Predestination & Free Will

Since God has knowledge of everything, He knows the future. Omniscience in the omnipotent God requires the existence of predetermination, or in other words, predestination. To reject predetermination is to refuse to believe in an omniscient omnipotent God. And without omniscience or omnipotence, God could not be trusted to bring about a fulfillment of all that He has promised through his prophets. He would not be the almighty God of the Bible. Through the prophet Isaiah God declares that He knows the future. (Isa 42:9; 46:10; 48:5)

Suppose hypothetically there is no predestination, and suppose that God cannot foretell the free will choices of man. Then when God chooses (foreordains) a man for a specific assignment, He cannot be certain that when the time comes the man will actually do it. Under these circumstances, if He were to foretell through a prophet that a certain person will accomplish a certain task (as sometimes contained in prophecy), neither God nor we can be confident that the prophecy will come true. In effect the form of prophecy would be “a certain action may be completed by a certain individual as long as he chooses to use his free will to do so.” Such prophecy is of little value because the prophet would only be saying that it might happen, or it could happen, or at best it will probably happen. But he certainly would not be saying that it will happen. Such hypothetical condition of prophecy contradicts the Bible, which states, You may say to yourselves, "How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD ?" If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:21-22)

The expression "be afraid" is translated from the Hebrew word guwr in the original language of the text. According to Strong’s Hebrew dictionary this word means "to turn aside from the road (for a lodging or any other purpose)." In other words the scripture above is telling us don’t "turn away from the path you are on or change direction" because of this prophet or in other words don’t "follow" this prophet because he has not spoken true prophecy. Thus, true prophecy comes true. Anything that does not come true is not true prophecy. It is not from God, and the one who speaks it is not a true prophet.

So our original hypothesis that “there is no predestination” cannot be true.

The idea that God only foreordains people to do things, but must have backup alternatives in the event that they don't follow through, doesn't work when you take a little time to carefully think about it. Consider the following episode near the end the first mission of Jesus on earth:

And while they were eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me." They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, "Surely not I, Lord?" Jesus replied, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" Jesus answered, "Yes, it is you." (Matt 26:21-25)

Now just suppose for a moment that Judas went out that night and used his free agency to surprise God and change his mind and decide not to follow through with the betrayal. Then the prophecy spoken by Jesus would have been wrong. It wouldn't matter if someone else betrayed Him instead of Judas. The prophecy would have been wrong nonetheless because it specifically identified Judas as the betrayer. And Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of mankind, would have been a false prophet because the Pentateuch teaches that if a prophet declares even so much as a single incorrect revelation, he is a false prophet. (Deut. 18:21-22 quoted above) So the Son of God would have been a false prophet and the whole New Testament would have been ruined! But Jesus knew exactly what would happen before it happened. God did not force or foreordain or even encourage Judas to betray Jesus. Judas chose by his own free will to betray Jesus, and he was fully responsible for that choice. He could have changed his mind, but he didn't, and Jesus knew that precisely before hand.

Jesus knows before hand who will betray him and who will follow him among all of us even though each of us has the free will to make that decision: Yet there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. (John 6:64)

Foreordination (Greek proginosko) means that God has assigned someone to a task or responsibility ahead of time, and God occasionally foreordains. (1 Peter 1:20) But God didn't want Judas to turn Jesus over to killers, and He certainly didn't assign Judas to that task. The apostle Peter tells us that God doesn't want anyone to fail. (2 Peter 3:9) We think with sadness about an innocent Man dying on the cross on behalf of others - on our behalf. But I think that God is also sad about the infinite misery that Judas caused himself. I think that He wishes with all his heart that Judas didn't have to go through what he went through - misery that drove him to suicide. But God has the wisdom to know with certainty at the beginning of creation that Judas would do exactly what he did. (Acts 2:23) And God did not prevent it because free will is irrevocable - otherwise it wouldn't be free will. Thus, Judas' act is predetermined, or in other words predestined, simply because God has the infinite wisdom to know for certainty that it would happen. Furthermore, God made use of Judas' betrayal to achieve his purpose, which is redemption and eternal life for those who would accept the gift of the atonement of his Son.

So, was Judas' betrayal actually good because he was doing what was necessary to fulfill not only the prophecy of Jesus at the Last Supper, but also the prophecies of the Old Testament? Was Judas actually a hero in sacrificing his own self to sin in order to give the Lord an opportunity to be sacrificed for sin? By no means! God makes use of sin to achieve his purposes only because sin exists (Eph 1:11), but He doesn't need sin and He doesn't tempt anyone to sin. (Rom 8:28; James 1:13) Tolkien wrote, "Evil may yet be good to have been ... and yet remain evil." (The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977, p. 98) The apostle Paul addressed this issue in his letter to the Roman congregation:

Where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! (Rom 5:20-6:2)

God is omniscient and omnipotent, and the Bible refers to predestination in Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 1:5&11. These references are translated correctly. The original Greek word in each case is próorízo, which comes from the words pró, meaning before, and horízo, meaning to determine. So, these original words written by the Apostle Paul meant that God predetermined, or predestined. (See note on 1 Cor 2:7 below.)

Yet, without free will people cannot be accountable for their own choices and actions. It is the will of our Heavenly Father that no one should perish (Matthew 18:14). On the other hand Jesus taught that most people would perish, and would do so because of their own choices (Matthew 7:13-14). Thus it is clear from the Bible that God created people with free will, that is the ability to freely choose between obedience to God and rebellion against God. Saving faith comes from the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3), but people can use their free will to accept or reject the influence of the Spirit (1 Thess 5:19).

The Bible paints a picture of reality that seems contradictory in our frame of reference. On the one hand it indicates that God is omniscient and that He knows the future. On the other hand it indicates that He can change His mind, that He responds to prayer, that He reacts emotionally to earthly events, and that He has created us with the capacity to make choices and to be responsible for those choices. So it is difficult for the mortal mind to accept that both are true.

Einstein recognized that as long as we restrict our thinking to our own frame of reference, certain observable real phenomena that are not restricted to our frame of reference cause apparent contradictions. For example, imagine light being emitted from a star and being observed from the surface of a planet some distance from the star. Also imagine that the planet is moving towards the star at a very high speed (relative speed between the two spheres), say 1% of the speed of light, or about 3 million meters per second. The star and the planet represent two different frames of reference because of the relative speed between them. Now the light is radiating from the star at a speed of 300 million meters per second, but since the planet is moving towards the star, it would seem that it should be arriving at the surface of the planet at the combination of these speeds (from the perspective of an observer on the surface of the planet). By traditional thinking the light should arrive at the surface of the planet at 303 million meters per second. But Einstein proved that light always moves at the same speed (300 million meters per second in a vacuum) relative to any observer. So the light actually arrives at the surface of the planet at 300 million meters per second. This is an apparent contradiction, and it is caused by the differences in frames of reference between the two celestial spheres. The dimension of time (along with the other dimensions) in one frame of reference is different relative to the time in the other frame of reference.

According to the laws of logic within our frame of reference, if a certain future event is known ahead of time it is unchangeable. And since it is unchangeable, whoever is responsible for making that event happen does not have the freedom to choose whether or not to make that event happen. Thus predetermination, or in other words predestination, eliminates the possibility of free will. This is assuming that these logical conditions exist exclusively within our frame of reference. That assumption is broken when we bring God into the picture. So the laws of logic are not broken by the coexistence of predestination and free will from God's frame of reference. The problem is in the assumptions, not the laws. God's frame of reference is very different from ours: He exists beyond time; we exist within the time dimension, moving invariably along it. (See notes on 2 Tim 1:9 & 1 Cor 2:7.)

And when God introduces interaction between the frames of reference, the analysis becomes even more complex. That is, when God makes known through a prophet the predestination of a future event, the effective laws still exceed the laws that are limited to our frame of reference alone. God's foreknowledge of the future relative to our frame of reference can take into account the impact of the interaction between the frames of reference. Although the resulting information may impact the decision making processes of individuals within our frame of reference, they can still act on their own decisions.

In conclusion, I don't presume to understand how predestination and free will coexist, but the logic that demands their mutual exclusivity is incomplete and thus inconclusive. As long as we are in the paradigm of mortal existence we cannot change our position on the dimension of time at will. As mortals, we cannot comprehend functioning beyond the dimension of time. But God exists beyond this paradigm, indeed beyond time itself. C.S. Lewis wrote, "Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life does not consist of moments following one another. If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He need not listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call ten-thirty. Ten-thirty - and every other moment from the beginning of the world - is always the Present for Him." (Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1943, book IV, chapter 3) Thus God is not restricted to the same limited thinking that we are. To claim that God cannot have certain knowledge of the future without taking away the free will of mankind is to claim to comprehend God, that is to claim infinite comprehension, which is in contradiction to the scriptures:

Then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it. (Eccl 8:17)

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Cor 1:20-21)

But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish. (2 Peter 2:12)

Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals - these are the very things that destroy them. (Jude 10)

I would like to make a very import distinction at this point. I am not saying that even though the coexistence of predestination and free will is irrational (that is impossible according to known laws) we should nonetheless accept it as reality because the powers of God are beyond our comprehension. To the contrary, I have shown that such coexistence is rational and that it does not defy any known laws provided we realize that such coexistence spans more than one frame of reference. A belief system that asks adherents to believe in things that contradict known laws is irrational and thus unacceptable superstition. (See Healthy Skepticism.) I am only saying, given that the coexistence of predestination and free will defies no laws, there is no obligation on the part of a rational believer explain how they coexist. Simply establishing that it is not impossible is enough to justify the belief that it is possible within the domain of the omniscient God.

The apostle John opens his testimony of the gospel with, Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12)  It does not say "those whom he received", but "those who received him".  It is our decision to either receive him or reject him.


Note on 1 Cor 2:7:

The NIV translation states, "We speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began." The KJV translation states, "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world into our glory:" The KJV contains the word ordained where the NIV contains the word destined in this verse. In the original Greek the word is próorízo, which literally means "determined before" or "predestined". So, it is incorrect to say that the KJV translators inappropriately used predestined where the original writing used foreordained. Actually the opposite is true: it is correct to say that the KJV translators occasionally used the word ordained where the original Greek contained the word predestined. So, there are actually more appearances of predestined in the original Greek language of the New Testament than appear in the KJV English translation.

The Greek word for foreordained is proginosko, as used in 1 Peter 1:20, which means to call or assign someone ahead of time to a task.

© 2013 William C. Hamer