Free Will, Predestination, Election and Quantum Physics: Part 1
I am not a Calvinist. Why? It reduces God to a one dimensional being. It so emphasizes God’s sovereignty and justice that it reduces his love and mercy to secondary characteristics, which is not accurate. The following quote is a “translation” of a section from “A Compleat Body of Divinity” by Samuel Willard, a Puritan theologian and die-hard, dyed-in-the-wool Calvinist from Boston who wrote in the end of the 17th century. (He’s a distant relation, so pardon me if I refer to him as Samuel.)
Good men are never better satisfied than in imparting their goodness and God takes delight in being kind to his creatures. Micah 7:18b “He does not hold on to his anger forever, because he delights in faithful love.” He is, as we may say, in his element. It is one way through which he exalts his glory. (Lecture 25)
How do we take these seemingly contradictory concepts and understand how they work together? Because we know they must work together since these are all descriptive of God and his character.
Yet, we know contradictory things can be said about his followers as well. Tozer said it best.
A real Christian is an odd number anyway. He feels supreme love for One whom he has never seen, talks familiarly every day to Someone he cannot see, expects to go to heaven on the virtue of Another, empties himself in order to be full, admits he is wrong so he can be declared right, goes down in order to get up, is strongest when he is weakest, richest when he is poorest, and happiest when he feels worst. He dies so he can live, forsakes in order to have, gives away so he can keep, sees the invisible , hears the inaudible and knows that which passeth knowledge.
A real Christian IS an odd number. Mostly because his God is an odd number. This is a God who is immortal, who never had a beginning and will never have an end. Yet, this is a God who was born and died. This is a God who is a spirit and yet, a God who took a physical body which he will never abandon and is still a spirit. This is a God capable of apparent contradictions. But what appear to be contradictions to us are not contradictions to God. As God said:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways.” This is the Lord’s declaration. Isaiah 55:8 HCSB
What does this tell us? That concepts we may regard as contradictory may not be contradictory at all. In light of that, let’s examine the concept of predestination as expressed by Calvinism. The five points of Calvinism are:
- total depravity (original sin)
- unconditional election (God’s choice of who will be redeemed, i.e. the elect)
- limited atonement (Jesus’ death was only for the elect)
- irresistable grace (God’s choice of the elect does not allow the elect to refuse him)
- perserverance of the saints (salvation cannot be lost)
If we take these points at face value, then all men are born condemned to hell as sinners as soon as they draw breath. I have a problem with this but will not discuss it here. Calvinists would go on to say that God chose men and women before creation began to be the elect. He did not base this on personal righteousness because, as we saw in point one, no one was righteous since all were born as condemned sinners. Because some were not chosen to be among the elect, the death of Jesus on the cross did not apply to them. Jesus’ death could only save the elect because no one else could come to a saving faith in him. Next, irresistable grace, the elect came to faith because they had been chosen. This means they had no choice in the matter. There was no free will that mattered. What mattered was whether or not God had chosen a person to be among the elect. If you were not chosen, then you could not chose to come to faith in God. Lastly, once God chose you and you come to faith, you can never lose your salvation. The truly elect are saved forever because God chose them.
Calvinists have based their five points on verses in the Bible. For point one, the total depravity of man, they point to verses like Psalm 58:3, Genesis 8:21 and Jeremiah 17:9. The proponents of free will respond with verses like Ezekiel 18:21-22, Leviticus 11:45, Malachi 3:18 and Luke 15:7.
For unconditional election, Calvinists point to such verses as Galatians 1:15-16, Acts 13:48 and John 6:44. The response? John 3:16, II Peter 3:9 and II Timothy 2:3-4.
Point three, the limited atonement of Jesus death. Calvinists? John 17:9, Matthew 26:28 and John 6:37. Frankly, these seem a pretty weak base for this point. Non-calvinists? I John 2:2, I Timothy 2:5-6, Hebrews 2:9, John 3:16 and virtually everywhere in the New Testament.
Then, irresistable grace. For that Calvinists turn to John 6:37, John 6:44, Romans 8:14 and I Peter 5:10. The response would be verses such as Acts 2:21, Mark 16:15, and I John 4:14.
The last point boils down to semantics. John Calvin taught the believer must perservere in his faith and will not lose his salvation because he is one of the elect. The non-Calvinists would largely agree that a believer cannot lose his salvation but put the emphasis on God’s faithfulness which remains in effect even when we are not faithful. Verses? John 10:27-29, I Peter 1:4-5 and Jude 1.
I propose to demonstrate that the seemingly contradictory concepts of election, predestination and freewill are actually not contradictory. In addition, it will render the third point of Calvinism, limited atonement, unnecessary.
Calvinism has attempted in the past to deal with the concept of free will. Allow me again to present a “translation” of a section of “A Compleat Body of Divinity” which speaks to a Calvinistic approach to free will.
Yet this [God’s] will lays no forcible necessity on the creature, but only a certainty as to the event. Things shall be as God’s will has determined, and yet the freedom of causes by counsel [man] is in no way infringed by it. It confirms God’s will, for in his will God has purposed that free agents shall act freely. For example, as to the event, Christ’s bones could not be broken [according to God’s will] and yet there was no necessity or compulsion placed on the soldiers. (Lecture 32)
In other words, men act freely without compulsion by God and yet God has predetermined the end result so man’s actions with free will are predetermined to an end determined by God. Do what you like but the end result is the outcome God has already decided. Samuel appears more generous in his allowance for free will than Calvin did. Calvin did not allow for free will at all. Calvin so emphasized God’s sovereignty and man’s depravity that there is no room for free will. Yet the Bible repeatedly mentions both. The question is how can both be true?