Did you ever encounter such an incredible “coincidence”, that you were inclined to believe it really wasn’t a coincidence, but an event ordained, fated or written in the stars? I would say that most of us who think at least a little about reality and about what is behind it all have all been aware of moments like that.
I have swung, I must confess, between being convinced that all of my life was planned and mapped out by God and the spiritual forces that be, and being equally convinced that all of existence is a procession of natural outcomes; the results of human free-will being played out in a world where many forces are in operation, and are bound to cross paths. In a physical universe, there must be such things as coincidences, as any scientist guided by naturalism will tell you. But we aren’t all under the sway of naturalism, and some of those events and outcomes are just too fantastic to be pure, lifeless chance.
Adherents to philosophies denying free-will are convinced that while we go through our lives making decisions and choices, and encountering whatever comes our way, it was all either planned out a long time ago by some great Planner or other, or that it is all the natural outcome of natural forces which come upon us. The opinion that life is all up to us, they say, is an illusion. Stoicism, Daoism, fate, karma, pre-destination, determinism, Calvinism, chance, Murphy’s Law, Sod’s Law, luck and many many other names and phrases have been applied to related ideas and philosophies and forces which have as their central theme the conviction that we do not have free will-we only think we do.
In the Christian world, even Martin Luther, hugely important to the Reformation, and seen as an instrument of freedom from Catholic doctrine and control believed that there is no such thing as free will when it comes to faith: faith is given to us, otherwise faith would not be faith but works. Calvin took his ideas further, and taught that God decides who will go to heaven and who will go to hell.
Free will or the lack of it is such a huge subject that a hundred blog posts probably wouldn’t do it justice. I will be writing from time to time on free will, but I here merely lay out the awareness of it, or of some of its facets. I can also state plainly my own view from the perspective of a Christian, and, I believe, back up my view with Scripture, for those who are interested.
I believe that some events in my life are planned by my loving Creator. He did indeed “know” all that would transpire in my life before I was born, but He didn’t think it all up and make it all happen. If that were the case, I would say he was a cruel, destructive God. However, some of those “coincidences” are the work of God in my life, and I am thankful for his intervention and His providence. He has stepped into my circumstances many times and in many ways. He has guided me and blessed me. He has helped me out of many messes which I created or fell into.
Much of what happens is prescribed by the world we live in. For example, I have to work for a living; I have to obey the laws of the land (unless I’m a Democrat politician); I have to pay my bills and taxes; I find myself attracted to women and I am committed to one, and together we by nature had children; I have to drive on roads and not fields or in the river to go to the store. Our lives are greatly shaped by the society we live in.
But I do have a certain amount of free will. I can see the results of my own poor choices early on in my life. I wasted time, money and health. I lost friends who I neglected. I didn’t achieve the career I had the potential to succeed in. I transgressed-sinned against a lot of people-including myself. None of these failures can be blamed upon ordination or the will of a holy, righteous God. They are all entirely my own fault, and perhaps partly the fault or failure of those who raised and taught me. If this were not the case, sin would not be sin, but a natural outcome of my existence.
And in a physical universe, where God has set in motion many physical laws and a huge amount of matter and energy, it is unavoidable that some things will indeed happen by chance. A lightening bolt on some poor golfer is not necessarily the result of God’s desire to judge him for cheating on his wife or failing to pay his taxes: it may just be the result of the movement of electrical forces, where the easiest path of electrons is through that man, who probably should have checked the weather forecast before he left home!
More specifically for the Christian believer, if God decided before creation who would be saved and who would not be, then he is responsible for creating literally billions of people to send to hell for all eternity. This is not love: this is some kind of horrible divine sadism. If all events are ordained, as many believe, then Hitler and all the millions who died as the result of his ideas died because God planned it to be. Your car crashed into a wall resulting in you being hospitalized because God wanted it to. Adam sinned because God decided that he would, and the choice that Adam had was not really a choice at all: the trees and the garden and the choice itself-the words of God- were all a charade, and God is the charlatan. Isn’t that blasphemy? Doesn’t this theology make God into the meanest creator we could possibly think up?
If only some- a few- have been chosen to go to heaven while the rest must go to hell, then God is the most terrible tyrant we could possibly imagine, and heaven will be a kind of prison for those who have been made to go there, as slaves to worship the king of all tyrants. If I am made to believe that I am seeking righteousness because I love my God, when in reality it’s all about blind obedience, then the Christian life is a shallow sham, and those who refuse to walk in righteousness have nothing to be ashamed of, because they are only doing what comes naturally. “Tulip” is just flowery (ha!) semantics for an ogre of a God who didn’t really make us in His likeness at all, because we don’t have the dignity of free will or of learning and choosing to do what’s right, or of seeking God in humility.
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself (John 12:32 NIV)
Even Satan had the freedom to obey or not to! He was God’s chief musician, until iniquity was found in him. In fact, Scripture…the word of God…tells us that Satan was “perfect” when created. If iniquity was in Satan from the start, then either God should never have employed him as the chief musician in the first place, or the scripture telling us that iniquity was “found” in him is intentionally misleading and dishonest. If it was there all the time, it was not “found”, and he was never “perfect” as Isaiah tells us. Satan “fell” from a position of willing obedience, unless, of course, you think that God planned Satan to fall and to lead billions to fight miserable, terrible wars and then go to hell.
You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, Till iniquity was found in you (Ezekiel 28:15 KJV)
If the “first Adam” was not given a real choice for which he made a real decision, doesn’t this make a mockery of the “second Adam”, Jesus Christ, who successfully resisted the temptation of Satan? And if only Adam had a real choice and the rest of us don’t, we are not guilty of our own sin. However sin, I admit, is like a disease which we inherit genetically.
Calvinists insist that human nature is so depraved that we don’t even have the ability to want to seek forgiveness for our sins-it has to be given to us. If this is the case, why doesn’t God-a God who is Love-make all people want to seek Him? Why does a God of love want to create billions of people who are going to spend eternity suffering in hell? What’s the point of the gospel and witnessing to people if it’s really only down to God moving a person’s heart to be saved? If God created man to be sinful, doesn’t that bring into question God’s perfection and holiness? But this is what Jesus said:
God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
Many aspects of our lives and of the history of our planet are guided and indeed ordained. Free will is not the antithesis of the will of God, or of predestination or of the prophesied future of planet earth: it is a part of His Plan, in which His will trumps all others. Prophecy foretells what God already knows is going to happen (Isaiah 46:10), and God chose those who he already knows will choose Him. That is, all who put their trust in Him are predestined, according to His foreknowledge, to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29-30).