Predestination or Free Will?

Is everyone born where their fates are? Since God knows all, does this mean all events in history were known before hand?

Welcome, @Angela275! that’s a great question. If God knows things ahead of time, are they predestined? On the other hand, Thomas Jay Oord wrote a book called “The Uncontrolling Love of God,” about open theology–a belief that God purposely avoids predestining or foreknowing things (I think so that we have free choice). I confess I have not yet read it–I plan to soon, and have purchased it. It’s an interesting concept.

I’m sure there are a variety of views between predestination and this book. This would probably be a good place to discuss them.

Thank you for your thoughts!.

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If I have a tombstone (which I don’t expect, since I am a whole body donor to UNMC :slightly_smiling_face:), it should have my favorite quote on it:

“You have to believe in free will, you have no choice.” I.B. Singer :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:


It has to do with the relationship of God to our linear sequential timeline. He is independent of it and outside of it and is either atemporal or omnitemporal, timeless or ‘timeful’. I just know that I love the way he acts providentially and interventionally into my life.

We have no language that can describe it because all of our verbs are tensed, describing sequential time – past, present, future, but they really do not apply to God. Jesus said "Before Abraham was born, I am” (I like to read it as “I AM” – one of the more awesome names of God). Predestination, foreordained, elected, foreknown… You get the idea – those are all bound to sequential time, but God is not. It is beyond our ability to comprehend, it is both yes and no at the same time. Yes, God knows every second of our lives and we can say he planned it, past tense – but no, that timebound word does not really apply to him or our lives. Our relationship to him is dynamic – he is the always Present tense and the eternal Now.

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I am a libertarian open theist and incompatibilist. I don’t even believe that life and consciousness is possible without an open future. When the story is already written you just have the characters in books, films, and video games – and these are neither alive nor conscious. They are just 4-dimensional fixed objects which you can rewind and replay from any point you like.

However… sin destroys free will and makes us very predictable. It is only natural that God should take advantage of this in order to restore us. Predestination is about God’s providence not our salvation – and this only means that God gives us roles to play not that we will do a good job on them.

Then you don’t believe in the validity of any prophecy.

Incorrect. Like I said sin makes us very predictable.

But yes sometimes those like Jonah whine and complain when prophecies do not come true.

@Angela275 A little story may help.

It may have been Einstein who said, “Coincidence is God’s way of staying anonymous.” Rightly put it is, “Coincidence is one of God’s ways of saying, ‘Here I AM!’” “Co-instants” and “co-instance(s)” are my substitute terms denoting “not a chance!”

I have been keeping a Co-instants Log for over three decades, with retrospective entries for two decades before that (I’m in my early geezerhood :slightly_smiling_face:), and it has a small multitude of entries. Some are fun, funny, startling, poignant or life-path changing, and there are a lot of them! Not all are easy but all are good.

Here is a sweet example, one among a boatload, of his sovereign, immanent, personal and interventionist activity into my life:

Then how is that an ‘open future’?

A little addendum to that story which illustrates both the “planned” aspect of our lives but also the dynamic nature of God’s relationship with us. I asked Mike earlier this year when he had first thought about dropping the lesson topic for that Sunday – it had been a couple of months before when the quarterly had come out and he had looked ahead. Predestined? A qualified yes. Did Mike and I have free will? A qualified yes there as well. Is God contrained by time? An absolute and unqualified no!

As long as sin rules us, life and consciousness are somewhat lacking. So Jesus said… “Let the dead bury their own dead.” But very rarely people (and no doubt with the help of God) will step out of their sins to surprise us, much to the consternation of prophets like Jonah.

So… what difference does this make? Adam and Eve were not set up. They had free will and their fall was not “predestined.”

What a great question, @Angela275. One that is not only important theologically, but also has important pastoral (and emotive) implications. I’m sure that like me you have non-Christian friends and family, so this question also impacts them whichever side you fall down on. On the one hand, “If salvation is for a select set, is there any chance God might pass over them?”. On the other hand, “If salvation is only an act of free choice, does that mean their eternal destiny is more or less up to chance?”. Again on the one hand, “Is God abusively forcing himself on others by predestining people?” On the other, “If he has the power to save, but leaves it up to our choices does that make him negligent?”.

I say all that, not so folk will necessarily answer the questions but more to illustrate that this is not theological minutia. Rather, if one imagines theological doctrines like countries on a map, ones view of predestination and free-will directly borders one’s theology of God and one’s theology of Church Mission. These are big important questions; let me try to offer some basic, stumbling, reflections.

It is worth considering what one means by ‘free will’. My own view is that our will follows our desires, so I do not believe then that the will is ‘free’ from any and all coercion anyway. One chooses Pepsi over coke, for example, because one desires Pepsi more and so the will chooses that brand. I would argue that sinners never choose to submit to God because their heart desires sin more than righteousness and so the will chooses to rebel instead. As such, left to our own devices none of us chooses God on our own. As such God must intervene to give us a new ‘heart’ (the core of humanness) so that we desire to choose him rather than rebellion.

Unsurprisingly then, I am a convinced Calvinist. And not even necessarily because I want to be but because that is what I see in scripture and, personally, find the most convincing position. Others have and will disagree - I’m cool with that.

As a subset of Calvinists, I follow Don Carson’s Biblical Compatibilism model. Justin Taylor gives a good overview of the position (with bible passages) here. However, here are the headlines:

D. A. Carson… argues that the following two propositions are both taught and exemplified in the Bible:

  1. God is absolutely sovereign, but his sovereignty never functions in Scripture to reduce human responsibility.
  2. Human beings are responsible creatures—that is, they choose, they believe, they disobey, they respond, and there is moral significance in their choices; but human responsibility never functions in Scripture to diminish God’s sovereignty or to make God absolutely contingent.

Again folks are welcome to disagree. I have answers to some common objections, other stuff I just have to go, ‘yeah, don’t know really…’. I certainly have no answers to Mitchell’s consciousness critique, that is information above my pay grade I am afraid. Yet, not being able to answer an objection does not necessarily make Calvinism invalid, it is more a recognition that I am not as smart as he is(!) :wink:

I guess what I am saying is this: at the end of the day, I’m just another finite human trying to get my head around an infinite being’s operations. Even with the bible and 2000 years of theological reflections, we’re all still ants trying to comprehend the ocean. So whatever direction one approaches the debate I think it is incumbent on us to do so with grace and humility.

Sadly that has not always been the case. The Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate has been dividing churches for centuries and it is often, not to put too fine a point on it, due to stupid behaviour on both sides. Again, I often wonder if part of the reasons one lands on one side of the theological fence or the other on these issues is personality type, background, etc. It also wouldn’t surprise me if when we reach glory Calvinists and Arminians (and everyone else) finds out they were both partly right and both partly wrong.

I hope you can salvage something useful from all that. What’s your thoughts on the issue, Angela?


The sermon at my church last Sunday was on the book of Habakkuk. The pastor said something that I have been mulling over. He said that we usually treat God’s sovereignty as a puzzle to be solved, some kind of theological brain-teaser to figure out. But in the Bible, God’s sovereignty is given to believers as a place to rest. When life is full of devastating realities and horrific future “what ifs” (as it was for Habakkuk and others like Job), God reminds them of his sovereignty so they can rest in the “even ifs” (Hab. 3:17-19) of their situation and know his peace, hope, and promise of ultimate vindication.

I think we often try to take the truth of the Bible and turn it into some kind of math equation or law of the universe, and that’s probably wrong. We were given the truth in stories and histories that are deeply tied to experiences and emotions and the care of people’s souls, and I think that is the level we need to process the truth on sometimes. So, I have been challenged to think of God’s sovereignty more as a gift to me to ease my human fears and anxieties, and less as some kind of theological chemical reaction with free will that needs to balance out with the proper math.


Absolutely, and not to resist or resent but to rejoice in. He is a good Father.

I am still on the fence about free will, but tend to lean that direction. As to concerns about prophecy and God’s sovereignty, I do not see a problem as I hold God as all powerful, so his will will come about. God knows all that can be known, the question is to what extent can the future be known. He know the range of possibilities and the relative probabilities, and can intervene to make his will reality. I feel that he also is fine with a range of possibilities, which is where our will has freedom.

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I think our future is more sure and secure than that. Father is already there, if you will (:slightly_smiling_face:), and knows where every molecule is, then and now.

Let me reprise my kidney story, if you haven’t seen it (and if you have :slightly_smiling_face:). It not as nicely crafted as Liam would do it, but bear with my stumblings.

(@Christy – note the ‘rest’ featured above.)

It is God’s sovereignty over molecules that helped me accept evolutionary science and label myself an ‘evolutionary providentialist’.

Just because God knows what the future holds, doesn’t means its all predestined. Humanity still has free will, God just already knows the choices we make.


The why does the Bible use that word?

We like Romans 8:28,

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

But we have difficulty with 29:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

It’s a wonderful mystery, God’s relationship to sequential time, and how he works in our lives dynamically but also having ‘planned’ them (a word in the past tense that cannot apply to God, the forever Present tense and the eternal Now).

‘Beforehand’ is a word, once again, that only makes sense in sequential time. It does not apply to God without recognizing that fact and allowing for that qualification, a wonderful mystery.