Notes for AUC ZOOM Discussion 10:00am, Thursday July 30, 2020

Predestination vs Free Will

Prepared by Karel Reus

Ever since the Protestant Reformation was launched in the early 1500s, and the roughly coincidental invention of the printing press (around 1440), the debate has raged in the church over whether God has planned our lives well in advance (predestination) or whether there is latitude for us to make decisions. Over the years some people have decided that they are amongst a predestined “elect”, and have used that to enhance their prestige and power.

Those who cling to the idea of free will assert that salvation makes no sense if we are not free to decide for ourselves whether or not we will accept God’s saving grace.

This is not just an obscure theological issue. When pushed I suspect that most of us would strongly support Free Will. We do, after all, seem to make “free” decisions countless times each day. But yet, free-will is not random-will. Mostly, when we make “free” decisions they are decisions with reasons. Our social structure is based upon our need for predictability. Our social relations depend on predictability and reliability. And the whole edifice of our science is built upon the quest for reliable “laws of nature”. It gets even more complicated when we pray to God to suspend natural laws just for us; as in the curing of an illness, or the defeat of a virus.

Supporters of either side will take comfort in scripture. Those committed to free will will see God’s granting of free will to Adam as an insight into the relationship that God wants with human-kind. Supporters of predestination, however, will take comfort in passages such as the following from the Epistle to the Romans.

Romans 8:26-39 (Translation: The Message)

26-28 Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

29-30 God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun. 31-39 So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture: They kill us in cold blood because they hate you. We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one. None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

Some questions:

  1. Can the idea that God has pre-determined everything past, present and future, be reconciled with free will?
  2. Is it possible that free will is an illusion?
  3. If God has planned out our lives in the smallest detail (whatever will be, will be), is there any point in us making an effort?
  4. Can/ought we blame evil on God?
  5. What sense can we make of “bad luck”?
  6. Are there limits to our responsibility?

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