An episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation captured the tension between two key theological concepts: predestination and free will. In “The Perfect Mate” (aired April 27, 1992), Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the starship Enterprise must transport Kamala (Famke Janssen) to her future husband. However, Kamala possessed abilities that made her unique among women. She is an “empathic metamorph,” which means that she is capable of sensing what a man wants in a woman and becomes that woman for him. From birth, she prepared to bond with her future husband in hopes to stop a war.
The Apostle Paul experienced a similar sense of destiny from birth. To the churches in Galatia he wrote, “God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles …“ (Galatians 1:15-16a). The Apostle Paul viewed the direction of his life as being predetermined by God.
Like the Apostle Paul, Kamala fully accepted her role that was given to her before she was born. However, Captain Picard found it difficult to accept that people can live only to be what someone else wants them to be. And this is the tension between free will and predestination.
How do we feel about God deciding the outcome of the lives of people BEFORE they are born?
“The Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus…” (Acts 1:16-26 NIV).
OR, How do we feel about God FORCING people to act in a predetermined way?
“For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Romans 9:17-18 NIV).
Many theologians have wrestled with issues dealing with predestination and free will, especially Saint Augustine, John Calvin and Karl Barth.
John Calvin (1509-1564) and his pupil Theodore Beza (1519-1605) believed that God unconditionally elects some for salvation. Jacobus Arminius (1560–1609) was a Dutch pastor and a student of Beza, but eventually rejected this theology and taught that people possess free will. Thus began the debate between followers of Calvin and followers of Arminius so that their systems of theology are now called Calvinism, with its emphasis on predestination and Arminianism, with its emphasis on free will.
The following factors must be considered in the debate between predestination and free will. However, they are currently absent from this debate:
- Predestination is only a matter of perspective
Issues of predestination vs. free will exist only as matters of perspective. After faith in Christ, the believer looks back to see God at work in every detail of life. (Click here to read more)
- Predestination and cosmology
However, there is reality behind this perspective – that predestination is only a matter of perspective. And this reality finds its focus in creation. (Click here to read more)
- How can the Infinite be communicated to the finite?
Now things get really messy! Because … Scripture claims to speak for God. It is as though mosquitoes claim to speak for you and me.
Philosophical theologians speak of this as the “epistemological problem of language about God.” So, what do I have to offer that is “new?” I propose extending the idea of anthropomorphic and anthropopathic language into “anthropopoiism” — the realm of God’s actions and God’s words described in terms of human actions and human words.
- Making vows — in the Old Testament and today
In the Old Testament, Hebrews (like everyone else in the ancient world) sought to make a deal with God (Numbers 15:1-5; Psalm 66:13-14). And apparently Jesus endorsed this mindset during his Sermon on the Mount when he taught us to ask, seek and knock.
However, a “Calvinist” approach teaches that God will lead us to pray according to God’s will. The “Arminian” approach teaches that God honors our free will in prayer. When Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours,” he really meant it.
- Understanding the “language of faith” vs. the “reality of life”
Scripture often makes a certain promise or pronouncement an absolute certainty (the “language of faith”) while also recording how these same promises or pronouncements are not an absolute certainty (the “reality of life”). Without an understanding of this dynamic, we will misunderstand the language of Scripture when it speaks of those predestined by God for activity within God’s scheme of history.
- Replace “Either/Or” thinking with “Both/And” thinking
Instead of forcing Scripture to fit into a system of interpretation, we must examine the whole of Scripture and then create a system of interpretation that fits all of Scripture. Thus, we must stop thinking in terms of either Calvinism or Arminianism, and instead consider a system of interpretation that considers both Calvinism and Arminianism.
- Predestination and “Being led by the Spirit”
What is the difference between “being led by the Spirit” and being predestined for a task?
- The Promises of God and Predestination
God’s promises are conditional for God’s people (see especially Deuteronomy 28). So, What is the point of “promising” blessings based on obedience if God knows the future actions of all people?
- Issues of Spiritual Intimacy and Free Will, or How Personal is a “Personal God?”
Is spiritual intimacy possible if we are predestinated? Without free will any intimacy with God becomes forced – the ultimate in spiritual rape (Click here to read more).
In future blogs (James 4:13-15), I intend to develop each of these nine factors that have been absent in the debate between predestination and free will. If I have missed any of these issues in the literature, then I apologize for my lack of thoroughness. Please draw my attention to all relevant sources. Thank you!