Theological Insights from a Modern Perspective

Free Will or Predestination

An interesting conundrum, to say the least. How can man have free will yet have a God who has an unwavering plan for the universe? Is free will then just a human concept to make us feel in control while everything we do has been determined from the beginning of time?

Recently I read an article from a secularist view on free will. The gist of the article was that free will is just an illusion, that the path we follow was laid out from the moment of the Big Bang (the historical event, not the television show). That we are simply molecules following a path that can be calculated mathematically, once we are able to understand all of the equations. At that point we will know the future with 100% certainty, because we will be able to predict the movement of the matter stream, hence knowing where every atom will be at any point in time. An interesting concept, not unlike the book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where a supercomputer was given the task to determine the ultimate answer to the ultimate question (the book was better than the movie).

Now, to be perfectly honest, the Bible does not say anything, directly, about free will, though there are passages that elude to it (Prov. 16:9, Josh 24:15, John 7:27, etc.), and, of course, the fall of Adam and Eve. But, some contend that this is not really evidence of free will, that God knew that they were going to fail and planned ahead for our redemption. So, free will doesn’t exist as anything more than a concept.

What I am going to attempt here is one of those marvelous things that Theologians like to do – show that both concepts are true (aka, walking that thin like between both sides). The difficult thing to understand is what it’s like to be God, and to see creation from his perspective. God exists in a unique place – heaven. Ancient people, primarily Jews for this discussion, envisioned heaven as being up in the sky, above the earth, and beyond the sun and stars (conversely, hell was underfoot…deep underfoot). We know, through the discoveries of science, that this is not the case. No matter how far “up” you go you will not run into heaven, there will just be more “up”. Heaven, as we now understand it, is outside the universe (or multiverse) in some not-quite-understood existence. Not only does it exist outside of the material universe we know, it exists outside of time as well, since time (as we measure it) is reliant upon a beginning, in our case the beginning of the universe. Scientists (some) now place time as not only outside of the universe, but outside of the multiverse as well. A fifth, possibly sixth, dimension, or more. Science has made time an even more confusing concept than it was since the beginning of, well, time.

So, where is God in all of this, and were is the line between free will and predestination (or predetermination as some now call it)? I’m going to try to answer that with an example. I am, among other things, a baker, or more precisely a bread maker. I love making different types of breads, but mostly yeast breads. I love combining the different ingredients (flour, water, yeast, and flavorings), pounding out the dough (great therapy after a hectic day), watching the dough rise, smelling it as it bakes, and taking that first bite into a piece of warm, fresh bread. In a way, when I am baking bread I am God, taking all of those separate ingredients and giving them life (purpose) in the loaf of bread that will nourish the body (and in some ways the soul).

Bad yeast on left, good on right.

So, what does this have to do with free will and predestination? I don’t use yeast much anymore (the dried, packaged stuff) preferring cake yeast or starters to raise my dough, I find their taste and consistency much better. But, the other day I was out of cakes and my starter was in the fridge, too cold to use for the recipe I wanted. So, I reached in the cupboard for a package of my wife’s active dry yeast. The thing about dry yeast is that the microorganisms that comprise the yeast are in a state of suspended animation, waiting for water and sugars to bring them back to life. But, regardless of the expiration date on the package, you have no idea how many of the little yeasties will come back to life when you “feed” them, or how long it’s going to take for them to become active. To find out you have to perform a procedure known as “proofing”. This is where you take warm water, dissolve some type of sugar (white, honey, molasses, etc) into the water, add the yeast, then see if anything happens. It’s a tortuous period of time, waiting to see what will happen…will the yeast begin to rise (hello Dr. Frankenstein) or will it fail the test (thus “proving” the viability of the yeast).

This is where we can begin to understand free will versus predestination, but only begin. Imagine God as the baker, speaking a word and bringing all of the ingredients into being (water, sugar, yeast). In this scenario we are the yeast, the water is creation, and the sugar is the Word upon which we feed. Some of us will come to life in the Word, some will reject it, choosing to remain in the world but not partake of the Word and, thus, never fully coming to life. God has given us everything we need, but the choice of whether to consume the sugar (Word) or not is ours. How much will we consume (partake in the Word) is also our choice, not all of the yeasties produce as much gas (sorry) as others, just as some of us make more of the Word than others. But, regardless of what we, individually, do God knows that the end result will be a proofed yeast because he knows the expiration date we have been stamped with is good enough to raise the Bread of Life.

A side note. The teacher I had in a class I took said that we slice the top of the bread to keep the loaf from cracking during the baking process. We slice it three times, once for the Father, once for the Son, and once for the Holy Spirit, in honor of the Bread of Life.


Comments on: "Free Will or Predestination" (5)

  1. What you do with words is magical.
    I love what and how you write.
    I’d be glad if you could visit my blog too.
    Thanks. Take care. xx


  2. This is a heavy post and I remember well arguing/discussing this very topic with my priest growing up. The line between “god knowing” and “god deciding” is very thin for most people. I DO believe in free will, but that free will is often predetermined by the lines we live on.


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