Of course, I start a blog, write two essays, and abandon the thing for the next month and a half. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been on my mind, or that I haven’t had any ideas on what to write, but it does mean I’m more fuzzy on the details now than I had been before, on this topic. It also means that I took more time to gather details.
But here is the question (as it is probably made obvious from the title): how can free will exist within the same realm of predestination? First, as we know God to be omnipotent: an all knowing, all seeing, and all powerful God, I’d like to start off by defining predestination, as I know it to be: there is a destination for each person. We go where we are meant.
John Calvin took this to an extreme, claiming unconditional election-
“By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death.” (Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapt. 21, Section 5)
So, according to him, it seems that our fates are sealed: there are those who were chosen for eternal life in Heaven, and those who were destined for Hell, and that’s the way God wants it- which is a concept that I’d like to argue in this piece; obviously, it’s a discouraging philosophy. And, with what we know about mankind, humans are oftentimes wrong. Calvin didn’t come to this idea in any unbiblical sense, however, he came to this conclusion based on his interpretation of the scriptures. In this exploration, we will use Romans 9, in which Paul directly mentions “the elect,” Paul writes:
“Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad- in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls- she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’” (Romans 9:10-13)
Calvin’s interpretation seems very obvious in those verses; Esau didn’t seem to have a chance in the matter at all. His fate seems determined from the start: he was not elect. The other scripture we’ll explore is, what seems to be, the deliberate damnation of Pharaoh:
“It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I may display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” (Romans 9:16-18)
Romans 9 is a very interesting text, and it’s understandable why Calvin interpreted its message in such a way to prove that God deliberately chooses whether a person’s soul ascends to Heaven or descends to Hell. In Exodus 9, God describes how he has, in fact, raised up Egypt and Pharaoh in order to destroy them as a demonstration of his glory. Does this eliminate Pharaoh’s ability to have a change of heart? Where is Pharaoh’s free will, the one he inherited from the decisions made by early man in the Garden, and how does it play out in this scenario? Did God create a soul with the purpose of being damned?
I wonder if it is not God deliberately creating Pharaoh to be damned, but God knowing his heart from before creation. He understood that Pharaoh would perpetually put himself over God’s will, no matter what divine wonder he witnessed. God does not force us to come to him, but rather he deliberately tries to push us into that direction. He shows us himself and hopes that we come. And yet, because he is omnipotent, he knows which ones of us will not come- no matter how hard he tries. God tried harder to sway Pharaoh to himself, perhaps more obviously than with most anyone else in the Bible, knowing that it was impossible to reach Pharaoh’s heart. He yearned for Pharaoh’s soul as much as he yearned for David’s, and for the Samaritan woman’s at the well. But he also knew that, through his grasps for Pharaoh’s heart, he would lead the people of Israel out of captivity. It is not by works but by him who calls, and God knows who will call out his name. God knows who will come to him sincerely in their heart. Even when Pharaoh let the Israelites go, his words did not hold sincerity and he followed them with his army to bring them back to captivity. Perhaps, on the predestination note, God (knowing Pharaoh’s heart from the beginning of time) allowed his birth to be within Egyptian royalty, instead of in another place. He knew this would not only give himself the opportunity to demonstrate his love and power for the Israelites, but would give him the most obvious opportunity to witness himself to Pharaoh.
How does this relate to Esau? There is an impulsivity within the self that seeks the material. Esau sold his birthright in a moment’s notice to his brother Jacob for some food to nourish the body; as soon as one plague let up, Pharaoh retained the Israelites to keep them weak, and to utilize their labor- only, as we know, to be hit by another plague. Neither Esau nor Pharaoh pursued the longer lasting satisfaction that derives from obeying the will of God; because of this superficiality and their materialistic values, Jacob was put before Esau in the eyes of God, as was the weaker nation of Israel over Egypt and Pharaoh. God understands the lessons of history before they occur in our timeline, and utilized his understanding through the Bible to provide his perspective and truth to his people.
Romans 10:21 references the prophet Isaiah, where we learn God’s unwillingness to give up on us, even the most hardened hearts,
“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’ All day long, I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations-” Isaiah 65:1-2
So, can predestination and free will coexist? I believe so. I believe that God has a will for everyone to come to him, and give him their hearts and faith. He wants to transform us all into his sons. But God is a realist; as a being who knows all, it is impossible for him not to be. Our actions and our lives are merely the reflections of the states of our hearts. We can decide whether to be receptive towards his renewal; it is up to us, not God, whether our hearts remain hardened or whether they receive him. God fights for all of us with infinite passion, however, he also has the infinite insight on how our free will plays out within our lives. He allows each person the position in life where they can shape the lives of others and, despite their own darkness and rebellion, be utilized as a tool to demonstrate his love and desire for our souls.
I could be wrong, and this opinion has been sizzling this way and that on the back burner of my mind for some time now. It’s apt to change, and I’m apt to write another essay when it does. One of the exciting aspects of Christianity is that because the mind of God is infinite, our studies of him can never cease. Like in physical science, we will have theories that will be proven more true over time, and theories that will fall through with further testing.
1 thought on “Free Will vs. Predestination”
There are 3 main views on this, and you have listed 2. You accurately describe Calvin’s view, and you do a decent job of describing the foresight faith view of the Arminians and many of the church fathers. However, there is another view taught by heavy weights like William Lane Craig and NT Wright (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKwIijhZW-M) among many others. This is the view that election is not for salvation.
God has predestined and elected, but who has he elected and for what? If we read Romans 9 with in the context of a Jew who understands Jewish history, then it has nothing to do with salvation. Genesis 12:3 speaks of the purpose of Abraham’s election (so that through him the nations might be blessed), and we have to understand Roman’s 9 through that purpose. All of Israel was elect, but not all of Israel was saved. Only the “children of the promise” were saved. Many Israelites were clearly rejected, and many gentiles were clearly saved, but only Israel was elected. Why? Because election is not about salvation. Election is about service. God chose Israel to bring THE BLESSING to the nations. God chose Israel to bring Christ to the nations. He can then use those he wants to use for any purpose he wants to. He can use Pharaoh and his freely chosen rejection to display his power. He can use the Israelites who crucified Christ and their freely chosen rejection as vessels of destruction. He chose to use them for service even though they rejected him.
Later in verses 32-34 he talks about the condition for salvation. These elect Jews were not chosen for salvation because they pursued righteousness by works. It is the Gentiles who pursue righteousness by faith that are saved. Why? Because election is not about salvation, it is about service. Now Gentiles are grafted into the election of the Jews. Now we are also the elect. We are chosen to bring Christ to the nations, and we are chosen because we have pursued righteousness by faith. God has not predestined us to salvation or damnation. He has not elected us to salvation or damnation. His election and predestination is of those who are faithful in Christ per Eph 1:1-3.