Free will AND Determinism

Something I wrote as a response on another blog:

One of the areas that Reformed scholars have challenged Driscoll and Piper most on is the level of determinism that they are asserting comes from Calvin and other Reformation scholars.

In the sermon that I linked to a few posts back Tim Keller raises some good points. 1. Our objection: “either free will or determinism” is contextual too. The Bible seems quite comfortable with both of them. We are both real agents, responsible for what we chose and the consequences, AND God is moving through history and will accomplish his ends even through our choices. This is very clear in the conclusion to the Joseph story. “you meant it for evil but God meant it for good.”

2. Without this both/and we couldn’t live. If we were truly convinced of determinism (I’ve never met one yet) then we’d never do anything because nothing would matter. If we were truly convinced that God did not exercise providence in the universe we’d rightly be paralyzed with fear about our choices. There are lots of movies that follow up this line of thinking: “Butterfly Effect”, “Groundhog Day”, “Sliding Doors”, “It’s a Wonderful Life” Someone once penned a name for them: “Metaphysical second chance comedies”. These movies show that decisions and persons are consequential AND that there is a governing narrative without which we simply could not operate without legitimate paralysis of fear.

I sometimes think of it as working one of those puzzle mazes backwards. If you start by “start” you have dozens of decisions to make. Sometimes if you start at “end” the path to “start” looks very clear.

Our problem of choice and time could very well be a matter of perspective given our location.

Ask yourself this question. Could you have been a thirteenth century chinese soldier? People often imagine “sure, I can imagine that.” I don’t think so, because then you would not be you. You are the product of thousands of years of unique genetic selection as well as epigenetics (a fun NOVA on a few years ago). You are a product of your parent’s upbringing, the TV shows you watched, your friends, your culture, your age, the specific pattern of events that came together to make your life. The mixture is so infinitely complicated we can’t really fathom it. You are you and there can nor ever will be another.

Now people get all bent out of shape in terms of “what about pigmies in Africa who lived 2000 years ago and never heard about Jesus.” Well, what about them? God is the judge, if he is smarter than we are and more moral than we are then he will know exactly what to do and it will be right. Why should I worry about something I know nothing about. That is far more a problem with the Arminian position than the Calvinist one because they weren’t given enough information in order to make a selection. The truth is that we are real agents and not completely “free” agents. All of our choices are influenced by all sorts of other conditions most of which we are unaware of. Listen to NYC Radio Labs on Choice sometime or look at studies of identical twins. Nature or nurture? both!

You can no more answer a question about pigmies 2000 years ago than you can answer why you were born in affluent, choice filled North America and not to an abusive father somewhere in Brazil. History is a stream and we are all part of the stream, genetics, culture, the works.

To those who want to see God in a very Greek, Aristotelian way, it seems pretty clear that Matthew isn’t talking about Aristotle’s categories when he said “God doesn’t change”. He was probably talking more in line about what NT Wright means with God’s covenant faithfulness. This same God in Jonah “repents of the evil he was about to do against Nineveh”. Yes we are dialogue and relationship with God, but God also has a plan that will finally yield justice and joy. As I posted in my piece on parties in Luke and Hell joy is foundational, lostness is derivative. Is CS Lewis right that greater joy requires the possibility of loss and without the actuality of loss the possibility isn’t real? I don’t know. I don’t know what we can and can’t know with these issues.

Augustine, the father of Reformation predestination was once confronted by a young man who came to him and said “What if I’m not predestined?!” Augustine told him, “then go to a church and get yourself predestined.”

Every time people ask Jesus questions that essentially beg for “insider information” Jesus’ reply is usually something like “what business is that of yours, don’t you have enough to worry about with your own self?”

I don’t know that Jesus could have responsibly commanded us not to worry without a rigorous belief in God’s ability to turn bad choices ultimately into truly joyful outcomes.

I wrote a blog post on why we should believe that God can even change the past.

I believe both that we are blessed with true agency AND the age of decay will come to a close with a joyful journey further up and further in.

Furthermore, meaning today requires that real agency today in our fumbling expressions are not in vain and finally yield both God’s glorious conclusion and our participation in it.

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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