predestination Chapter (Romans 8:29-30):

"For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified."

My main problem with this portion of scripture is the manner in which it comes out of Paul's mouth; the tense seems to be all wrong. As a believer in He Who Is, what exactly would this sound like coming from God Himself?

Since time is a 'weird' concept when we deal with The Almighty, the only tense that actually makes the most sense with regard to God is the Present Tense. So, if Romans 8:29-30 were uttered by GOD HIMSELF, what exactly would it sound like. (Some conjecture here please)

"For those I know I also destine to conform to the image of My Son, so that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those I destine I also call; and those I call I also justify; and those I justify I also glorify."

Note my changes
*With God there really isn't foreknowledge, it is knowledge (He knows); it only becomes foreknowledge when compared to what Humanity sees.
*And all the past perfect tense...well, it had to be made present tense, in view of God's unique nature.

Now, the problem we have here is that everytime people wax lyrical on Predestination, they use that 'Past Perfect Tense', which makes sense only to the Almighty because He's the ONLY ONE sitting outside of time. Humanity, however, cannot try to claim such a position; for us this is literally still a continuing work, and because we are temporal beings, we actually have to live out our whole lives and then reflect on the past to know whether our destiny was fulfilled. Alas, most people are confused when it comes down to assessing Time in relation to a God that is not bound by it.

My take on things is a bit different. I believe that according to God's original plan we were all predestined for Heaven - EVERYONE! A Benevolent Maker who made a GOOD creation only intended good things for that creation. The current reality that we live in is in fact merely a shell of the original plan. But we still know that God loves us and does not mean for any one of us to be lost (Matthew 18:10-14); He that loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for us (And NOT ONLY "the Elect" as some people try to make it seem these days).

When a lot of people look to find something in our lives that speaks of Predestination, they focus on a future that has not happened; a future that only The Maker is privy to. But I see Predestination in our lives everyday. The TALENTS are the clearest example of humanity's predestination. There will only ever be one you! The combination of talents (& temperament) that you experience is UNIQUE; it is your soul's fingerprint; there will never be another like you. This is a reality for every human being on the face of this earth.

There is of course a reason for being unique - we are NOT "unique for uniqueness sake". Every human brings something to the great puzzle of life. Everyone fulfils a special niche, and each niche is useful for the building of God's Kingdom on earth. These very talents wil help lead us and others to our proper destiny: Heaven; and what this basically means is that EVERYONE on this earth (for Better or Worse) is IMPORTANT.

However, people should remember that receiving these talents was not something random: just like the 3 servants in the parable (Matthew 25), something is expected of us.

"To those whom a lot has been entrusted, a lot will be expected" (Matthew 12:47-48).

And this is where Free Will comes in; however, there is a need to clear up a misconception going around that's still being thrown around lately and it involves 3 concepts: Free Will, Freedom & Liberty.

"Freedom" (ref. Galatians 5:13-14), is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude. Note also the words of 1 Corinthians 6:12 -

"Everything is permissible for me - but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me - but I will not be mastered by anything."

Now...that is true freedom!!!

"Liberty", is "doing what you please because you can". This notion is what has been mistaken for "freedom" in society today. [I actually feel that Liberty as understood nowadays more closely mirrors "Permissiveness".]

"Free Will" is what you actually choose (by use of reason, or lack of it) to do.

By this definition, I'd argue that a Hedonist is the most LIBERAL of human beings, but doesn't have the most FREEDOM. A person who is a slave to his own passions, wants and whims, can certainly never claim to be FREE.If we looked at it from a Temperate point of view, the spectrum would be something like:Legalism (one extreme) : Freedom (Median) : Liberty (another extreme) And one of these positions shapes how we end up exercising our Free Will.

The big question is whether we can do what we please with our "Free Will"?
*Well, of course we can!
But then, if "Free Will" were considered one of our 'rights', does it then follow that there are
responsibilities' tied to those rights?
*Rights & Responsibilities always go hand-in-hand, so yes, we have responsibilities!
Lastly, and most importantly, are there penalties to pay for not honouring our responsibilities?
* There most certainly are, the most scary of which is Hell!

So, we are free to do with our talents what we choose...however, there is HELL to pay (literally) for not using them in a manner pleasing to the Father.

I said earlier that people understand "Free Will", but for the most part they do not understand how great a gift it really is; mayhaps, this is why a lot of people blame God for their suffering as if He was somehow behind their suffering.

One reality I've become increasingly aware of in this life is this:

"Most people will suffer for the mistakes of another."

Nowhere is this more apparent than in every war-torn country where the selfish leaders have confined the innocent to a life of squalor; also, everytime the wicked take advantage of the weak and dependent it's the same old story; there are of course, less dramatic examples of misuse of power in our everyday lives, and it is these that probably constitute the majority. Such is the power tied to Free Will: other have been entrusted with (huge) responsibilities and they forget that it was given to them by Another. No matter though, for in the end God squares all His accounts.

Forgive the Pragmatist in me, but I feel better highlighting humanity's faults first. Now, in much the same way, we have a great potential to do good in this world. In a previous posting I tried to answer why it is that we do good in this world; what it is that makes this world go round. And I find myself faced with an even deeper answer these days – It is because this was how our Father intended for things to be. Ephesians 2:9-10:

"...We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do"

What is so special about anything truly Good that is done in this world? Isn't it just something that God expected of us from the beginning?To be merciful, to show respect, to honour our parents, to fend for the weak, caring for the sick, comforting the sorrowful.....This world can only survive if people do good; it was what was always expected of us, and it was the way it was meant to be.

I have come across Christians who feel that it is only Christians who do 'true good' in this world because they do it in honour of their Father. Now, besides the millions of occasions when misguided Christians have devoted utter foolish acts 'to the glory of God', Christ's words warn me to think otherwise - Luke 17:7-10

"When you have done all you have been commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do."

Good works do not exist for Goodness' sake - they exist because of God's plan. There is NO good work that can be divorced from God. None! Done in selfishness or in submission to the Father, none of the good works is ever separated from Him. Every Good Work draw its beauty, its very nature from God - Our Beatitude, Our Ultimate Good; Good Itself, for that matter.

Christ alluded to this when He exhorted His followers to love their enemies. Matthew 5:43-48

"...If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even the pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect."

I can give you another example. When Christians spread out into new lands and colonized them, one of the things they did was convert the natives and then proceeded to ravage the lands and their resources. Now, the natives, who tended to commune with nature (in some cases even worship it) already understood the importance of taking care of the environment. So, we now live in an age where (Environmental) "Stewardship" is all the rave with Christians. I would pose this question - Was environmental stewardship any less godly when a lowly native already understood it eons ago, ungodly as he/she was?

Certainly not! We are called to do good, there should be no doubt about that; but not matter how much good we do,we should remember that we are only giving back the Father what is already His. (1 Chronicles 29:14). The Good works are basically the tools that He gave us.

And as we strive to do good, we must remember that the two things God values above sacrifice are Obedience & Mercy (Hosea 6:6). In fact, I find that by extension, the practise of these 2 qualities is the fulfilment of the 2 greatest Commandments (Mark 12:33). The greatest thing we will ever be called to do is to Love our God, and after that our neighbour. How then do we show love for our Father? By obeying His commandments. And how then do we show love for our neighbour? By being merciful to him/her (sharing with them the mercy that we have already received in great measure from our Father).

Another problem stems from the whole Faith/Works mystery. (Surely, any mention of the Good Works is sure to bring out an antagonist who argues for a mere Fatih system). I am not trying to give people the impression here that they are "working" their way into Heaven...but as was said before, " those whom a lot has been entrusted, a lot will be expected" (Matthew 12:47-48).
It is no mistake that one of the most common forms of imagery used in the Bible is that of "The Fruit & The Vine", which was especially well laid out in John 15:1, 4-5:

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman...Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing."

The Faith binds us to the Vine, but the Works show forth what being grafted to the Vine spells for us.

One last problem that I can anticipate with regards to my views will be that some people will aruge that I place too much emphasis on how much control we humans have over our lives. At one point I was accused of reducing God to a "Mutable Contingent" God (Ok..He was really powerful and compassionate), but it was still a demotion.

And this is a really important juncture for us to appreciate the power of Free Will. It is a gift. God gives you the opportunity, the circumstance (casts a new light on what should be considered coincidence!) and He gives you the talent. How you use it is really up to you.
Now...for most people, especially those who see God as the First Cause of Everything, this sounds like mere nonsense; after all, God has arranged our paths from start to finish. How could we possibly be free to run around with the chance of messing up those things that He has already planned for us?

Honestly, I would counter that we are dealing with He who holds Eternity in the palm of His hand; He who is in control of all the "webs" that connect everyone scattered throughout this world. How much can we really change His plans? Could a drop of water alter the course of the Ocean? But then, if I say that God has this much control, am I contradicting myself by asserting that we have so much freedom?
I am not! The way I see it, God puts us in the right places, gives us the right opportunities, and actually does help us to develop those same gifts that He blessed us with. Honestly, who would know how to better maximize our potential other than He who intricately understands and 'authored' the gifts?
This is why I find, with the talents in particular, that probably the most important thing we could ever do is to ask God to 'Order Our Steps', for He in fact gave us these talents & knows the best way in which they can be used. And even if you make missteps, the Lord can still guide you back to your rightful path. How much you're willing to let Him guide you determines how close you get to what is your rightful path.

Also, I feel I need to answer the issue about a Contingent God. Honestly, people have the misconception that:
A Contingent God = A Mutable God = A Permissive God.

Honestly, a God that reacts to His creatures, where on earth could I have pulled that one from? Whenever I reflect on God's Mercy, without which I stand condemned, then I am thankful that He sonner reaches for His Mercy than for His Justice. And what does the Lord say of such things? Well...

1. The Lord's Prayer - Forgive us our tresspasses, as we forgive those who tresspass against us (Matt 6:12 & Mark 6:14)
The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (goes hand in hand with the above example) - Matt 18:21-35 * special emphasis on Verse 35
2. ...Then your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you (Matt 6:1-4, 6:5-7 & 6:16-18)
3. Judging others - Matt 7:1-2
4. Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers...Matt 25:31-46

The Lord actually does react to what you give Him. This does not mean that you have some form of control over Him; rather, it means He gives you the chance to be in a genuine relationship with Him; one in which you have a CHOICE.

But remember that you will be judged based on those choices; if someone can do good with their choices, then the reverse is also true. And just as in this reality, we know that we have to be able to answer for every choice that we make.
Remember still that your choices cannot, in the greater scheme of things, interfere with God's plans - He's just giving you the chance to be a part of His plan.
'Either you submit to His plan, and He lets you be a part of it; or, you can be swept up by His Plan, which has to come to pass.'
(Reference the Book of Jonah for more on this idea).

So, there you have it. I tried to answer a lot of questions within this piece, but all that would have been useless if I distract you from the main point of it all. So, this was the list for understanding Predestination & Free Will:

1. God
2. Love
3. Equal Love for All
4. The Talents
5. Using those talents, in conjunction with our Free Will.

There may be other way to understand Predestination & its relation to Free Will...but as a starter, this hierarchy is a lot less troublesome.

God Bless.

1 comment:

Hope said...

wow Richard,,allow me to share this link with lots others it's fantastic....