FREE-WILL AND TIME

There are as many differing views on the nature of time as there are on what to have for dinner tomorrow…

Minute Recipes

One of the many theories concerning time, and I’m speaking of a secular scientific theory, is that all of time-past present and future, and so every moment of your existence-is as real and as solid now as this moment you are experiencing. Your great-great grandfather, and every moment of his own time line and his own life, exists now, in as much reality as you do. According to this view, the common concepts of past and future are just an illusion.

Sir Isaac Newton, as brilliant as he was, declared time to be an absolute, unchanging property of space: it does not vary. But Einstein’s relativity showed that time differs according to gravity, speed, and your frame of reference: it isn’t fixed and absolute at all. Einstein also said that time is a physical property, and that it is inextricably linked with space. This led to the later belief that time came into existence with the Big Bang, although even that is questioned in some scientific quarters. Even the greatest minds grapple with time and what it is.

As I listened to some secular scientists talking about the nature of time* I discovered that one conclusion made by the bulk of them is also held by our Calvinist friends, regarding the future and free will. They see an either-or situation. Either A: There is no fixed future, and we live on a time-line on which nothing is pre-determined, and so one in which we have complete free will, or B: All things are ordained/fated/determined, and what we perceive to be free will is an illusion only.

On the Bondage of the Will

I’ve discussed this bi-poled issue with someone who has dedicated his life to Calvinism. With his love for Calvin comes total commitment to the words of Martin Luther. Luther (and I don’t mean to attack this very brave man or the reformation) said that the concept of free will is troublesome, and that it is an illusion:

But this false idea of “free-will” is a real threat to salvation, and a delusion fraught with the most perilous consequences. If we do not want to drop this term [“free-will”] altogether – which would really be the safest and most Christian thing to do – we may still in good faith teach people to use it to credit man with “free-will” in respect, not of what is above him, but of what is below him. That is to say, man should realize that in regard to his money and possessions he has a right to use them, to do or to leave undone, according to his own “free-will” – though that very “free-will” is overruled by the free-will of God alone, according to His own pleasure. However, with regard to God, and in all that bears on salvation or damnation, he has no “free-will”, but is a captive, prisoner and bondslave, either to the will of God, or to the will of Satan (Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, 1525).

So it seems that you are free to choose what to put on your toast in the morning-as long as God agrees-but not to choose whether you will accept the Son of God: that’s decided for you.

THERE IS ANOTHER OPTION!

I say it’s a mistake to pin an either-or dichotomy onto a limitless God in the matters of time and free will, and I here declare a third option, which seems to me the clearly Biblical one: God knows the future but does not make it happen, and so we have free will. If this is not the case, much of the Bible is a deception.

While I agree with the Calvinists that humans are incurably sinful and fallen and unable to make things right with God without the sacrifice of Christ being applied to their souls, I’m convinced that God has given us the dignity of a conscience and free will, and a genuine part to play in choosing our destiny. He calls us all, but He doesn’t force some to get saved and most to go to hell.

 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself (John 12:32 NIV).

Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

The scene in the garden of Eden in which Adam was given a choice was not a charade. God did not make Adam sin, and he did not plan Adam to sin, as some believe: the choice was real.

However, and here’s the significant part: God knew what Adam’s choice was going to be, which is why Christ was “slain from the foundation of the world”. God did not want to sacrifice his Son to pay the price of our sins, and didn’t set up all the events of history to bring that about. Instead, he knew exactly what was going to happen, and planned accordingly.

*IN OUR TIME, WITH MELVYN BRAGG: “TIME” (BBC RADIO).

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