What Price Predestination?

Predestination is the belief that God long ago chose who was destined for heaven and who would be damned to hell. The countervailing view is that of free will. Rather than being pre-picked by the divine, those that come to God do so of their own volition.

God may offer the initial invite (or call), the individual has the choice of whether to accept or not. And in those cases where the needy soul makes the first call (or plea) for mercy, God is ready to respond, much as the waiting father did in Jesus’ oh-so-real parable of the prodigal son.

In the modern church, tough topics like predestination versus free will are often avoided. Yet for nearly 2,000 years, this has been a hotly debated subject within Christendom. And like it or not, the correct answer carries with it enormous implications for human-kind. Even the non-religious, ranging up to luminaries like Albert Einstein, easily get swept into this vortex.

A Bit of History

The advocates for predestination boast a distinguished line-up of Christian giants of the faith – from Augustine in the 4th century to the early reformer John Wycliff in the 14th. Following Augustine’s lead, Catholics have generally fallen into the predestination trap.

With the reformation of the 16th century, the “protestants” quickly fell into two camps – those led by John Calvin who articulated the predestination doctrine and those coalesced by Jacob Arminius who advocated free will.

Denominations were formed or took positions on this question. Methodists led by the Wesley brothers took the Arminian position while the Presbyterians of Scotland followed in Calvin’s footsteps. Denominations like the Baptists have been a bit schizophrenic – with different groupings of Baptists on both sides of the question. While of different persuasion on many issues, Anglicans also have taken a middle road between Calvinism and Arminianism – arguing for what has been called the “election of some, promise to all.”

So, What Does the Bible Say?

Advocates of both positions come to the debate with quivers of arrows stocked from their favorite sets of scriptures. In the New Testament, the strongest purported advocate for predestination is undoubtedly Paul the apostle. Often cited in support of predestination is Paul’s statement in his letter to the Romans that those “whom he foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son.”

What appears to be strong logic for predestination falls apart of closer inspection. Of primary importance, Paul’s argument begins with God’s foreknowledge which is followed by His predestination. Foreknowledge means awareness without direct intervention to force a particular outcome. In effect, God’s destination for the human soul comes on the heels of (and not before) his unguided knowledge of what course the individual will take – of his or her own volition. At its most extreme, God is simply rubber-stamping the free will choice of the individual.

This reading of Paul also certainly comports with what other New Testament writers have to say. For example, in his infamous encounter with the Jewish leader Nicodemus, Jesus makes it clear that “God sent not his son to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”

“God does not play dice with the universe”

In the 17th century, the first great physicist Isaac Newton saw God as the master clockmaker who wound up the clock and then walked away from his creation. Newton’s universe ran like clockwork as a “pre-established harmony.”  In other words, all according a plan so pre-determined that the subsequent involvement of the creator was no longer required.

Two centuries later, Albert Einstein took physics one step further. His theory of relatively unlocked the nuclear age. Like Newton, Einstein’s universe was bound by unbreakable maxims, in this case the relationship between energy and matter as E=mc2.

Although avowedly atheistic, Einstein could not resist religious metaphors. His pre-destinationist bona fides were sealed with the comment that “God does not play dice with the universe.” No room for chance, certainly not for the exercise of free will.

This dogmatism was to prove the great mistake of the best physicist the world has ever known. Within a dozen years after his general theory of relatively in 1915, quantum physics was would be accepted at the Fifth Solvay conference. The great mystery of quantum physics arises because it deals in probabilities rather than deterministic causality. For example, quantum mechanics asserts a single subatomic particle can occupy numerous areas of space at one time – a concept Einstein couldn’t embrace because it so directly contravened the purity of the cause-effect relationship.

And the debate goes on. Is the universe, is man’s destiny, the product of randomness or intentionality?

So, What’s the Price?

We could go much further with the exploration of biblical and scientific views on predetermined causality versus free-will (or probabilistic) outcomes. But that’s not the point of this discussion. Rather, the objective is to get to the question of what one’s world views (in matters spiritual or material) mean for how we live out our lives day-by-day.

In other words, is there a price associated with predestination versus free-will perspective? If so, what is it?

This post argues that, yes, pre-destination comes at a price – that is both unnecessary and unduly costly in matters material and spiritual. Predestination:

  • Resigns the human world to fate, making it easier to ignore or accept war, violence, economic exploitation and suffering – with the philosophy that “what will be will be.”
  • Similarly negates the opportunity for intentional change to the natural universe – in matters ranging from real or perceived climate change to allowance for stochastic variation in natural outcomes, maybe even parallel universes.
  • Cheapens the human experience – our capacity to experience, to experience shame or pride as a result of intentional actions, and to affect humankind for this generation and those to come.
  • Creates a disincentive to prepare for the life hereafter – as the sole pre-destinationist focus is on a heavenly go/no go which has little to do with what one does for him/herself or others in throughout the bulk of this life.
  • Demeans God – who doesn’t need our robotized glorification but rather interaction with the creatures he created in his likeness. Even on those occasions where we bend his will or even change his mind.

Predestination, Purpose & Partnership

The biggest price of all is that the concept of predestination is diametrically opposed to what God intended as his relationship with human-kind. Rather than play the role of omnipotent puppeteer, God wants something different. Rather than dominance, God seeks partnership.

He gave humans dominion, even naming rights, over the world he created – starting with his first human/spirit creations in Adam and Eve. God even came to walk with them in the garden in the cool of the day, only to experience disappointment and frustration when they hid from his presence.

The form of the partnership has always been tailored made to the personality of the partner. God fought with and blessed Jacob. He let Moses argue with him, and then relented of his own rage. He raised prophets to be his spokespersons, some more willingly than others. He even found in David a man after his own heart.

With the introduction of Jesus, new forms of partnership would emerge. Jesus would let a pagan woman win a debate with him because of her “faith.” He found in John a beloved man who could partner in translating the mysteries of a nearly inexplicable kingdom. In Peter, he found a man willing to engage with more heart than intellect. In Nicodemus, a leader willing to listen and then advocate for the savior in the councils of Jewish authority. And in Paul, a man who would take and adapt the kingdom message to a broader Roman audience.

The partnership is not necessarily one of equal resources or authority. But it is bilateral – dependent on the actions not of just one conductor. But rather, on the conductor together with the consent plus talent of the full orchestra.

Maybe the apostle Paul puts it best in his letter to the as-yet unknown church at Rome, when he writes of our human  roles as “if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.”

We are adopted into the corporation of the heavenly family with rights of joint ownership, advice, even decision-making. What a way to go!

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