One of the most hotly debated subjects in religious and philosophical discussion is Predestination (or Determinism) versus Free Will. Certainly nothing I can say in these brief blog entries can be considered an exhaustive treatment of the subject; all I can do is throw out some ideas to take into consideration when dealing with the subject. Since my upbringing has been Christian (of the conservative variety), I still tend to use Biblical references as a framework for my discussions. Keep in mind, though, that the main idea behind my blog is to promote ‘thinking outside the box’: the right of each individual to think for himself and form his own conclusions, without feeling bound to any outside authority (including authoritative ‘scriptures’ and authoritative ‘interpreters’ or ‘interpretations’ of them). It’s my contention, first, that traditional ‘orthodox’ understandings of the Bible are inaccurate because they fail to take into consideration a key concept in the thinking of Biblical writers (reincarnation), and the non-literal, metaphorical nature of the writings. And secondly, it’s my contention that the Biblical writers themselves were not ‘infallibly inspired by God’, so that one is not bound to accept either their words or concepts as unerring truth. Still, in my approach in this blog I’ll attempt to give an idea of: (1) What the Bible has to say about the ‘Sovereignty of God’ in predestination and providence (the actions God takes to bring his purposes and plans to fruition); (2) The logical conclusion one must reach without an understanding of the righteousness and justice of God’s judgments as shown in reincarnation and ‘karma’ (‘reaping what you sow’); and (3) How taking into account the Bible’s writers’ underlying belief in reincarnation affects the understanding of their statements.
So, what does the Bible itself have to say about this controversial subject? The quotations I give will be taken from the New Revised Standard Version, unless otherwise noted. I will for the most part just give the quotation, making few if any comments. Those who claim to be ‘Bible believing Christians’ must be able to incorporate all of these statements within their viewpoint. If you find them ‘embarrassing’, then you need to either revise your ideas, or honestly acknowledge that you believe the Bible to be in error on this subject (which would of course exclude you from the company of ‘Bible believing Christians’). These are only a few among many possible references.
Psalm 115:2, 3 – “Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’ Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases.”
Isaiah 14:24, 26, 27 – “The Lord of hosts has sworn: As I have designed, so shall it be; and as I have planned, so shall it come to pass… This is the plan that is planned concerning the whole earth; and this is the hand that is stretched out over all the nations. For the Lord of hosts has planned, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?”
Isaiah 46:9, 10 – “Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, My purpose shall stand, and I will fulfill my intention.”
Isaiah 45:7 – “I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things.”
Amos 3:6 – “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster befall a city, unless the Lord has done it?”
Daniel 4:25 – Daniel, interpreting a dream of King Nebuchadnezzar, said: “You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the wild animals. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, you shall be bathed with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals, and gives it to whom he will.”
Daniel 4:34, 35 – After Nebuchadnezzar had regained his senses, he said: “When that period was over, I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me. I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored the one who lives forever. For his sovereignty is an everlasting sovereignty, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does what he wills with the host of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. There is no one who can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What are you doing?’”
John 6:44, 45, 65 – “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me… And he said, For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
John 10:24 – 28 – “So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.’” [Note: not “you do not belong to my sheep because you do not believe”. Believing is the result of being his sheep, not the cause.] “’My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.’”
Acts 2:22, 23 – “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know – this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.”
Acts 4: 27, 28 – “For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”
Acts 13:48 – “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers.”
Romans 8:29, 30 – “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
[One way that some Christians explain predestination is to point out that it is those who are ‘foreknown’ who are predestined; they say foreknowledge comes first, and claim that this foreknowledge is God knowing beforehand who would believe. It should be noted, however, that though foreknowledge comes first here, it was the “definite plan” (predestination) that came first in the previously quoted Acts 2:23. And in Romans 8:29, it is people who are foreknown, not faith or works foreseen. In the very next chapter (which I’ll get to in more detail later), Paul points out concerning Jacob and Esau (9:11, 12): “Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, not by works but by his call) she [Rebecca] was told, ‘The elder shall serve the younger.’” Paul is arguing that nothing Jacob and Esau did was the cause of God’s choice of Jacob and rejection of Esau, and he says that the timing of the announcement of His choice proves that point. Now if foresight of what we would do or believe was a valid explanation of predestination, it could have been used with regard to Jacob and Esau also; so the argument that God’s choice before they were born and had done anything good or bad showed that their actions were not the reason for the choice, would not be a valid argument. One could say that God foresaw their actions, so that His choice of Jacob was still based on Jacob’s faith or works, even though the announcement was before his birth and before he believed or worked. Obviously Paul didn’t accept ‘foresight of works (or faith)’ as a valid explanation of God’s choice and predestination. Was this an error in Paul’s logic? If so, it is still evident that ‘foresight of faith’ was not what Paul meant in Romans 8:29. In addition, to the apostles ‘foreknowledge’ had a far stronger meaning than simple ‘foresight’ – God ‘looking down the corridors of time’ and seeing what men would do. For God to ‘foreknow’ is virtually synonymous with ‘predestine’. Note 1 Peter 1:20, speaking of Christ as the lamb of God (New American Standard Version): “For he was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you…” The meaning is so obviously more than just that God ‘foresaw’ that Christ would become the lamb of God, that many translations use words relating to predestination to translate ‘foreknown’ here. The RSV and NRSV say “he was destined”; the KJV and NKJV say “foreordained”; the NIV says “he was chosen”. So saying “whom he foreknew” means “those whom he foresaw would believe” just won’t cut it here (Romans 8:29). Now I’ll get back to the quotations.]
Galatians 1:15, 16 – “But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being….”
Ephesians 1:4, 5, 11 – … he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will… In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will.”
Philippians 1:29 – “For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well.” [Believing in Christ is a privilege graciously granted by God.]
Philippians 2: 12, 13 – “Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” [The believers’ very willingness is the result of
God working within them.]
2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14 – “But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I don’t think I need to keep on going; I’m sure you get the point. There’s some ‘awful strong stuff’ in the Bible that would seem to indicate a Sovereign ‘arbitrariness’ of God in His dealings with humanity. God does whatever He wants to do, without regard to what we wish, will, or do, and there’s nothing we can do about it! We’re just playthings in God’s hands! That’s pretty much what “Reformed” (Calvinistic) Christians believe. And it’s not that they believe that some people will be ‘saved’ even though they ‘don’t want to be’, while others won’t be saved no matter how much they ‘want to be’; we can’t even ‘want to be saved’ unless God has ‘arbitrarily’ chosen us for it and works the ‘want to be’ in us! That’s what I used to believe; and if I were still a ‘Bible believing Christian’ I guess I would have to still believe that way. The thing is, there are plenty of other passages of ‘scripture’ that are ‘problematic’ for that viewpoint. For instance, Psalm 62:12 and Proverbs 24:12 say that God’s justice is such that He rewards everyone according to their deeds. And Paul himself echoes that belief in Romans 2:6-8: “For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.” The fact that God holds us responsible for our actions and thoughts and rewards us accordingly would seem to be contrary to the scheme of predestination. How can we be held responsible for our actions, when those actions are the result of God’s willing it to be that way? Well, that question is introduced by Paul in Romans 9, which I will plan on discussing in the next article. I hate those television shows that have you sitting on the edge of your seat wondering how the ‘hero’ is going to get out of the dangerous situation and then leave you there with a ‘To Be Continued” notice. But it looks like I’m going to have to say “To Be Continued” here, as I don’t want to turn any individual article into a ‘book’.