|Predestination and free will part 3|
|Thursday, 28 June 2012 16:27|
The third installment of a three part look at Christian beliefs on the ultimate sovereignty of God and significance of humans. By Seun Kolade
As it is with nations and peoples, so it is with individuals as well. We are, as it is often said, free moral agents, capable of submitting or acting against God’s will, but incapable of changing or altering God’s will.
If we act against God’s will, we simply incur his judgment, his corrective measure to keep all in line. Everyone is responsible before God for him/herself, and no other: 'The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.' (17).
Again, we are told in clear terms that past promises of God are no license for licentiousness, sin or reckless impunity. In this respect what God said to the priest Eli is particularly instructive: 'I promised that members of your family would minister before me forever.’
But now the LORD declares: ‘Far be it from me! Those who honour me I will honour, but those who despise me will be disdained.' (18).
Moreover, concerning eternal life that God has offered us, while it is true that we are absolutely not responsible for the provision - the offer - we still exercise the really important choice to accept or reject, with all attending consequences. On this point the Bible then asks, rhetorically: 'how shall we escape' responsibility and consequences, 'if we ignore so great a salvation?' (19)
Conclusion: Human significance in contexts
Let us now summarise the key points of this inquiry: human beings are significant and morally responsible, and this significance is perfectly compatible with and perfectly subsumed in, God’s sovereign will and absolute power. The significance of man can be better understood in the following cardinal contexts:
It is sometimes suggested that if God is all powerful, does it really matter what we think of his fairness, with respect to, say, predestination of some people to eternal damnation, and yet others to eternal salvation, without any consideration of deeds or misdeeds? Can he not do as he wills, seeing he is accountable and answerable to no one?
Those who proclaim this idea of God’s infinite power imagine that they are doing God a great service with all reverential fear. Unfortunately, they appear not to recognise the essential point about God’s immutable character. In other words, while it is true that God is answerable to no one, he is nevertheless bound to his own unchanging character.
He must be God. He cannot be 'false to himself' (21). He cannot be anything other than God. He is, and will always be, the embodiment of absolute good, of pure love, of perfect justice.
The doctrine of predestination fundamentally affirms God’s sole determination of final outcomes, and does not necessarily preclude the exercise of human free will.
As the prominent Christian apologist C.S. Lewis aptly puts it, the gates of hell are, in a sense, “locked on the inside” (22). People go to hell because they choose to rebel against God’s righteous ways and sovereign will.
One of the essential points that have become clearer in the course of our inquiry is the limitation of human will.
Human free will is real, but it is severely limited. It is restricted, first, by the time-space limitations of our earthly existence. Much as we may will, we cannot live on (most, if not all of) the planets near to us in our solar system, let alone go outside the Milky Way to physically explore billions of galaxies yonder.
As stated in the Bible passage explored earlier, nation-states themselves are, in the grand scheme of the universe, like ‘dust weighed on scale’.
Our free will is also limited by the humbling fact of our mortality. Our days are numbered, and that is it. On the average, 'Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.' (23).
We may be rich or poor, weak or powerful, build great mansions or live in bamboo huts, but death is our common denominator. How much land does a man need? In the words of Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, 'Six feet from his head to his heel was all he needed' (24).
Eternal destiny: salvation/damnation
One important limitation of the human free will omitted in the preceding section is the fact of spiritual depravity. We are - all of us humans - products of original sin incurred in the first man, Adam.
In effect, whereas we may set up our standards and make our best efforts to be morally good, our will is utterly inadequate to attain God’s standard of holiness and attain eternal salvation. All have sinned (25) and we depend entirely on God Grace. Before his all-perfect purity, 'all our righteousness are like filthy rags'.
We have a choice to make in this matter. As humans, we can choose to accept God’s gracious offer of salvation, or we can refuse and explore other ideas or do our own thing. Whatever choice we make though, the outcomes are already determined. There are only two possibilities: eternal salvation, or everlasting damnation.
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 third 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.
17. Ezekiel 18:20
'Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.'
Lewis is by no means saying here that God surrenders in the end to human will, but just what we have been saying, that by the exercise of rebellious choice people effectively condemn themselves to damnation.
|Last Updated on Friday, 29 June 2012 08:49|
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