Predestination, Free Will, and Obedience

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of people tell me that predestination and free will are mutually exclusive, but I’m not so sure that I buy it. Scripture talks about both predestination and choice and from my understanding of this issue, the two can exist quite happily side by side.

The best analogy that I have for what I’m talking about is this: Let’s say you and I sit down to play a game of chess, and I have absolute foreknowledge (i.e. I know every outcome to any move I make). From my point of view, I can determine your resulting actions with my first move, what’s more, the knowledge I possess makes the actions that I cause you to make, a conscious choice on my part. But this is the interesting part: from your perspective, you are just playing a game of chess. My foreknowledge does not affect your game in any way, unless you choose to think about it (and to dwell on it). Of course, if we were to flesh the analogy out a little more to represent Him more fully, God would also have the advantage of having created/fashioned his “opponent”, the chess board, the rules of the game, and everything else involved.

So how can God hold people accountable for what he has pre-determined?

The short answer is because he is God. Come to think of it, that’s the long answer as well. As a parent, I have to say that it’s not that much different with my 18 month old son, and I’m not anywhere close to being omni-anything (omnivourous, maybe). There are plenty of times that I know he is tired, or very suceptible to some temptation and I choose to put him into a situation where I “know” he will fail. And I punish him. Even though I’ve been responsible for his training, even though I can see it before it happens.

But doesn’t that make us into puppets? How can God take pleasure in puppets?

Ask an author. Ask a movie director. If a human being can write a story and love his creation, if a director can make a film and be pleased and thrilled with his work, why can’t an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God create a universe, tell a story, and reveal himself in all His glory and be pleased with what he has done? Or to say it a different way: On the seventh day of creation, did you think that was going to be the last time that God looked at what He had done and said it was very good? Do you believe that when the world has run its course and God reveals to us His grand design, that He will look back at any place in time and say, “This was not supposed to happen…” do you believe there will be any blemish upon the canvas?

But if God has “stacked the deck” and pre-determined all things, why do we proclaim the gospel? Why bother?

In such a scenario, the reason for doing anything is obedience. In the chess game analogy above, we know the objective, but in life, we have a more limited sense of understanding of God’s ultimate goals. What I mean to say, is to some extent, we don’t know exactly what God is about. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

In the end, this ties back to everything I’ve said previously on this blog about gender issues and the church. We know that wives represent the church and husbands represent Christ, we know that the oneness of flesh and the mystery even of sexual union has some symbolism of God’s ultimate plan, but it’s not clear. And so we obey. Usually with great hesitation and with horrible motives, but as we draw closer to Him, with greater and greater fervency. And all the while, we think: When the light on the other side of the glass comes on and it becomes clear, what will we see, what will we be, and what will we know and understand of Him?

23 thoughts on “Predestination, Free Will, and Obedience”

  1. That’s a very solid post, and I give it my wholehearted endorsement because I think God probably would. 🙂 Pitting human initiative against divine will is something that we have thought up; biblically, it doesn’t appear to be an issue from God’s perspective.

  2. That’s a very solid post, and I give it my wholehearted endorsement because I think God probably would. 🙂 Pitting human initiative against divine will is something that we have thought up; biblically, it doesn’t appear to be an issue from God’s perspective.

  3. Ariel,
    You remain my most reliable reader and consistent commenter, and I really do appreciate it. This post was born a few weeks ago in a discussion with a friend of a friend, and then became a comment on Jesus Creed, at which point I thought I should go ahead and clean it up and post it. Anyway, thanks for the read. I’m just getting ready to head over to your blog to check out Flannery O’Conner on C.S. Lewis and When Great Authors Talk About Each Other

  4. Ariel,
    You remain my most reliable reader and consistent commenter, and I really do appreciate it. This post was born a few weeks ago in a discussion with a friend of a friend, and then became a comment on Jesus Creed, at which point I thought I should go ahead and clean it up and post it. Anyway, thanks for the read. I’m just getting ready to head over to your blog to check out Flannery O’Conner on C.S. Lewis and When Great Authors Talk About Each Other

  5. gymbrall, I think I understand the discussion we are having on Jesus Creed a little better now. Unlike the Calvinism I’ve read about, you seem to incorporate “free will”, allowing for an (un)limited atonement.

    That was my basic confusion, it seemed that you were allowing for “free will” which I had always heard was a decidedly Arminian concept. Thus, I was wondering how you could expand the scope of “limited atonement” to all while narrowing the efficacy to the elect. When people choose God, suddenly that entire issue is moot.

    Thanks for your patience. 🙂

    Ish

  6. gymbrall, I think I understand the discussion we are having on Jesus Creed a little better now. Unlike the Calvinism I’ve read about, you seem to incorporate “free will”, allowing for an (un)limited atonement.

    That was my basic confusion, it seemed that you were allowing for “free will” which I had always heard was a decidedly Arminian concept. Thus, I was wondering how you could expand the scope of “limited atonement” to all while narrowing the efficacy to the elect. When people choose God, suddenly that entire issue is moot.

    Thanks for your patience. 🙂

    Ish

  7. Ish,
    Tbanks for the read. I should be clear that I do think that God determines who will be saved, I just believe that he has designed our choice. In the end, we just obey him.

  8. Ish,
    Tbanks for the read. I should be clear that I do think that God determines who will be saved, I just believe that he has designed our choice. In the end, we just obey him.

  9. Cool. I saw you sort of beg for someone to read your post on Jesus Creed (I’m being facetious) so I thought I’d check it out. Good post. Let me add something to ponder. If God is eternal, doesn’t this mean the God exists outside the bounds of time? So what has happened, is happening, and will happen are all the same.

    Ex. I chose to respond to your post. I could have skipped it because I’m too busy. God didn’t force me. I chose (albeit influenced by God’s Spirit within me but that is another issue). I did not what I was going to choose until I chose. However God who exists outside the bounds of time already knew what decision I would make. Thus I exercised my freewill even though God already (fore)knew what I would choose, which is basically what you explained through your analagies.

    In Christ,
    Mark

  10. Cool. I saw you sort of beg for someone to read your post on Jesus Creed (I’m being facetious) so I thought I’d check it out. Good post. Let me add something to ponder. If God is eternal, doesn’t this mean the God exists outside the bounds of time? So what has happened, is happening, and will happen are all the same.

    Ex. I chose to respond to your post. I could have skipped it because I’m too busy. God didn’t force me. I chose (albeit influenced by God’s Spirit within me but that is another issue). I did not what I was going to choose until I chose. However God who exists outside the bounds of time already knew what decision I would make. Thus I exercised my freewill even though God already (fore)knew what I would choose, which is basically what you explained through your analagies.

    In Christ,
    Mark

  11. Hi Mark
    I saw you sort of beg for someone to read your post on Jesus Creed (I’m being facetious)
    That’s a little too close to the truth We don’t allow that here. 😉

    If God is eternal, doesn’t this mean the God exists outside the bounds of time? So what has happened, is happening, and will happen are all the same.

    That definitely resonates. I’ve often thought of our universe/time-space as a book in God’s hand. To him, there is no difference between the end/beginning. He is outside of it.

    Thus I exercised my freewill even though God already (fore)knew what I would choose,

    The thing we cannot forget about God is that his foreknowledge has implications. He could not know and refuse to choose based on his knowledge. What I mean to say is that when he placed Adam in the garden, he saw what would happen and still he placed him. He knew that if he made Adam different, made the tree different, there would be a different outcome. In fact, he knew these things as he made each of them. We cannot remove from the God the responsibility for his actions. (I don’t mean to imply that we can hold him accountable, but what I do mean to imply is that we diminish him if we ignore the implications of his knowledge)

    Anyway, that’s enough rambling from me. Thanks for the read.
    Charles Churchill

  12. Hi Mark
    I saw you sort of beg for someone to read your post on Jesus Creed (I’m being facetious)
    That’s a little too close to the truth We don’t allow that here. 😉

    If God is eternal, doesn’t this mean the God exists outside the bounds of time? So what has happened, is happening, and will happen are all the same.

    That definitely resonates. I’ve often thought of our universe/time-space as a book in God’s hand. To him, there is no difference between the end/beginning. He is outside of it.

    Thus I exercised my freewill even though God already (fore)knew what I would choose,

    The thing we cannot forget about God is that his foreknowledge has implications. He could not know and refuse to choose based on his knowledge. What I mean to say is that when he placed Adam in the garden, he saw what would happen and still he placed him. He knew that if he made Adam different, made the tree different, there would be a different outcome. In fact, he knew these things as he made each of them. We cannot remove from the God the responsibility for his actions. (I don’t mean to imply that we can hold him accountable, but what I do mean to imply is that we diminish him if we ignore the implications of his knowledge)

    Anyway, that’s enough rambling from me. Thanks for the read.
    Charles Churchill

  13. From my point of view, I can determine your resulting actions with my first move

    This isn’t how chess works (you can’t determine the other person’s moves in chess), and I seriously doubt it’s how God works either. Technically, if you can determine all my resulting actions with your first move, then I have no free will in the process. Period. I have to move exactly where you predetermine me to move.

    (Incidentally, if chess actually did work this way, I wouldn’t have any sense of freedom in choosing my moves. The only way to have a sense of freedom is for there to be two real options.)

    I suspect what you meant with this statement is that no matter which moves I choose, you’re still going to win in the end because of your deep knowledge of the game. In other words, you can determine the outcome even though you don’t determine my moves (which I am free to choose).

    But if this is the case, then God forced us to sin, yes? Sure, we may have free will, but if God limits the choice to “sin 1” or “sin 2,” our free will doesn’t extend to choosing “not sin.” Therefore it cannot be our fault that we have to choose one sin or the other.

    So how can God hold people accountable for what he has pre-determined?
    The short answer is because he is God.

    Does that actually count as an answer? Seriously. If God actually worked the way you’ve described, it would be illogical and dishonest, not to mention cruel and unjust. You can’t accurately hold someone else responsible for something you caused. And if your system of “justice” allows something like that to fly, then it’s not justice as we understand justice (nor is it “justice” in the biblical sense of the word, because the Bible judges people based on their choices).

    Do you believe that when the world has run its course and God reveals to us His grand design, that He will look back at any place in time and say, “This was not supposed to happen…” do you believe there will be any blemish upon the canvas?

    Yes and yes. CLEARLY there are blemishes on the canvas–sin has messed up God’s “very good” world. The way things are now is not the way He created them, and the Bible tells us it was human choice (and Lucifer’s choice)–not God’s–that they are as they are. Why should I think that God wanted it to be this way–especially when he indicates He didn’t want it this way?

  14. From my point of view, I can determine your resulting actions with my first move

    This isn’t how chess works (you can’t determine the other person’s moves in chess), and I seriously doubt it’s how God works either. Technically, if you can determine all my resulting actions with your first move, then I have no free will in the process. Period. I have to move exactly where you predetermine me to move.

    (Incidentally, if chess actually did work this way, I wouldn’t have any sense of freedom in choosing my moves. The only way to have a sense of freedom is for there to be two real options.)

    I suspect what you meant with this statement is that no matter which moves I choose, you’re still going to win in the end because of your deep knowledge of the game. In other words, you can determine the outcome even though you don’t determine my moves (which I am free to choose).

    But if this is the case, then God forced us to sin, yes? Sure, we may have free will, but if God limits the choice to “sin 1” or “sin 2,” our free will doesn’t extend to choosing “not sin.” Therefore it cannot be our fault that we have to choose one sin or the other.

    So how can God hold people accountable for what he has pre-determined?

    The short answer is because he is God.

    Does that actually count as an answer? Seriously. If God actually worked the way you’ve described, it would be illogical and dishonest, not to mention cruel and unjust. You can’t accurately hold someone else responsible for something you caused. And if your system of “justice” allows something like that to fly, then it’s not justice as we understand justice (nor is it “justice” in the biblical sense of the word, because the Bible judges people based on their choices).

    Do you believe that when the world has run its course and God reveals to us His grand design, that He will look back at any place in time and say, “This was not supposed to happen…” do you believe there will be any blemish upon the canvas?

    Yes and yes. CLEARLY there are blemishes on the canvas–sin has messed up God’s “very good” world. The way things are now is not the way He created them, and the Bible tells us it was human choice (and Lucifer’s choice)–not God’s–that they are as they are. Why should I think that God wanted it to be this way–especially when he indicates He didn’t want it this way?

  15. This isn’t how chess works (you can’t determine the other person’s moves in chess), and I seriously doubt it’s how God works either. Technically, if you can determine all my resulting actions with your first move, then I have no free will in the process. Period. I have to move exactly where you predetermine me to move.

    Let me describe it this way: If I know that when I move my King’s pawn out to the 4th rank, that you will counter with the exact move (forget strategy, I’m just trying to keep this moving), and that If I then move my bishop out, you will counter with your queen side knight, I most certainly can determine your moves. If you also make the stipulation that I get to create you, I can even pick what your responses will be. It seems foolish to me, to suggest that God ignored such foreknowledge when he made man.

    But if this is the case, then God forced us to sin, yes? Sure, we may have free will, but if God limits the choice to “sin 1″ or “sin 2,” our free will doesn’t extend to choosing “not sin.” Therefore it cannot be our fault that we have to choose one sin or the other.

    You are suggesting that fault and blame transcend God. Fault and blame lay where he chooses. The only reason that we are guilty of our sins is because He declared it so. To think otherwise, it to put our actions on the same level as God’s.

    Does that actually count as an answer? Seriously. If God actually worked the way you’ve described, it would be illogical and dishonest, not to mention cruel and unjust. You can’t accurately hold someone else responsible for something you caused.
    You can’t do those things. God certainly could. The thing is, He’s told us that He has all power. You seem to believe that choice somehow has to mean that we can do what God has not planned for us to do. That’s not what the word means.

    I guess I’d ask you a question. When God prophesied certain things would come to pass, did he just take a chance that no one would choose differently than he prophesied or did He just force His hand when necessary? When he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, was that cruel and unjust to Pharaoh?

    And why do we pray that God will change people’s heart? Shouldn’t we pray to the people? Or shouldn’t we pray that God will “do His best” to change their hearts.

    I’m really not trying to be snarky, but I used to believe that for us to able to “truly” choose, it meant that we had to be able to do anything we wanted. The truth is, a choice doesn’t even have to have two options.

    Anyway, I’m enjoying this discussion. Thanks for your responses.
    Charles

  16. This isn’t how chess works (you can’t determine the other person’s moves in chess), and I seriously doubt it’s how God works either. Technically, if you can determine all my resulting actions with your first move, then I have no free will in the process. Period. I have to move exactly where you predetermine me to move.

    Let me describe it this way: If I know that when I move my King’s pawn out to the 4th rank, that you will counter with the exact move (forget strategy, I’m just trying to keep this moving), and that If I then move my bishop out, you will counter with your queen side knight, I most certainly can determine your moves. If you also make the stipulation that I get to create you, I can even pick what your responses will be. It seems foolish to me, to suggest that God ignored such foreknowledge when he made man.

    But if this is the case, then God forced us to sin, yes? Sure, we may have free will, but if God limits the choice to “sin 1″ or “sin 2,” our free will doesn’t extend to choosing “not sin.” Therefore it cannot be our fault that we have to choose one sin or the other.

    You are suggesting that fault and blame transcend God. Fault and blame lay where he chooses. The only reason that we are guilty of our sins is because He declared it so. To think otherwise, it to put our actions on the same level as God’s.

    Does that actually count as an answer? Seriously. If God actually worked the way you’ve described, it would be illogical and dishonest, not to mention cruel and unjust. You can’t accurately hold someone else responsible for something you caused.

    You can’t do those things. God certainly could. The thing is, He’s told us that He has all power. You seem to believe that choice somehow has to mean that we can do what God has not planned for us to do. That’s not what the word means.

    I guess I’d ask you a question. When God prophesied certain things would come to pass, did he just take a chance that no one would choose differently than he prophesied or did He just force His hand when necessary? When he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, was that cruel and unjust to Pharaoh?

    And why do we pray that God will change people’s heart? Shouldn’t we pray to the people? Or shouldn’t we pray that God will “do His best” to change their hearts.

    I’m really not trying to be snarky, but I used to believe that for us to able to “truly” choose, it meant that we had to be able to do anything we wanted. The truth is, a choice doesn’t even have to have two options.

    Anyway, I’m enjoying this discussion. Thanks for your responses.
    Charles

  17. If I know that when I move my King’s pawn out to the 4th rank, that you will counter with the exact move (forget strategy, I’m just trying to keep this moving), and that If I then move my bishop out, you will counter with your queen side knight, I most certainly can determine your moves.

    Hmm. Then how can you say there is any free will in this process? The thing with chess is that I can always choose my moves, even if you can outmaneuver me. But you are saying my moves are predetermined–I have only one choice. Is this not more analogous to a computer program? I mean, you could say that the computer “chooses” to do what is is programmed to do, but that’s not what the word “choice” ordinarily means.

    You are suggesting that fault and blame transcend God. Fault and blame lay where he chooses.

    Where do you have biblical evidence of this idea that fault and blame lay where God chooses?

    The Bible consistently maintains that a person is guilty because he or she chooses sin. Guilt and blame are never arbitrarily assigned in the Bible; they are always connected to the person who actually committed the sin. In this biblical system of justice, it wouldn’t fly to make one individual responsible for something he or she was forced into by another person. Are you saying that the whole idea of justice as presented in the Bible is a charade, and that God arbitrarily makes up rules for us humans but changes them when it comes to himself?

    The only reason that we are guilty of our sins is because He declared it so.

    I’m hard pressed to understand how you can seriously say this. Illogic doesn’t become logic just because the logician is God.

    I suppose it would be possible for God to simply declare that we are guilty. But if so, He’s lying. And that lie can’t change the facts: If we are predestined, it’s not we who are at fault (using the ordinary meaning of the word “fault”). It doesn’t matter what God declares; the computer character who has been programmed to do everything I tell it to do is not responsible for whatever it does. I’m responsible, because I’m manning the robot. Sure, I can “hold it responsible” and torture it when it “sins” (which I’ve forced it to do), but…what kind of sick God do we believe in anyway? That concept of “justice” is nonsensical, not to mention horribly inconsistent with the Bible.

    You seem to believe that choice somehow has to mean that we can do what God has not planned for us to do. That’s not what the word means.

    That is exactly what the word “choice” means. Out of curiosity, what are you proposing as an alternative definition?

    The truth is, a choice doesn’t even have to have two options.

    I once had a “multiple-choice” exam where the teacher included a couple questions that each had only one answer choice. Why he did this is beyond me. But regardless, even then, I had the choice to fill in the single bubble or leave it blank. You can’t have choice unless you have options.

    One more note: I realize you asked me several questions that I haven’t answered. This is partly because I don’t have answers (about, say, the nature of foreknowledge or how prayer works) and partly because you wouldn’t accept my assumptions for what answers I do have. But even at that, the questions don’t change my basic argument: I’m not denying, per se, that predestination might exist. I’m only saying that I’m not seeing how free will and predestination can exist together. And I’m also saying that God can’t be illogical.

  18. If I know that when I move my King’s pawn out to the 4th rank, that you will counter with the exact move (forget strategy, I’m just trying to keep this moving), and that If I then move my bishop out, you will counter with your queen side knight, I most certainly can determine your moves.

    Hmm. Then how can you say there is any free will in this process? The thing with chess is that I can always choose my moves, even if you can outmaneuver me. But you are saying my moves are predetermined–I have only one choice. Is this not more analogous to a computer program? I mean, you could say that the computer “chooses” to do what is is programmed to do, but that’s not what the word “choice” ordinarily means.

    You are suggesting that fault and blame transcend God. Fault and blame lay where he chooses.

    Where do you have biblical evidence of this idea that fault and blame lay where God chooses?

    The Bible consistently maintains that a person is guilty because he or she chooses sin. Guilt and blame are never arbitrarily assigned in the Bible; they are always connected to the person who actually committed the sin. In this biblical system of justice, it wouldn’t fly to make one individual responsible for something he or she was forced into by another person. Are you saying that the whole idea of justice as presented in the Bible is a charade, and that God arbitrarily makes up rules for us humans but changes them when it comes to himself?

    The only reason that we are guilty of our sins is because He declared it so.

    I’m hard pressed to understand how you can seriously say this. Illogic doesn’t become logic just because the logician is God.

    I suppose it would be possible for God to simply declare that we are guilty. But if so, He’s lying. And that lie can’t change the facts: If we are predestined, it’s not we who are at fault (using the ordinary meaning of the word “fault”). It doesn’t matter what God declares; the computer character who has been programmed to do everything I tell it to do is not responsible for whatever it does. I’m responsible, because I’m manning the robot. Sure, I can “hold it responsible” and torture it when it “sins” (which I’ve forced it to do), but…what kind of sick God do we believe in anyway? That concept of “justice” is nonsensical, not to mention horribly inconsistent with the Bible.

    You seem to believe that choice somehow has to mean that we can do what God has not planned for us to do. That’s not what the word means.

    That is exactly what the word “choice” means. Out of curiosity, what are you proposing as an alternative definition?

    The truth is, a choice doesn’t even have to have two options.

    I once had a “multiple-choice” exam where the teacher included a couple questions that each had only one answer choice. Why he did this is beyond me. But regardless, even then, I had the choice to fill in the single bubble or leave it blank. You can’t have choice unless you have options.

    One more note: I realize you asked me several questions that I haven’t answered. This is partly because I don’t have answers (about, say, the nature of foreknowledge or how prayer works) and partly because you wouldn’t accept my assumptions for what answers I do have. But even at that, the questions don’t change my basic argument: I’m not denying, per se, that predestination might exist. I’m only saying that I’m not seeing how free will and predestination can exist together. And I’m also saying that God can’t be illogical.

  19. I meant to add that I’ve enjoyed this discussion too and have learned a lot by thinking through your points. Thanks for being so responsive. 🙂

  20. I meant to add that I’ve enjoyed this discussion too and have learned a lot by thinking through your points. Thanks for being so responsive. 🙂

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