The problem of Either/Or: Free Will vs Predestiny


This entry is part 17 of 20 in the series The problem of ...

Many people take one side of an issue.  
It’s an either – or thing.  But what if there’s another possibility?

No – not a third option,
but the possibility that “either” and “or” are both correct.

Sounds impossible, doesn’t it?

Especially when people are so passionate (stubborn?) about the issue.

We’re going to look at the issue of “predestiny” versus “free will” today.
I’ve written about “both” (pun intended) of them before –
The problem of predestiny.
The problem of free will.

For instance –

Calvinism – the Protestant theological system of John Calvin and his successors, which develops Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone and emphasizes the grace of God and the doctrine of predestination.

Arminius taught that Calvinist predestination and unconditional election made God the author of evil. Instead, Arminius insisted, God’s election was an election of believers and therefore was conditioned on faith. Furthermore, Arminius argued, God’s exhaustive foreknowledge did not require a doctrine of determinism.  

Different Christian denominations are on either side of this debate.

Using the image at the top, that would put (for the sake of clarity) Calvinists in the “either” circle.  Arminians would therefore be in the right circle.  (Sorry – nothing intended for Arminians being in the one on the “right”).

And there’s this from a Catholic web site, which put them in neither camp –

Before you can truly understand the differences between the Catholic and Arminian understanding of salvation, you must understand the fact that Catholicism teaches predestination. Where we primarily differ from Calvinism is in our understanding of the relationship between the number of those who are justified and the number of those who are predestined. Calvinists believe that all of the justified are numbered among the predestined and hence only the predestined will be justified. And hence all of the justified will persevere, which is the Calvinist doctrine known as perseverance of the saints.

Catholics believe that all of the predestined will be justified, but not all of the justified are numbered among those who are predestined. That’s because not all of the justified persevere to the end, as taught by Scripture (John 15:2, 6, 1 Timothy 1:19-20, Hebrews 6, 10:26-29). Since the Bible teaches that the predestined are assured glorification (Romans 8:29-30, John 10:28-29), then all those who lose, lose their justification and die in that state cannot be numbered among the predestined. They were truly justified but were not numbered among the predestined. This is what is taught by the Bible, taught by Saint Augustine, and taught by the Catholic Church for nearly 2000 years. This was also taught by Martin Luther.

In the image at the top, that puts them outside of both circles.

But notice – there is an area where the two circles overlap.  What if that’s a true representation of this debate.

Just to set the record –
before beginning the research for this project, I believed in Free Will.  There are plenty of references in the Bible to show where this belief comes from.
As I’ve done more research, I’ve come to alter that belief – just a little bit.

The predestination camp has verses they point to as well.  So the question arises – who is “right”?

What if it’s both?

What if some people are predestined to do certain things – and others (most of us) have the free will to choose to ignore God’s calling to us?

Predestined?

What about Moses?

Ex 3:11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

Ex 3:13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

Ex 4:1 Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?”

Ex 4:10 Moses said to the LORD, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

Ex 4:13 But Moses said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.”

Ex 5:22 Moses returned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? 23 Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”

Ex 6:12 But Moses said to the LORD, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips ?”

Ex 6:30 But Moses said to the LORD, “Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?”

There are more examples, but I think the point has been made that Moses clearly didn’t really want to do this.

And yet – it’s also abundantly clear that God wasn’t going to take “No” for an answer.  Moses didn’t have a choice.  This truly appears to be his destiny – predetermined by God,

What about Gideon?

Jdg 6:13 “But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.”

Jdg 6:15 “But Lord,’” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

Jdg 6:17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”

Jdg 6:36 Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised— 37 look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.”

Jdg 6:39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew.”

Again we see someone who really didn’t want to do what God had in mind for him.

And again we see – this was Gideon’s role – his destiny – and it was going to (and did) happen.

There is also Jonah

Jnh 1:1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
Jnh 1:3 But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish . He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD.

If you remember, God had a most unique way to ensure Jonah fulfilled his mission.

Jnh 1:17 But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.

(Pre)destiny fulfilled.

Predestiny verse in the New Testament

The verses below are often used to show that God predetermined who would be saved.  By a process known as exclusion, therefore, they say everyone else will not be saved.

Ro 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

As you may know, I often go back to older versions of the Bible – and ultimately to either the Hebrew or Greek (as appropriate) for more meaning – more context – more detail.

In this case, let’s go to Young’s Literal Translation –

Ro 8:28 And we have known that to those loving God all things do work together for good, to those who are called according to purpose.

Ro 8:29 Because whom He did foreknow, He also did fore-appoint, conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be first-born among many brethren; 30 and whom He did fore-appoint, these also He did call; and whom He did call, these also He declared righteous; and whom He declared righteous, these also He did glorify.  1)Young, R. (1997). Young’s Literal Translation (Ro 8:29–30). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Let’s look closely at what Paul wrote, from a strictly logical point of view.

In the very first verse (28) – there are actually three “thoughts”, for lack of a better word –

  1. And we have known that to those loving God
  2. all things do work together for good
  3. to those who are called according to purpose

There’s something interesting about these three passages.  The key / central thought is “all things do work together for good“.  This is taken to mean that all things work out the best (in the end and for the glory of God) for all who believe in God.  That’s maybe because of passage #1 – which explicitly states that.

Before we move on though – lets look at one more thing –

Those who love him is an OT expression for God’s followers who throw themselves wholeheartedly into His service and identify themselves with His aims (e.g. Exod. 20:6; Jg. 5:31; Dan. 9:4). The Spirit co-operates with such because they have been summoned by God and assigned a rôle in His redemptive purposes (cf. 1:6 n.). God’s eternal plan was to create for Himself a family modelled upon His unique Son. Before the world began (Eph. 1:4) He intended this destiny for those whom He had made the objects of His personal care and concern.  2)New International Bible Commentary; F.F. Bruce; Copyright © 1979 by Pickering & Inglis Ltd.; All rights reserved.; Rel 10.10.02 

But then, what do we make of passage #3″?

Given what we just read about “Those who love God”, it appears that passage #3 is making that thought more clear by repeating it, with different words that are more explicit.  In that way, Paul is reaching out to both the Jews and the Gentiles.  Predestiny “appears” to be for real.

However – before we close the case, let’s consider some other things.

The cultural view of “Those who love God” identifies those people as the ones who throw themselves wholeheartedly into His service and identify themselves with His aims.  To be sure, this is a small subset of those who claim to be Christians.  

I’ve written about this passage before – 

Ten Healed of Leprosy

Lk 17:11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
Lk 17:14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
Lk 17:15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
Lk 17:17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

I’m wondering now, do I need to change my view of this verse?  Could this be the difference, not between those who are saved and those who aren’t, but between those who throw themselves wholeheartedly into His service and identify themselves with His aims and those who don’t?

The reason I say that isn’t to hang on to a view of “free will” that isn’t supported.  It’s because of something else that Paul wrote –

1Co 3:10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

Here’s the thing – If predestiny means that only those who throw themselves wholeheartedly into His service and identify themselves with His aims are saved – then who exactly are the ones escaping through the flames?  It’s not reasonable to think anyone who (would) throw themselves wholeheartedly into His service and identify themselves with His aims would have nothing built up that would escape the flames.  It’s really, really hard to believe.  Just look at what happened with the Old Testament heroes we looked at earlier.  If they had their way – they would have accomplished nothing.  But they didn’t have their way – and they accomplished great things.  Because that’s what God wanted them to do.

At the top, I mentioned two other articles I wrote –

The problem of predestiny.
The problem of free will.

Without repeating the entirety of them here, one of the points made was that given the Gospels (over time) go from Jesus birth being good news for all, and eventually His death became good news for some.  But still – it does say good news for all.  I take that to mean the possibility of good news for all – with the reality of good news for some.  Given that statement of good news for all – if predestiny for some is the only way to be saved – would that not mean that God lied about in the statement about good news for all?  Given that God lying is impossible – it has to be good news for all, even if only a possibility – and predestiny cannot be the only way to be saved.

To me, the evidence appears overwhelming against predestiny being the only way to be saved.  

More properly, it would seem that there are some individuals, like the ones we saw earlier, who were / are predestined to be the ones who (would) throw themselves wholeheartedly into His service and identify themselves with His aims while others, who heard their message (thanks to the Great Commission) will be saved – even if escaping with nothing but their souls.

By the way – if you’re wondering why we didn’t look at the rest of the verses in the passage from Romans – look again –

Ro 8:28 And we have known that to those loving God all things do work together for good, to those who are called according to purpose.

Ro 8:29 Because whom He did foreknow, He also did fore-appoint, conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be first-born among many brethren; 30 and whom He did fore-appoint, these also He did call; and whom He did call, these also He declared righteous; and whom He declared righteous, these also He did glorify.  3)Young, R. (1997). Young’s Literal Translation (Ro 8:29–30). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

There’s no reason to look at verses 29-30, since they only apply to the ones who were predestined to great service for the Lord.  God will be sure they do what He wants them to do.  For the rest of us – it’s a choice.  We can believe in God – or not.  And, if we believe in God, we can serve God to various levels – or not serve God at all.  But in the end – belief in God is what the Bible says in the minimum to be saved.

And so we see – it’s very likely that predestiny is something that applies to a relatively small number of people.  Free will is what applies to the rest of us,

Finally, just to correct the thought about the image, the truth appears to be inside the circles, not in the area of overlap – but in the areas that don’t overlap – since any given person is either predestined to serve God – or will choose to follow God on their own.

So it’s not either / or.  It’s both.

 

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References   [ + ]

1, 3. Young, R. (1997). Young’s Literal Translation (Ro 8:29–30). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
2. New International Bible Commentary; F.F. Bruce; Copyright © 1979 by Pickering & Inglis Ltd.; All rights reserved.; Rel 10.10.02

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