|Predestination and free will: part 2|
|Wednesday, 20 June 2012 08:59|
The second installment of a three part look at Christian beliefs on the ultimate sovereignty of God and significance of humans. By Seun Kolade
There, the psalmist proclaims, with a palpable sense of wonder, that God 'know when I sit and when I rise, you perceive my thoughts from afar... before a word is on my tongue, you, LORD, know it completely' (8).
He went on to affirm that God knows all about him, even before he was born: 'My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.' (8).
This theme of God's foreknowledge of human deeds and destiny runs through the rest of the Bible. In Jeremiah, for example, we hear God saying about young Jeremiah, 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.' (9).
There are other examples, throughout scripture, of God revealing ahead of time, often through prophecies, about what people will do, long before they did them, and often times long before they were born. The examples of Josiah the King and John the Baptist quickly comes to mind, as well as those of Samson, Jacob and Esau, and Judas. (10)
In all these passages and examples, the constant refrain is that individuals, in the exercise of apparent free will, only serve to fulfil the predetermined purposes of God.
Eternal life and judgement
In this perspective, we gain the fundamental understanding that even if God does not always intervene in every specific time and case in the course of human history; say with respect to every evil that individuals do to their fellow humans, or in open defiance of God's known will, the total sovereignty of God is by no means diminished. This is because, on the one hand, the active, defiant pursuit of evil is in itself inherently destructive to those given to it, at least with regard to their forfeiture of true peace and joy and fulfilment even here in time.
More fundamentally, with regard to eternity, God brings his judgment on the impenitent and the wicked. From such eternal judgement there is no escape, and no respite. It is a final monument to God's sovereign will: 'The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God' (11). 'If anyone's name is not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire' (12).
Concerning eternal life and salvation, one of the cardinal doctrines of Christianity is that as humans we are incapable, just by means of our good deeds and human efforts, to do enough to earn or attain eternal life (13).
The contribution of our free will in the process, by means of faith and obedience, is merely a response to God's gracious offer. God's provision of eternal life is primary and decisive. Our part is only to respond, to accept or reject God's offer of eternal salvation.
Otherwise the exertion of our free will, however earnest and honest, is an exercise in futility.
It is indeed real, but that reality, and the significance thereof, is like a "drop in a bucket", like "dust weighed on scale".
In other words, our free will is significant only to the extent that it can gain God's final approval, or incur his final judgement. It cannot - our free will cannot - change or alter God's ultimate purpose. We are, in short, morally responsible, even if we are incapable of changing or altering God moral and cosmic order.
Nations and peoples have the capacity to choose to obey and follow God's righteous ways and principles, and in the exercise of that choice they either incur God's wrath or gain his blessings: 'See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.
'For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you... But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed...' (14).
In Isaiah, God encourages the people to be "willing and obedient" (15) in order to gain his approval and blessings.
In Jeremiah God is described as a potter, and the nations and peoples like clay, and God declares that 'If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.' (16)
Seun Kolade is a member of Ilford High Road Baptist Church in Essex, where he is involved in teaching and outreach ministries, in addition to diaconate responsibilities.
This is the second part of a paper he presented in the church's bi-monthly seminar "Meetings for Better Understanding", during which it invites its Muslim neighbours to share and discuss the fundamentals of Christian gospel. The final installment will appear next week. The first installment of Predestination and free will is here
|Last Updated on Thursday, 21 June 2012 09:14|
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