16 September 2010

Multiple Paths into Destiny - Free Will and Predestination

For a while now (actually several years), I've been trying to reconcile the ideas of 'free will' and 'predestination' in my own mind.  Though I'm not sure how successful I've been, I do feel that I've hit upon a few tenable theories.  They go something like this:

When we say that God knows the future we are right, but only to a point.  Now before you start bringing out the firewood, gasoline, and rope, hear me out.  I believe that God's omnipotence results in a certain amount of omniscience, but not total.  Or at least not in the way that we have defined 'total' omniscience.

To begin with, God is not constrained by our physical realm.  So let's think of our realm as a maze on some large plane (like a really really big desktop).  Let's also think of people as wingless beetles upon that desk and within that maze.  Let's think of God as standing above, looking down.  He is the one who set the beetles upon the desk and allows them to walk where they will.  But only within the borders of the desktop and inside the maze.  Thus they can move only within the pre-ordained parameters.

Within those parameters, however, is a lot of freedom, many paths upon which the beetles may travel.  God allows this, but when He is ready for paths to close and open, He is powerful enough to make it happen, to pick up a beetle and put it where He wants, or to close off/open up certain parts of the maze.  He does this sometimes, mainly to protect the beetle, but often He allows it to move unhindered.

This explains free will.  Which I also think of this way: Ahead of me lie many paths (the desktop plane), many possible futures.  God has left a certain number of them open to me; there are several that are 'good and acceptable' to Him.  In fact, I believe that there are multiple paths that will lead me into my God given destiny, and even multiple destinies for me to choose from, all ordained of God.  Others, however, are paths of rebellion, which He also allows me to travel. 

So then, when we speak of God's omniscience, I believe we have both overstated and understated it.  We have understated it in that we have said God knows the future and then we define the future as only one possible path forward.  As I just suggested, there are multiple paths forward, each resulting from different choices that we are faced with.  The omniscience of God allows Him to see into ALL possible futures.  Every path open to us is visible to Him, and so His omniscience is much broader than we have believed.

On the other hand, I propose we have overstated His omniscience when we declare that He knows which path we will choose.  In this, I believe He limits Himself.  That limitation comes about as He grants us free will, so that God has exchanged a certain amount of His omniscience in order to allow me to have free will.  (Freedom.  God is all about love and freedom.)  As I tell people all the time - God limits Himself, it is an historical fact.  He actually emptied Himself and came to Earth as a man.  He limits His own will.  2 Peter 3:9 says, "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."  But rather than imposing that will, He foregoes it in order to grant us ours.

Suppose even that God, although He is outside time, looks into time and sees its final state not as some static endpoint, but an endpoint in constant flux.  As our reality moves forward and approaches time's culmination, what if our choices are causing some sort of flickering expression of this world's final moment?  To use quantum physics terminology, what if, as we make our choices and collapse the wave function, that final state remains indeterminate until our last choice is made and we pop the ultimate quiff (bringing a singular reality into existence). 

But let's go back to the idea of multiple paths for a moment.  Consider the Old Testament custom of a man marrying his brother's widow in order to father offspring for him.  This is because all the futures that would have resulted in his brother's offspring have been eliminated.  The children the widow now bears will be considered those of her first husband.  This is another reason that murder is so heinous.  Not only have you killed someone, you have eradicated all the futures in which that person produced offspring.

And what about satan?  I propose that there were possible futures in which he did not rebel, realities in which the Light-Bearer remained as such and did not allow pride to rot his heart.  Consider God's admonition to Cain: "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."  Gen. 4: 6-7.  Why would God give such a warning to Cain if it were impossible for Cain to choose otherwise?  I suggest that there was a possible future in which Cain did not murder his brother. 

Of course this all reminds me of the Bible's first garden.  Remember, there were two trees in Eden, and man was not forbidden to eat from the Tree of Life, that is until after he had tasted the other.  God wouldn't allow us to eat of a tree that would then doom us to an eternally fallen state.  He used His omnipotence to close that particular path.

Okay, so maybe the rebellion and Fall didn't have to happen?  Maybe.  Just maybe.  I'm thinking out loud right now, so I'm just going to type as ideas come to me.  Things may get a little disjointed, but I'll try to make sense.  What about the following: In Revelation chapter thirteen, verse eight, Jesus is referred to as, 'The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.'  Jesus was slain at a certain place and time, about two thousand years ago, not before mankind was even created.  So what is this verse saying?  Is it saying that God knew ahead of time that mankind would definitely fall and need a Savior and so He decided to make provision?

I'm thinking that maybe God, knowing His own intention to to create sentient beings and then give them the ability to choose whether to love and follow Him or not, saw every possible path that led to satan's rebellion, every path that led to the Fall, and made the decision then to provide our Sacrifice, should that be necessary. 

Jesus himself, when in the garden actually said, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will."  Of course at that point there was, for Jesus, only one possible path forward if He was to complete His mission.  Remember also, how he was tempted by satan early on; there were choices for Him to make, choices upon which the future of all mankind depended.  As always, Jesus never sinned.  Never missed the mark.  He did what the Father wanted every time.

I'm thinking also of how Jesus performed His first miracle. At first He resisted His mother's prompting.  But somehow her calm insistence led the Father to open up another path, making that wedding the appropriate occasion for the miracle working Christ to make Himself known.  Jesus recognized this, and the life of Christ had a slight alter made in its course.  The initial revealing was hastened as He turned water turned into wine.

Now let's turn our attention to the future.  What about the end times prophecies?  Aren't they set in stone?  This is where I believe God will choose to exert His will and through His omnipotent power cause the prophecies He has spoken through His prophets to come to pass.  Even here, however, I am not convinced that the church has its eschatology correct.  Our fatalism is holding us back and just killing hope.  But that's a topic for another day.

So what about scripture like Psalm 139:16?  "Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."  Well, that's a good one to be sure, but only if we've interpreted it correctly.  Here is what it says in Hebrew, followed by a word for word translation.  (Follow the link if you want to read more about this verse.)

גלמי ראו  עיניך  ועל  ספרך  כלם  יכתבו  ימים  יצרו  ולא  אחד׃

Embryo saw Eye of book every written day form not one. 

Say huh?  Yeah translations can be quite problematic.  Culture, language, time, all those things can hinder understanding, so we need to examine what we read and pray for revelation.  The Hebrew is read from right to left, so my translation is flipped around for our language.  Also, I have chosen the meanings that were used when the English version of the Bible was developed.  Several of those original Hebrew words have many possible nuances of meaning based upon context. 

One more thing before I'm done.  The Lamb's Book of Life.  If your name isn't found there, then you will not get into Heaven.  So has God already written the names of the Elect there, and left everyone else out because He knows they will not choose Him?  Revelation 3:5 addresses this, I think:

"He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels."

Blotting names from the Book is also talked about in Psalm 69: 28 and Exodus 32: 32.

I propose that all our names are written in the Book, and at the point when we reject God's gift for the final time, our name is blotted out.  Interesting note:  in the Old Testament, the word blot or blotted, is translated from the Hebrew word machah and it can have the idea of "wiping off" as in wiping off a dish.  And if something is to be wiped from something else, then it had to be there in the first place, right?

So there you go, what I've been contemplating lately.  I know this turned into a rambling discourse at certain points, but maybe you agree with some of what I've said.  Maybe you think I'm completely off base.  Either way, I think it's worth considering that we just might be able to make a difference while we are here on Earth, and that things can turn out differently, and for the better, because of our actions.  The Elect may not be some fixed number of individuals that are completely predetermined before any of this even got started.  Maybe that number can be influenced and increased. 

And maybe God is inviting us to get in on what He is doing.  Maybe that involves actually going out and altering destiny, discovering ours, and helping others find theirs.  Maybe?


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