Friday, July 24, 2015

Predestination vs. Freewill


I've had about a billion conversations about the apparent conflict between Predestination and Freewill. Don't get me wrong - I'm certainly not complaining. I love talks about big, philosophical ideas. What is piety? Who watches the Watchmen? Why did the chicken cross the road? But today, I'm going to tackle the question that has plagued my mind and dominated my evenings for going on half a decade and perhaps I will be able to shed a little light for some of you here.

First off, as usual, it's best to define the terms we'll be using. What do we mean by Predestination? What is Freewill?

PREDESTINATION is the idea that we are somehow fated to a certain end and that the path to it was determined long ago. That's what I mean by this term anyway, and that is precisely how I am going to address it here. This is an argument from philosophy, however and not theology necessarily so we are not talking about SOVEREIGN ELECTION. That will be next week's topic. No, today we are addressing what I call PASSIVE PREDESTINY. And I will explain it as we go.

FREEWILL is a concept that most people simply default to when asked about matters of life and the universe and most people - regardless of religious background would probably hold to this idea. The problem is that the concept of Freewill is a very ambiguous idea and it can mean at least two things. I'll address both possibilities here.
First, we have LIBERTARIAN FREEWILL, which supposes that a free moral agent, namely Man, may accomplish any action within his given ability to do so with no influence or coersion needed to propel him along.
Secondly, COMPATIBLISTIC FREEWILL states that a free moral agent, again Man, may accomplish any activity within the parameters of both his given abilities and his nature in accordance with his chiefest desires.

Seemingly pitted against these two is what I refer to as PASSIVE PREDESTINY, which supposes that if any future event can be known with absolute certainty, then any related actions or events before it must necessarily take place.

This creates a dilemma, namely if God knows everything, then Man cannot be free - and if Man is free, then God cannot be all knowing.

So let's jump into LIBERTARIAN FREEWILL. Can anything, living, dead or otherwise, act with absolute freedom? Well, let's begin by examining the conditions necessary for this freedom to be appropriated onto any agent.
1. The Agent must be free of influence and bias. 
2. The Agent must be free of responsibility.
3. The Agent must act without desire, lest he be persuaded by some external force.
It is best now to break these three requirements down and see why they must be if an Agent is to be free in the sense we mentioned above.
1. Free of Influence or Bias: The Agent cannot possess a Bias, because it would Influence him. He cannot be influenced, because that would bind his freedom to choose freely. Influence and Bias both work to set our Agent to one side of a decision or another. In order to be truly free in this regard, an Agent must be dead center and all his decisions must be arbitrary. Otherwise, some external force will be responsible, in whole or in part, for his choice and therefore it will not be his decision. Alternatively, our Agent must be free of Influence in the regard that he cannot be the source of it - that is to say that he cannot Influence others. Influence may also be something which acts upon the Agent. We influence a basketball by picking it up and throwing it just the same as we influence someone by way of inspiration or provocation. In order to be totally free in this sense, we must neither be influenced nor influence. Which leads us to ...
2. Free of Responsibility: Our Agent must be free of responsibility. If he isn't, then the responsibility he has will act as a determinant toward his decisions. If the threat of responsibility exists, it will act similarly to actual responsibility. The same is true of consequence. In order for our Agent to be free, he cannot have any consequences tied to his action. This would place responsibility on another Agent and that in turn would put Influence again on our Agent. 
3. Free of Desire: Perhaps the most surprising prerequisite for this sort of freedom is the necessary absence of desire. It would be entirely natural to expect the exact opposite in fact. But upon closer inspection, we see that desire is one of the greatest inhibitors of freedom. Desire sways us more than external influence. It fuels our bias and it is the object to which we are most responsible. In this, we find the most conflict with Libertarian Freedom.

Next up, we have COMPATIBLISTIC FREEWILL. As I mentioned earlier, this type is freewill is contingent upon three things:
1. The Inherent Nature of the Agent
2. The Capacity to Act
3. The Chiefest Desires of the Agent

This type of freedom is both more free and more limiting than the previous, Libertarian version. Here's why:
--It is more free because an agent may do anything they please - meaning they are free to HAVE DESIRES.
--It is more free because the Agent may act upon outside forces and be acted upon.
--It is more limited because it can be influenced.
The idea of desire as a limiting force may seem strange at first, but bear with me. Desire sways our decisions to one direction or another. When we have desires, we are more likely to act within the confines of those desires. Even doing an unfavorable thing is possible within our desires because our chiefest desire supersedes the desire not to act. I'll give an example:
I am sick.
I don't want to go to the doctor.
I don't want to stay sick.
Option A is that I go to the doctor and get better.
Option B is that I don't go to the doctor and I stay sick.
If I choose A, then I will be acting against my desire to stay away from the doctor in favor of my desire to not be sick.
If I choose B, then I will be acting against my desire to be sick in favor of avoiding a doctor visit.
Either way, I am choosing based on my chiefest desire.

Now let's discuss PASSIVE PREDESTINY. This idea states, as I mentioned above, that if any future event can be known with absolute certainty, then it must necessarily occur as it is known. So what, right? No one knows the future, so it doesn't matter. But here's the tricky thing - GOD. 

If GOD exists, then we have a conflict. So let's explore this possibility.

1. GOD isn't a physical being, He is a Spirit (John 4:24).
GOD is therefore not bound by physical laws or spacial constraints. This allows Him to possess a trait called OMNIPRESENCE. Basically, God is everywhere at the same time.
Because He is everywhere all at the same time, He is able to see everything at the same time and by extension, He knows everything. At least in the sense of what is happening presently.
Because God knows everything that presently is, He also knows everything which in the past has been.
So God knows everything that was and is, but what about future events? That's what we're really here for isn't it? Well, we know that God has knowledge of the future, because with 100% accuracy, He has made promises for the future since the beginning of the world AND He has given messages of prophecy - future events. So what can we deduce? Well, God knows with 100% certainty the things which shall be - at least among the things concerning which He has spoken.
2. God created all things. That means He existed before physical material, and this existed before time as we know it. So God is eternal AND exists outside of time. What this means is that God can see every point in time simultaneously with 100% clarity. That means He can know all things past, present and future with absolute certainty.

So now we get to that PASSIVE PREDESTINY thing I keep mentioning. God has absolute knowledge of the things to come. Every choice we make, He saw it before the world began turning. That means we MUST NECESSARILY ACT WITHIN THE CONFINES OF HIS ABSOLUTE KNOWLEDGE. This concept doesn't suppose that God is forcing decisions upon us, but rather that BY KNOWING OUR DECISIONS AHEAD OF TIME, THAT KNOWLEDGE BINDS US.

--I am presented with three choices: Apple, Pear, Orange.
--God knows I will choose Apple.
--God cannot be wrong, because His knowledge is absolute.
--I must choose Apple for God to be correct.
--I must choose Apple.

See? Our choice is limited by God's knowledge. No matter what your view on SOVEREIGN ELECTION (which we can discuss some other time), we must logically admit that choice is illusory.

So what does this mean for us? Are we exempt from responsibility? Are we free of blame if we do wrong?

1. We are still responsible for every action. Why? Two reasons:
A. From our perspective, we are choosing.
B. Every action has an equal yet opposite reaction - including moral action.

2. Are we free of guilt/blame for the wrong we do? No. Guilt and blame are our burden to bear as long as we are at war with God. If we are saved, however, we are awarded peace with God through Christ and our burden is laid upon Him.

Some big questions:

If we don't have Freewill, how can we be held responsible? Doesn't that make God cruel? No. God is good. This means that He cannot do evil or unjust things. Even His grace is just. And so is His wrath. God does not cause us to do evil. Instead, He offered up His Son to die, paying the consequence of our wicked deeds in our stead granting us a way to righteousness. If we do not fall upon that grace, then we fall upon the cold blade of the law, consequences and all.
Yeah, but it still seems unfair. If we can't really choose anyway, then we're all doomed. Why bother? This is nihilistic thinking. The beauty is that God has not given us to know who His chosen people are. That is a mystery that only He can know. Understanding this, it is our privilege to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with everyone we meet in hopes that we are telling it to someone who shall be saved.
But why share if they are going to be saved or damned anyway? Isn't that a waste of time and energy? No. The hearing of the Gospel is the means by which God has chosen to awaken His sleeping ones. And how can someone hear unless the Word is preached?
Doesn't the Bible say that God isn't willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance? Yes. But that is a tricky verse. You see, the grammatical nuance in that word willing is not the same as it would appear in English. It technically denotes a sense of pleasure. The verse is basically saying that God doesn't take pleasure in anyone perishing, but in repentance.
If God loved us, wouldn't He give us Freewill? I don't know. Is it loving to leave us to our own wicked desires and not rescue us out of them? What you're describing is exactly what unbelievers have been given: a life free of the influence of God's salvific hand. And the result is death. If God removed His hand from us and didn't choose some and se them aside for Himself, none would come to Him.
Nonsense! Some people would choose God! If they knew that choosing Him meant the difference between Heaven and Hell! Perhaps, but the issue here is that no one truly believes they are going to Hell. No one. So people left to their own devices assume they are doing fine. They are blinded by pride. And everyone suppresses the truth of God in unrighteousness.
Wouldn't a loving God save everyone?
First of all, do you want total autonomy or do you want God to save you? We've already discussed that your nature is at odds with God and you wouldn't choose Him even if you could. But okay. We can address this. If God loved us, would He take away our Freewill and save us all? God gives a measure of grace to everyone. It's this common grace that keeps us from more and more extreme sin. Ghengis Khan, Cristobol Colon and Hitler were perfect angels compared to  what with full sin potential they could have become. God does save everyone. But He doesn't always redeem everyone. 

We'll have more on this topic later. :)

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