Thursday, June 5, 2008

Fate or Free Will?? A Good Question

Yankee Doodle wrote:
I have a question, and it's not related to this article.

Recently my teacher asked us whether we believe in fate or free will. Honestly, I didn't know how to answer that question. Could you please tell me what does the Bible say about that?

Thank you.

June 5, 2008 5:34 PM
Blogger Rob R said...

Though you've asked ma, This is an issue I've studied a great deal.
The church has taken several positions on this issue. One side has taken the view that God has determined everything that has and will ever happen and the other side has taken the position that God created creatures with significant free will. There are a variety of positions regarding these issues with different nuances and in combination with a variety of doctrines, but over all, there are still two basic sides. Either God has determined absolutely everything, or he hasn't and has granted his creatures a degree of self determinism. (The closest thing to a middle ground is a position called molinism which I may or may not go into in this post)

Both sides use scripture to back up their claims. The determinists (often called "Calvinists" after theologian John Calvin) like to use Romans 9 and Isaiah 45:7 (see the king james version on that second verse)

The indeterminist (often called Arminians after theologian Jacob Arminius, or just free will theists) will often cite 2nd Peter 3:9 or John 3:16.

So both sides use scripture and both sides deal with the "problem passages" for their own perspectives. That is, they attempt to explain away the other position's passages.

There is far more scripture to consider than just these and it's been a while since I've gone into all the different texts. But I'll give you my position and a few important reasons including biblical reasons as to why I hold that position.

I am a free will theist as I find free will is behind some of our most basic intuitions in human thought and behavior, and I find the notion that God completely determined everything including every wicked act from the mildest to the most unspeakable to be repugnant beyond belief. Furthermore, these issues relate to the question of predestination and free will, and the implication of determinism, that God has determined (even by something some Calvinists refer to as "second causes") that some specific people will be damned to an eternal hell (or even just oblivion as some hold to in a position called "annhiliationism" which is a theory about damnation and not necessarily about predestination) is even more grievious.

One of the first passages that I found that I felt could not be explained away by calvinists was 1st corinthians 10:13. This passage explains that if a Christian is tempted, God will provide a way for the Christian to escape that temptation and not sin. If theological determinism is correct, then it really isn't true that a christian who was tempted and sinned could have avoided that sin since in determinism, there is no way to do other than what God has determined.

A calvinist could get around this by insisting that Christians never sin, but this is observably false and a biblical case can be made to the effect that Christians do indeed sin.

So if Christians sin, then free will is necessary as far as 1st Corinthians 10:13 is concerned.

In my studies, I cam across what I believe to be what is absolutely the most important argument against theological determinism (given that the theological determinist believes that God damns people to hell... we'll call this belief "reprobation," that is the combined belief of damnation and theological determinism). If you believe in reprobation, then it is impossible for you to perfectly follow the two greatest commandments as Jesus described them. Jesus said those two greatest commandments were to love God with all of your being and to love your neighbor as yourself.

So if God reprobates people, then most likely, some of the neighbors of any given Christian are reprobated even though the Christian doesn't know specifically who. Now what is the Christian called to do with regard to his neighbor? He is to love his neighbor as he loves himelf. What does that mean. One thing that this entails is that the Christian identifies the needs of his neighbor as if they were his own. What does his neighbor need more than anything? It is the love and salvific grace of God. But according to the doctrine of reprobation, it is God himself who refuses to extend his this grace. Now if God is refusing your most important basic need, can you love him with all your heart? Not at all. According to the apostle John, we love because God first loved us. So without that need met for our neighbor, in consistence with a love for them as if their needs were our own, we cannot be at peace with the idea that they are reprobate. If you really are identifying your neihbor's need as if it were your own, the idea that God himself refuses to satisfy this need that you are now identifying as your own should shake you to the core. You should not be at peace with it. This is so fundamental that it will interfere with one's ability to love God with all of one's being.

Hence if God reprobates, then we cannot satisfy the two greatest commands.

You could still be a determinist and get around this argument by denying that God damns anyone. These people are universalists as they believe that either everyone goes to heaven, or that hell is more like the catholic idea of purgatory so that one day everyone will repent and leave hell.

I hope these ideas and reasonings are clear to you but understand that this is a huge issue and what I've written here is just an introduction which leaves a lot of important information out.

June 5, 2008 7:07 PM

"God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and have eternal life."--the Bible


Barb said...

The signature Bible verse at the end of my blog II Peter 3: 9:

KJV: 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.

NIV: 9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Yet, we know that not everyone seems to come to repentance and Jesus prophesies that some will be separated from God for Eternity because of their refusal to believe in Him.

The verse says God is not willing that any should perish --but the Bible acknowledges that some will not come to repentance and will thus perish.

So God's will is not controlling us in this area of belief. It is a free will choice we make.

To say everything is "fate" is to blame God (or whatever causes fate) for ALL the bad that happens, instead of giving man and his sinful choices their due credit.

Even when tragedy is not man's doing, it is mankind's fault indirectly because the planet is under the curse from the Fall of Man due to mankind's sin. We are not in paradise --yet!

Another verse tells man to "In everything give thanks, for this is the will of Christ Jesus concerning you." Well, this verse may mean that God will purposefully allow the rain to fall on the just and the unjust (as Jesus said) -- and that He is willfully allowing whatever happens to the Christian --tragic or good.

some carried this verse so far that they thought they should praise God for every flat tire --assuming it kept them from some accident down the road. I interpret the verse to mean that we should not give in to despair when trouble comes --but count our blessings instead. You see this when people pay attention to the mercies shown them in the midst of sorrows. Someone has cancer --and another is able to come along and help out the family at this time. My father was dying of cancer --just when my aunt and uncle had moved to the city where we were --so they were able to give him and Mom a nice room and be with us when he was so ill and came to Toledo for his surgery. they provided a very lovely home away from home for all of us in a sad time. Some mercy for a sad time.

Jesus wept at Lazarus' death, even though He knew He could raise him and would do so--so I think God goes, "O NO!" over some tragedies. Not everyone would agree with me on that. But we know that He feels our sorrows --and was himself, "a Man of Sorrows, acquainted with Grief."

Barb said...

Another verse used is "God is the blessed controller of all things."

(maybe rob referred to some of these verses --I couldn't find it in Bible Gateway, but I am pretty sure it exists.)

Can Jeanette or Rob help us find the above verse??

I'm sure God has the capacity to interfere with our free will --He is all-powerful even if He does not choose to control all events and people.

He can stay the hand of evil --and protect us from evil-doers. He says that "the fervent effectual prayer of a righteous man availeth much." So that suggests we can ask God to ACT in our behalf, to bring events around for a desired effect -- but we should say as in The Lord's Prayer, "Thy Will be done --on earth as it is in Heaven."

We know we are not going to live forever; we shall die of something. We know that not all our prayers for perfect outcomes will be answered the way we would like --but Paradise is still to come. We simply aren't there yet.

We see miraculous answers to prayer all the time --so God must dynamically act in concert with the free will of His people, affecting events daily --for good --and allowing events sometimes to touch us, though they are not good. Out of this we can find ways to "in everything give thanks."

Barb said...

The point of that verse about God as the blessed controller of all things was to agree with Rob that both sides of the debate do have their scriptures --and they are all applicable to the subject. God IS the controller of all things --and in HIs control He has given US some control --that we not be puppets but made in His image --choice making creatures.

Yankee Doodle said...

It's my honor to have a theologian to answer my question. Thank you all.

I'm going to print this post and all the comments for future references.

I search "God is the blessed controller of all things," by key words on I didn't find it.

Anonymous said...


Regarding II Peter 3:9: Ever heard of an antecedent?

Jeanette said...

Sorry, Barb, I can't find the words "blessed controller" in any reference material I have.

Jeanette said...


Here is your antecedent: 1This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance:

2That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour:

3Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,

4And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.

5For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:

6Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:

7But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.

8But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

So what is your point? That time has no meaning to God? That's true, but study Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation and know the day is at hand. Just read the newspapers daily and you can see we are in the end times. Whether it has started or not, I don't know, but believe it has. At any rate it will happen in God's time.

Barb said...

Maybe God as the blessed controller wasn't a verse after all--but a theme of a conference based on the verse..."In everything give thanks for this is the will of Christ Jesus concerning you."

The Verna Birkey seminars had this as a theme -- and I didn't like it --because the suggestion was that we should thank God for sorrows and tragedies --not just in the midst of them or despite them --but FOR them. I said that's absurd. I'm not going to thank God when a man kills his 8 children because he thought God told him to. ( a real case many years ago.) To thank God for all things is to give Him credit. We are to thank Him for all good things --and in the midst of all bad things. Right?

There is a verse that, "All things work together for good to those who love the Lord." E.G. the 8 children may have gone straight to Heaven. Certainly not a justification, however, for the father's lunatic deed.

sin is our doing.

From Jeanette's post:

"... there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,"

That surely describes people today.

Barb said...

here's the verse subsequent to II Peter 3: 9 --verse 10 for those who don't believe in Christ's 2nd coming and an end of the age as we know it:

10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.[a]

Anonymous said...

Any sign of an antecedent yet?

Anonymous said...

Hint number 1:

an·te·ced·ent [an-tuh-seed-nt]
Grammar. a word, phrase, or clause, usually a substantive, that is replaced by a pronoun or other substitute later, or occasionally earlier, in the same or in another, usually subsequent, sentence. In Jane lost a glove and she can't find it, Jane is the antecedent of she and glove is the antecedent of it.

Anonymous said...

Hint number 2:

Check verse 8.

Christian Apologist said...

The question revolves around the sovereignty of God. Human beings are ruled both by fate, and by free will. Heres how I got there.

Genesis 1:
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

29 Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food." And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Genesis 2:15
15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

What an amazing gift! The whole earth has been given to mankind.

You see God created the earth and then he put Man in charge of it. Thus it is like a nobleman who owns a peice of property. Though he has total control over that property he may freely give over the responsibility of taking care of the land to a servant. Thus it is our great responsibility to diligently take care of what God puts into our hands but he has given us the free will to choose the methods that we employ. "To him who is faithful with what is given him will be given even more to him who is wasteful of what he has even what he has will be taken from him and given to the other man." (paraphrasing the parable of the talents).

It is a natural human instinct to set up false dichotemys (either, or) thus the name of this topic. The actual truth of the matter is that the relation of man to God and God to man lies somewhere between free will and predestination.

Rob R said...

[/i]The actual truth of the matter is that the relation of man to God and God to man lies somewhere between free will and predestination.[/i]

It seems to me that when you put the word "all" in front of a statement, a dichotomy always arises, in considering rejection or acceptance of it. The question of determinism is such an example. Either everything is determined or at least some things aren't. This dichotomy is logically necessary. Of course within the idea that not everything is determined there are two possibilities, that nothing is determined or that only some things are, but both of those notions fall under the description of indeterminism, and for all practical purposes, no one considers that nothing is determined (or perhaps no significant groups of a Christian persuasion). There is at least some degree of determination within free will theism that acknowledges prophecy and God's plan for the world with God occasionally acting univocally (and even predestination is a part of this view... just not the individualistic kind, or for traditional arminians (of whom I am not a member), its the sort that is based upon God's foreknowledge of what we creatures will determin). With God's providence, the issue here can be described as meticulous soverignty vs. general soverignty, where in the first, God is a micromanager and in the second, God has a general direction but allows input and alterations by his creatures and even allows rebellion against his plans.

The picture you described can fit solidly within the concept of indeterminism and free will theism and can be construed as in conflict with determinism.

Then again, with more explanation, it can be placed back within the concept of determinism.

Of course, there is perhaps one thing that may convolute the idea when we suggest that the issue boils down to two basic positions, predestination vs. free will (and beyond what I am about to write, yes, that title for the issue is itself overly simplistic), there are technically two issues reffered to here, and that is whether or not humans are free (which generally means the libertarian* sense) and whether or not God has determined all things. Really, you could say no to both (I consider that molinism amounts to just that, though they believe they hold to libertarian free will).

*libertarian free will means that one is free with respect to an action only if it is absolutely possible for one to perform that action and absolutely possible for that person to refrain from that action. It is virtually synonomous with incompatibilistic free will, that is free will that is logically incompatible with determinism. Now there is a notion that free will can cohere with determinism and this is generally called compatibilism or compatibilistic free will. Most Calvinist do claim to believe in free will and that is the compatibilistic sort. It is usually defined as an action that one takes because they wanted to take the action (It is a free action for this reason as the compatibilist would say and not because the person could have refrained from the action). I don't find it productive to argue against the idea that we have compatibilistic freedom and would rather simply allow that if we do have compatibilistic freedom, it still isn't the case that we also lack libertarian freedom. Compatibilism may sound right for some human behaviors, but there are others which I do not believe it fits. There are instances where I am not coerced to act in some way, I act in the way that I desire, and yet, I don't believe that I would've choosen other wise. I acted "of my own will", but I don't know that I would say it was a libertarian moment. But such instances simply do not describe all of human behavior. There are other actions where I really do believe that there is more than one way in which I really REALLY might act and if I am not decieved on such basic thought processes that underly the free actions, then only libertarian freedom can describe these behaviors.

Barb said...

Gramma-r --I see what you are getting at.

verses 8 and 9
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

You think the antecedent is "dear friends" and "you" --the people to whom he is writing, the believers. And that the "anyone" and the "everyone" only pertain to the chosen and predestined. Am I right?

We agree that only the repentant will be saved. But "anyone" and "everyone" do not need antecedents, nor do they have exclusive ones in this passage. They are pronouns that stand alone quite well to mean "anyone" and "everyone." Those words INCLUDE the previous designees "friends" and "you."

John 3:16 suggests that Christ died for the world --that God so loved the world --that "whosoever believes...will not perish."

Now consider this verse:

"Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. 18But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever!"

Verse 17 certainly counters Calvinist doctrines about those in the chosen or secure position never needing to worry about backsliding and losing that position.

I don't believe in eternal INsecurity, but this verse flies in the face of strict Calvinist teachings about the elect being chosen over others to repent and be saved, with no possibility of falling from grace.

steve said...


Barb said...


Rob R said...

I'm testing the recent comments widget.

Rob R said...