Free Will vs. Predestination: Can’t Anyone Give Me a HARD Problem to Solve?

My dachshund’s namesake. 

Lately a couple of trouble-making readers have been asking my opinion on the question of free will vs. predestination. For some time now I have struggled mightily to ignore their queries; when finally forced by etiquette to acknowledge them, I suggested, in hopes of distracting them, that they upgrade their cable service, or invest in pets.

“You can watch Chinese soccer matches!” I tried. “And a dachshund can be so much fun! They look like sausages—with free will!”

But, alas, they stayed on topic. “Stop trying to get out of it!” they responded.

“Choke up your opinion on predestination!”

The problem is that I’ve never been too interested in trying to suss out the exact relationship between my free will and the idea of God’s already knowing my whole life. Once I tried to do some reading on the matter, but in so doing right away bumped into words like “determinism,” “Calvinism,” and “Arminianism.”

So I ran out and bought a dachshund, which I named Emanuel Swedenborg.

And today I find that freakishly determined readers are right back at it, challenging me yet again to solve the whole question of free will vs. predestination. So I will now formally do that, so that I can go back to watching Chinese soccer.

There can be no question but that I have free will. To prove it, I will now do an imitation of Daffy Duck.

There. I did it. You didn’t see it, but it was hilarious. Nobody does Daffy like me. Like I.

Like me.

Anyway, there’s no way God could have predicted that I would do that.

Ha! And now, just to drive home the point, I did an imitation of Daffy Duck imitating the Road Runner.

Also funny! Except I think I hurt my throat.

But the point is, I decided to do that larynx-traumatizer all by myself.

There’s no way that in any Book of Life written before time there’s an entry that says: “5:43 a.m. July 25, 2007. San Diego, California. Dork on couch with laptop does imitation of Daffy Duck imitating Road Runner.”

This proves, beyond question, that I have free will.

Except I don’t want to have free will. Which is to say, I don’t want to be able to surprise God. A God so stuck in temporal time that he has to wait to see what will happen next doesn’t sound like a very inspiring, very All-Knowing sort of deity. That sounds like me watching TV or reading a book if I ever read books.

So forget what I said before. God knows all. Period. That’s not debatable.

So God did know I was going to wrench my throat box!

And yet, He didn’t stop me.

That seems kind of … obnoxious of Him.

Hmm. So I think I have free will. But in actually I do not, because God, knowing all, is perfectly aware ahead of time of everything that I’ll ever do, say, or think. Moreover, he causes me to do, say, and think everything that I do. Because if he’s all-knowing, then he must be all-powerful, since anyone who is all-knowing but not all-powerful is just … a nerd.

Say, you know what I think?

I think I’ll take little Emanuel Swedenborg for a walk.

Okay, fine. Here is what I really think about this matter:

When we’re outside of God’s grace—when we’ve chosen to Go Rogue—we have free will, because we’ve then placed ourselves outside of God’s purview. But when we’re with God—when we’ve surrendered ourselves to the reality of God’s presence within us—then we don’t have free will, because then our will is subsumed by the larger will of God.

There. Done. That was easy.

How is it that Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and all those other brainy theologians never thought of that?

Losers.

You know, sometimes I think Preeminent Theologian Types really just keep pretending all of this stuff is so hard, so that they don’t have to get real jobs. Then again, many famous philosophers and theologians lived before the invention of television. Maybe keeping themselves amused was more of a challenge for them than it is for, say, me.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://360.yahoo.com/skerrib Kerri B

    Clearly little Emanuel is outside of God's grace. You need to get that doggie saved STAT.

  • Ross

    I struggled with this one for years, but not so much anymore. Where I've arrived at is predestination is a fact, but we have what appears to us as free will. On the other side (the better side) we'll see how God engineered everything and even our disobedience was used by him to fashion us to His liking. But I do wonder about one thing. If predestination is true, and I believe it is, Why were we predestined and not the guy in the next cubicle over? The longer I walk with the Lord the more I realize that there is nothing in myself that God would qualify as a good trait and therefore worth saving. If there is any good in me it ain't me it's Him working through me. One of the many mysteries of God.

  • GRBerry

    A nice humorous take on the topic.

    The difficulty between free will and predestination arises in God's omniscience. (Not that I consider this a real conflict, as I don't considering knowing a causal activity.) Did't you just write about suferring in "The Comfort of the Cross". If God's goodness can encompass our suffering, it can also encompass our free will. God gave us free will, knows what we will do with it, loves us anyway, and intends to bring good out of it.

    I can't articulate all the good consequences of our free will. But a being without free will can't choose, and hence can't do good or evil, can't love or hate. Had Jesus, in his human nature (as opposed to his godly nature), lacked the capacity of free will, the fact of his being sinless would have been meaningless. In the end, I trust that God thinks that it is a good thing that I have free will and the opportunity to screw up, while lacking an understanding of how it is good.

  • Rachel Cabal

    The best part about all this is that Theology Talk is a great, fullfilling, growth inspiring, friend making (sometimes) hobby…thankfully we don't have to agree on any of it in order to define God (as if that were an option). GREAT TOPIC. Thanks to that guy for suggesting it!

  • http://www.freeinternetgame.info Freegames

    That was great very funny

  • Ross

    I hear you with the idea that as much as is revealed in the word there's alot not revealed. The guy could get saved on his deathbed or maybe God has some way of imputing the righteousness of Christ to him, post last breath. But, the Lord did say the way to life is narrow and few find it. Few is not many, so it would appear that most don't get saved. I try to rest in the fact that God is good and knows infinately more than me and eventually it will be clear why there is a hell and we will see that God is good even for that. A heavy thought for sure, (praising God for hell) but true I believe.

  • nisperos

    BTW, I love the name of your dachshund! So sentimental to have an earthly companion pointing to well… at least a late life spiritual conversion, even if not symbolically a higher or religious truth… sort of a bit of an inside joke, huh?

    Of course, when we read and experience the presence of God in our daily life and relationships, when we practice the Great Commission, so to speak, we become, like Christ, more human and more divine, truly "bringing in" and making "at hand" the proleptic reign of God. (I love that word "proleptic" — use it every chance I get. It means something which is fully present and yet to be developed. Cool, huh?) I think the human/divine connection is not complete by just intellectual ascent, but is also very experiential…

    To kind of go along on your post on creativity and God: Creative endeavors, or art if you will, can often move other people to feel sympathy and kindness for their fellow human beings (of course, the alternative is a form of critical distance where a person remains untouched and stuck in analysis). And that, perhaps ironically, is a "useful" thing and maybe one of God's inside jokes.

    John, your humor is a real gift to others, funny guy! A true art form with an edge of being barbed, outrageous, and dramatic while still being kind and sentimental. You have a gift of opening your mouth and saying that the emperor has no clothes when others concern themselves with some form of habitual propriety. You go man!

  • nisperos

    … er, I meant the Great Commandment where I wrote the Great Commission…

    (Wish there was an edit button, because these are the type of errors spell check doesn't catch.)

  • http://phidave.spaces.live.com/ Dave

    JS Wrote: "Okay, here’s what I think: When we’re outside of God’s grace–when we’ve chosen to be Fallen Independent Types–we have free will, because we’ve then placed ourselves outside of God’s purview. But when we’re with God–when we’ve surrendered ourselves to the reality of God’s presence within us–then we don’t have free will, because then our will is subsumed by the larger will of God."

    …and thus the constant struggle many of us face everyday in our "walk"? (or at least I know that I face this struggle regularly) Surrendering completely, and all that it entails, seems so contrary to our nature. (or at least mine)?

    I've really enjoyed reading through the many entries here this morning. I've laughed, I've frowned, I've reflected and I've pondered. Ultimately, it's been a great way to spend a morning and has been VERY enlightening. Thank you! I look forward to more!

  • Tom

    John,

    Interesting post. Dealing with this issue is always such a serious matter that it was nice to see it from a lighter side. How we settle this issue affects the way that we interpret much of Scripture.

    By the way, I appreciate your compliment about my blog. What started out as “I’ll just give it a try and see how I like it” has turned into something very enjoyable and addictive.

    Tom

    The Everyday Christian

    http://sanctification.wordpress.com

  • http://html PenIee

    Bible teaches predestination and rightly so how could we, so happily, in our sin-loving life even want to reach out to God? Bible also says He knew us before the foundation of the world. Let God be God and praise Him in that He is a good and just God and get on with it. I have set tapes excellent on this subject and am now fully settled on the answer. Seek God and maybe He will put some good teaching across your path.

  • http://www.stephenwillcox.wordpress.com Stephen

    John,

    I appreciate your desire to deal with this topic. I also see that you have given this topic some thought. And I don't mean to be rude but this is not a simple as you have stated in your post. Not to mention your lack of respect for the hard work of men before you is needless to say insulting. Yet these comments concerning them exposes how little you do understand concerning the topic. I recommend you read a bit more on the topic and strive to truly understand where the debate lies. Labor to understand where opposing camps stand. Secondly pick up some biographies of these men you have listed and see what real jobs they had. And see how most of these men had significantly more difficult lives then we do today. Their desire to understand real life is what drove these men to find answers to these questions that life brought to them. If you would like you can check out my blog where I have just posted an article concerning this topic. Maybe that can be a start for you in this study.

    Blessings,

    Stephen

  • http://www.stephenwillcox.wordpress.com Stephen

    I confused by the statement you are educated enough. Do you really mean that? Proverbs has much to say concerning that man who has nothing else to learn. We are set free by truth. Learning is a process and a lifelong one at that. Please don't belittle learning and growing. For our sanctification is dependent upon knowing truth (i.e. God and how he works). Jesus taught that joy comes from doctrine. So let us both continue to learn and not be killjoys :-)

    Blessings,

    Stephen

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Jesus taught that joy comes from doctrine?

  • http://www.stephenwillcox.wordpress.com Stephen

    John,

    I appreciate your willingness to engage in conversation about this. John 17:13-14, 26 speaks of doctrine giving joy. I could give you more but I am not sure how much time you want to spend in this conversation. To be short. Doctrine is teaching. The Bible is full of it. It teaches about who God is, who we are, and what God demands of us. Knowing these teachings set us free, give us life, joy, peace, love and so on. Sanctification is also a process where we become more like Jesus. Jesus is now infinitely joyful. Being sanctified includes, therefore, becoming joyful! How are we sanctified? John 17:17. That's right, doctrine. So yes, Jesus did teach that joy comes from doctrine.

    Blessings,

    Stephen

  • Mark Walker

    Stupid John Owen eh? Took a whole book to deal with all the possibilities! ("The Death of Death in the Death of Christ") But maybe John Shore doesn't care about QUALIFIED Doctors of Divinity who spent their entire lives serving Christ and wrestling C A R E F U L L Y with determined multi-generational opponents of the Biblical doctrine of election. I just don't understand how 'GETTING REALLY GOOFY' resolves the issue. I'm sure you probably attracted a number of likeminded or amusing individuals…but you'll never be confused with Augustine or Luther or Edwards or Gill…heck…even Erasmus!

    • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com Ric Booth

      I confuse John with Goofy and Daffy all the time! And they’re freakin’ huge! And I mean, who’s EVER said that about any of those other dudes?

  • http://reedducks.wordpress.com Christian Beyer

    Mark and Stephen point out one of the great problems with this (and just about all other debates) we let others, because of their credentials, do all the thinking for us – priests, theologians, pastors, the pope, Glen Beck etc etc.

    And a lot of those 'great' thinkers did their thinking back when they thought the universe revolved around the Earth, among other things. Times have changed.

    But here is the simple answer – and you may quote me:

    There is no predestination because there is no such 'thing' as the future. It hasn't happened, it doesn't exist yet (at which point it will be the present for a very brief time – oops! you missed it) – it's a figment of our imaginations that can make for pretty good science fiction.

    So sure God knows everything – he knows the number of hairs on your head. But he doesn't know the number of hairs in Santa's beard. Or the number of feathers that the Road Runner and Daffy Duck have.

    So God doesn't HAVE to know predestine everything just because we think he can see the future. And if we read our bibles, unencumbered with the scholarly baggage of pre-eminent theologians we will see that God is far from a control freak. Or at least not a very omnipotent one.

    • http://none Don Rappe

      I've been surprised to find I can find no physical characteristic of the "present" time to distinguish it from any other time (past or future). This concept only seems to be real for those spiritual entities which one may predicate existing at any given time. But I think that's what John S. said.

  • Tom Shelton

    Christian,

    You said:

    So God doesn’t HAVE to know predestine everything just because we think he can see the future. And if we read our bibles, unencumbered with the scholarly baggage of pre-eminent theologians we will see that God is far from a control freak. Or at least not a very omnipotent one.

    Predestination is not a result of God seeing the future. Predestination is a result of God DECREEING the future. This does not make God a "control freak", it makes Him Sovereign. I hope you can see this distinction.

  • Tom Shelton

    Christian,

    I had another thought. You said:

    Mark and Stephen point out one of the great problems with this (and just about all other debates) we let others, because of their credentials, do all the thinking for us – priests, theologians, pastors, the pope, Glen Beck etc etc.

    And a lot of those ‘great’ thinkers did their thinking back when they thought the universe revolved around the Earth, among other things. Times have changed. >/blockquote>

    Yes, times have changed…..but the Bible has not. The Bible is the standard. As we read and study those who have lived before us we are still to compare what they have said to the Bible. This has been the responsibility of every generation. We can't interpret the Bible through the filter of our cultural understanding. The Bible is NOT a "living document" in the sense that its meaning/teachings change based on the context of the current culture. So, I agree that we can't allow others to do our thinking for us but studying great theologians of the past is not the same as allowing them to think for us. It is not wrong to learn from others.

  • http://reedducks.wordpress.com Christian Beyer

    Tom, you seem pretty sure of yourself here. Where are you getting such definite information?

    And the distinction is moot, because your definition of what it 'requires' of God to be sovereign is not by any means universally accepted. No definition of sovereign includes decreeing the future. The collection of books known as the Bible does not have God decreeing the future. If anything it shows God as being quite surprised and usually dismayed at how things have turned out. The Bible shows God as trying to be in relationship with people, encouraging a give and take (Abraham, Moses, Job, Jonah etc).

    The Bible IS a living document, because we certainly can learn from the stories of people who lived so long ago that we have very little in common with them, other than they were, like us, responding to God. God's spirit is living and dynamic and is not beholden to the earlier written 'word' – as Jesus points out again and again but most memorably in his Sermon on the Mount. And we've all heard over and over again how we don't stone adulterers, we now eat pork chops etc etc etc.

    It's perfectly fine to learn from others – we all do. But we do not need to give undue deference to our teachers. Eventually we will need to take what we have learned, hopefully from all sides of the issues, and come to our determination. Which, for me, has no room at all for pre-destination. Heck, I'd join a Reformed congregation if I did.

  • Derek

    Thank You John, and Thank You Christian too. I think that there are a lot of things we can learn from the Bible, but which Bible? And which translation? And who wrote it and for what audience? I am not a theologian or a bible scholar, just a Christian who is currently struggling with some of these issues. Although I am by no means an authority, I do know that the Bible gives varying accounts of the same events, and that just makes me ask more questions. The thing that is exciting to me is that I feel my faith deepening even as I consider that the Bible may not be the absolute literal word of God. I very much appreciate the discussions here. For me, it helps to reinforce that Christianity is something that can be transformational in THIS life. Hello! I guess that puts me on the side of free will, huh?

    • http://www.sanctification.wordpress.com Tom

      Derek,

      Not "varying accounts"….complementary accounts. The accounts are told by different people who have different perspectives and who are addressing different audiences. As such they will emphasize different details. That is the correct way to reconcile the questions you have regard these supposedly differing accounts.

  • Elizabeth

    Man, how could such a respectful but funny post inspire so much dreck? And why is it that I am immediately suspicious when someone signs off with "blessings"? Christians have made me fear the word "blessings" — that just ain't right.

  • Elizabeth

    (Oh, and I've read Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Edwards, and Erasmus. I can testify that at least Edwards and Erasmus had senses of humor. Seriously, you don't write "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" and not enjoy the… deliciousness of it. As far as the rest of them — well, they never made me loathe the word "blessings".)

  • http://kenreads.wordpress.com wken

    I was sitting here on my yacht reading this post with my satellite-connected laptop, trying to figure out which island to buy. I’ll have one of my people call you later, okay? ; – )

    The Borg are from Sweden? I had no idea …

    To be perfectly honest, I’ve always thought that the whole debate over predestination vs. free will is one of those arguments for people who want to show that they’re smarter than the rest of us … but miss the point.

    The point is that God loves us and extends His grace.

    Whether predestination means some lack of free will or how it’s possible that our freedom works together with omniscience … well, … doesn’t matter.

    (Is that right?)

  • Christine

    John: See I told you I don’t agree with you on everything….my personal take on this one is “who cares??!!” so ha!! However, found it, as per usual, extremely entertaining and am gonna take it into my Soteriology class (after my college break) where we have been debating this issue for weeks now. Might lighten up the convo and stop people coming to blows hahahaha.

    Love your work :)

  • Christine

    wait, you said you don’t care either……damn, I do agree with everything you say!!!

  • Vivian

    Hi John,

    It says in the bible God created us with FREEWILL, so why do people need more proof? I am not sure, but do feel that they just don't want God to know them all that well. Jonah had the freewill to flee from God. He was swallowed by a fish. God has the fish spit him out. Jonah goes to Nineveh to warn the people of there impending doom. They change and repent. Wow! God can even change his mind, so did God LIE to Jonah? No, he granted them mercy, based on their freewill. Had they not repented he, I have no doubt would have done exactly what he told Jonah he would do to them. They would have been annihilated. YES! we have freewill, but so does God. He knows our hearts. He loves and protects us. We have the choice to chose him, and with freewill he hopes we will.

  • http://www.steppingintothelight.net Diane L. Harris

    John,

    I don’t believe that because God knows what I’ll do that He is making me do it. I believe I have free will so that I can decide whether I’m with God or against Him, whether to believe His word or not. He’s left the “heaven or hell” choice up to each of us, but it’s only by His power we can get there if we choose heaven. (Also, it’s only by His power we can understand the choice we have, which is where faith comes in: we have to decide to be with Him before He lets us understand why.)

  • Karen Lyn

    Here's what I think. God is omniscient, yes but not all-knowing to the point at which everything in our lives is predetermined. If so, what's the point, even for believers? If God knows all, and thereby is in a sense controlling my life, then I do not have free-will and if I don't truly have free-will than how can I be held accountable for my transgressions?

    This is why I take issue with the idea of an all-knowing God who knows the outcome yet proceeds anyway, he's a tyrant…a bully on the play ground. Take for example the story of Eden. God creates this tree that humanity is absolutely not to touch under pain of death (yet God knew they would or else God is not all-knowing) then punishes them for doing exactly what God knew they would do, defies logic. A rational and compassionate being would not resort to such irrational and in-compassionate actions.

    No. I think that God is omniscient to the point at which God knows each of us so well that God can, with near perfect accuracy, predict the most probable outcome. It's sort of like how your mom always knew when you were lying or your dad could always tell when something was on your mind; they raised you, watched you grow. It's kind of like that for God.

    That's just my take on it, anyway :)

  • http://http.//limitlessreality.blogspot.com Tim Smith

    There are important questions that never seem to get asked or answered. Why does man have a will in the first place? What exactly is a will? How do we understand the will of man as it pertains to loving God? Is sovereignty about control or the right to rule?

    God’s control over His creation doesn’t seem to be the issue here. The issue is about God’s control in light of the fact that God also gave man a will.

    Is it at least possible that we are using definitions that are not really accurate? Maybe that would explain why this debate goes on and on. Wrong definitions will never reveal the truth. It will only keep us chasing our tail.

    Sovereignty is about the right to rule, in any way that pleases God, over His creation. It pleased God to give man a will. WHY? I believe that the relationship God was after in creating man in the first place, holds the key.

    Just thinking out loud.

  • Brenda Conry

    What? No one has commented on this for over a year? And it had such a good run. Well, I’m picking up the ball and hoping we can run this thread for a full decade. My contribution? A joke.

    A Calvinist fell down the stairs. He suffered a broken collarbone, a couple cracked ribs, and a mild concussion. On his release from the hospital the doctor asked him how he was feeling. He responded, “I’m glad I got that over with!”


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