Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Choice vs. Determinism

As a Christian, one of the things that really puzzles me is God's omniscience. If God knows everything, then he knows what I'm about to say in the next sentence, even before I type it. If he knows what I'm going to type, do I really have any choice in typing it? If God knows with certainty what I'm going to type, then that thing is set, even before I punch the keys. On the other hand, if I have a choice, then what I type is not set. If it's not set then God can't know it.

This entire problem of choice and determinism manifests itself in Christianity through a couple of names: Calvinism and Armenianism. The Calvinists are the determinists. In their world view, God's sovereignty demands that he knows what we will choose before we even choose it. Which means that even the act of accepting God is a gift from God. In other words, God is the one who chooses who will and won't be saved. But if God knows who will and won't be saved, before we're even born, then this opens up the prospect that people are born who never are freely able to choose God.

I wouldn't call my self Armenian, because I don't fully understand what that means, but I can't call myself Cavlinist because the very proposition seems untenable to me. While scripture makes it abundantly clear that God is sovereign, I wonder what the full implications of that are. For example, in Job, God chooses not to exercise his sovereignty over Satan. Satan then turns around and "tests" (to put it mildly) Job. Does this mean that God was not omnipotent? Of course not! God's omnipotence includes his ability to decide when and when not to exercise his primary will. In exactly the same way, I believe that God's omniscience is a matter of his choice to exercise it.

God has a plan. He knows that plan will be fulfilled. He will make certain of it. But I think that when it comes to minute details of that plan, he chooses not to exercise his omniscience. He does this in order to create free will. God offers salvation through Christ to all, and we are all free to choose or reject it. If God knows in advance whether we'll accept it or not, then our path is already set, and our choice is not free - it's constrained by God's fore-knowledge of the outcome. But God, in his wisdom, can choose not to exercise that fore-knowledge and in doing so gives us free will. I don't see this as a knock on his omniscience. I see this as an incredible act of mercy to all people.

But, of course, this is just my simple minded take on the issue. I'm sure that there's at least half a million Christians who've I've deeply offended. For that I apologize. By saying this, I open it up to criticism, because I want to know God's truth. I am not trying to represent this as God's truth. Instead it's my best guess at the moment.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You've covered a lot of ground in this post that has been much better covered than you or I will. As they say, "much ink has been spilled over this topic."

That said, here's my very brief attempt to shed a little light from the other side of the fence:

We both agree that God is both sovreign and omniscient. We differ greatly on how we think that affects our lives and our eternal souls.

The Scriptures that mention election, predestination, and foreknowledge are legion and I won't bother to list them all here. A great summary of the details of how salvation works out can be found in Romans 8 and particularly 9. We see all throughout Scripture that God chooses and elects individuals and nations. Abraham was chosen by God (not the other way around) to be the father of the righteous. The Nation of Israel was chosen out of all the peoples of the world to be the recipient of the Old Covenant. It shouldn't be an alien concept at all to the believer by the time he/she gets to the New Testament. So upon reading Romans 9 or Acts 13:48 says "as many as were appointed to eternal life believed" we can see more of the same in our God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

One who believes in the veracity and inspiration of Scripture needn't, in the end, wrestle with how God elects and how he also wants all to not perish. There's plenty of good apologetics out there to show how these can easily work together without antithesis. However, it is a lot easier to believe Scripture and not worry too much in our own reasoning how it is that God does what God does.

If that's not good enough one can always read A.W. Pink on the matter.



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