Predestination and Human Will – Examining the Options

In the last post, I gave an overview of my views on Romans 9. I stated that, while Romans 9 does not warrant any sweeping conclusions about predestination, there are reasonable extrapolations that may be drawn at ones discretion. In this post, I want to talk about the different options that I have seen or considered regarding what the concepts of predestination or human will mean. This post will examine the extreme views of predestination, the extreme views of human will, and several possibilities in between. At the end of the article, I will describe which options I believe are compatible with Romans 9 and the Bible in general.

The most extreme view of predestination states that God is in direct control of all events, and that He uses humans and spiritual forces (both good and evil) to bring forth His plans. Under this view, humans’ free will is an illusion; people think and feel as if they are free, but ultimately God is directing them. The idea is that evil plays an integral part of God’s redemptive plans by drawing a contrast with righteousness, causing people to appreciate righteousness more fully. The advantage of this view is that it allows the most literal interpretation of Scriptures that reference predestination or God’s purposes (ex. Rom. 9, Eph. 1:11, Dan. 4:35, Isa. 45:7). Many people, however, are concerned about the implications that this view may carry for the character of God. In particular, there are concerns that this view makes God responsible for evil.

There are views which uphold the idea of predestination, but seek to avoid the problematic implications for God’s character. One such approach is to claim that all events (including human decisions and actions) are produced by a cause or a combination of causes. In other words, decisions and actions are constrained to occur by various factors (such as psychology, physiology, social influences, knowledge, experience, etc.). Under this view, human history is deterministic, meaning that, if you were to rewind history then hit play, the same events would unfold the second time. Furthermore, human history is predictable to an omniscient agent who sees everything happening. History could be seen as a chain reaction designed by God. In this view, God initiated human history, and from there, human decisions and actions unfolded through the principle of cause and effect. Some of these effects involve humans seeking God for help and exercising their spiritual authority as believers to cause other things to happen. Even though this view claims that all decisions and events were designed to occur through cause and effect, it does not claim that God was acting in every situation. The idea of this view is that it upholds the concept of predestination without claiming that every event and decision occurred via God’s power. This view allows room to say that humans, or various spiritual forces, were the direct cause of a given event, and that God’s power was not operating in that situation.

Some people may feel that this view still makes God responsible for evil. I think that you could address these concerns by modifying the view to say that, even though history is deterministic (with all events and decisions formulaically occurring through cause and effect) not every event and decision was designed by God. You could say that God designed some events (such as individuals coming to know Christ), but not all events. You could take this a step further and claim that, even though history is predictable to an omniscient agent, God did not specifically design anything to happen; all He did was get the process started. This view could still uphold the concept of predestination (albeit in a more metaphorical sense), by reasoning that God knew how everything would unfold and decided to let it happen, knowing that righteousness would prevail over evil when all was said and done. Under this view, a given event happened because God initiated history and one thing led to another. However, God did not initiate history in a specific way such that the event would occur, and God’s power only intervenes in the world if humans’ spiritual activity prompts it to. Humans’ decisions to engage in such spiritual activities occurs as a result of various factors.

However, some may find it problematic for a person’s life to be deterministic in any way or form. If so, there is a view which allows which acknowledges that people make actual choices that do not simply result from a confluence of factors. However, there are constraints upon the range of options that a person would select. For example, a person may have some problem that causes him to make foolish decisions in certain situations. Now, the exact decision that he makes is up to his own will – nothing can cause him to make a particular bad decision. However, because of certain psychological or spiritual problems, whatever he chooses in certain situations will be a foolish decision. Under this view, God chooses certain people to come to know Christ in this life, and when they come into the faith, they begin to be liberated from the constraints upon their will and they are given a new nature from which they can make wise decisions and overcome problems.

Lastly, some believe that there cannot be any constraints on the human will, at least where decisions regarding faith are concerned. They believe that for a true relationship between humans and God to exist, an individual must be fully capable of choosing God by his or her own will. The rationale for this view is that it is the only view that truly makes humans responsible for their actions; all of the other views are seen as giving people a way to excuse their bad decisions. Proponents of this view often claim that, with the exception of certain divinely-ordained events, God leaves it up to us to determine the future and what He sees are the different outcomes that would arise from different courses of actions we may choose.

As to where I stand in this debate, I think that both the extreme predestination view and the extreme free will view are difficult to reconcile with Scripture when the whole council of relevant passages are taken into account. Regarding the extreme view of predestination, I do not have a way to decisively refute it from the Bible. However, when people raise Biblical concerns about it damaging the character of God, or taking away human responsibility, I am not able to give a Scriptural response to those concerns that makes a lot of sense. I think that the three middle views of predestination described above work just fine with the Biblical passages on predestination and they enable more discussion from Scripture about the need for human action and accountability. Regarding the strong free will viewpoint, which gives humans the full inherent ability to make decisions regarding faith and to determine the future, I find that I am unable to make this jive with the view of the Book of Romans that I described in the previous post.

So, by writing this article, I want to show how there are different ways to look at the issue of predestination and human will. Many people only know the concept by the two extremes, and I think that it is important to see that there are other options.

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