Thursday, July 07, 2005

Predestination, Free Will and Murder

I was a little shocked at the statement. After all, Harold had grown up in the church. Shouldn't he know better?

I suppose you need the background on this one. You see, Harold's best friend Arthur had recently been convicted of murder. Arthur had grown up in the church too, but he had a problem with authority. One evening Arthur shot another man multiple times and left him on the side of the road, dead. He was captured by the police the next day and a few months later, Arthur was sent to prison for life.

Harold was left to try to make sense out of all this. He knew that Arthur liked guns, but he never dreamed that this hobby would tempt his friend to kill someone in cold blood. So I suppose it was inevitable that Harold would find an explanation that would absolve Arthur of any real wrongdoing.

"Arthur had to kill that guy. Everything we do is predetermined. Arthur just did what he was supposed to do. There was no way he couldn't have done it."

Harold had it all worked out. But hearing that he really believed this gave me pause.

There is no quicker way to get into a theological argument than to bring up predestination and free will. (Well, maybe the rapture and the millenium, but we'll save that for another day!) We see two extremes on a continuum and assume that we must pick an end and hold on. Stereotypically, if you stand for the sovereignty of God, then the idea of free will becomes downplayed. Or if you believe in human freedom, then the doctrine of predestination must be ignored. And somehow I don't see it either way. Yet I see it both ways.

Harold's assertion was that his friend Arthur was so predestined that he had absolutely no free will. Yet that seems to mitigate against what we observe about people and what we believe about God. Certainly God would not predestine Arthur to become a cold-blooded killer. And certainly Arthur would be able to make his own decisions about taking a human life. On the other hand, if Arthur can make those decisions on his own, then what does that mean to God's sovereignty? Isn't God the Almighty One? Doesn't He hold all the cards? Make all the decisions? Determine the rising and falling of each nation?

My question is this: why would humans having free will take anything away from God's sovereignty? Is not that freedom given by a sovereign God?

Scripturally, I hear the argument from Exodus about God hardening Pharoah's heart. If this is so, then it is proof that God is sovereign. But I don't discount that. Instead, I point out that before God hardened Pharoah's heart, Pharoah hardened his own heart. He made the decision to torment the Israelites on his own. After a couple of times, God didn't let Pharoah go back on his word. If anything, this actually shows God honoring Pharoah's free will, up until the point where God stepped into the ruler's heart.

One thing we must remember is that God has foreknowledge. He knows what will happen because He has perfect knowledge of the past, present and the future. But simply because God knows what we will choose does not mean He forces our choice. God knew before the creation of the world that I would have a taco tonight. Yet I freely made that choice when I decided to stop in and watch part of a girl's softball game and saw a sign at the concession stand advertising tacos. My choice was free, but it was God who gave me the opportunity to choose. I do not deny that God has the right to interact in this world in whatever way He sees fit. However, God's sovereignty and human freedom are not mutually exclusive.

Now certainly this is a much more complicated issue than I have laid out here. There are plenty of verses to dissect and ideas to consider. But Harold illustrated to me how easy it is to deny our responsibility by claiming God's sovereignty. And I know the same danger exists when we embrace our free will to the extent that we put ourselves on a level with God. When we do not consider how God's sovereignty and human free choice work together, we rob ourselves of a clearer understanding of the incredible way God works in our lives.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev-Ed,
Thank you for your thoughts on Predestination and murder. I have been trying to figure out how to explain this to our 14 year old daughter. How can God be in control and yet allow mass-murderers? How are our lives predestined since before the earth was formed? Did God foresee that man would fall into sin? Anyways-thank you. Keep them coming!!!