Free Will vs. Predestination… do we control where we go in our lives, who we meet, what we do, and who we ultimately become as individuals, or are we destined to follow a predetermined course, long since set in stone the very instant we were conceived? It is an age-old debate which continues to this day within and even between faiths worldwide, and it is perhaps one of the biggest questions mankind has ever asked itself. Are we the deciders of our own fate, or the enslaved subjects of some grander, inescapable destiny?
Perhaps nowhere else is this question more asked than within Christian and closely related faiths, where the idea stands that mankind was created and is effectively ruled over by an omniscient and omnipotent God, a being with infinite power, infinite wisdom, and infinite knowledge of all that ever was, is, and inevitably will be. Many have to wonder, in this sort of a setting, with this sort of a belief, how can the concept of ‘Free Will’ survive?
How is it possible that a man can decide his life, if some supreme deity already knows all that will happen? How could one have any choice if their path in life is already known, if the world was designed by one that knew everything from the start? And if there is a God and he does know everything, why then has he allowed this world to stray so far from him and its initial perfection? Why would he let things get this bad if he already knew, if he has the power to stop it, unless we have the power of choice and to make our own decisions, and shape our own fates?
They are two ideas which stand seemingly at odds - an apparent contradiction between what we perceive to be fact and what the scriptures proclaim to be the truth. But are they really so disparate? I, for one, do not personally believe that they are.
I am a man of logic and reason, but I am also a man of faith… I am a Christian, no doubt, but I’m not out here to shove my views down your throat, and I’m not just an aimless believer. I believe that there is a logic and a reasoning behind everything, and that there is an order to all creation. I believe in finding out how scripture and faith can and does meld with science and cold, hard, observable fact. And, much like I do not believe Science and Faith - on the surface two radically different and seemingly opposed concepts - have to be so distant and disjointed from one another, neither do I believe that the idea of an all-knowing God and the gift of Free Will have to be so distant and unrelated.
Now, let’s delve a little deeper into both ideas in their purest forms, starting off with perhaps the oldest of the two: Predestination.
The concept of predestination is simple: From the beginning of time, there has been a plan laid out on a grander scale than what we can see, observe, or comprehend. Predestination postulates that, from conception to birth throughout one’s life and to death, with all things living and non, created and born, there is an inescapable chain of events - a destiny - to which they are bound that will inevitably unfold in their time here, in our world… that all they ever will be has already been decided, and that a man truly has no decisions to make - they are merely guided by their fate to become whatever it is they were simply meant to be.
It supposes greater forces beyond the scope of man have already seen and continually ensure the future… that a human being cannot fight their fate. That they are just driftwood, floating aimless in the river of time, unavoidably carried along by the currents of destiny toward their eventual end.
The predestination belief and the concept of a fate decided by a higher power and inescapably followed by man is an old one, one which predates Christianity itself and is by no means the sole property of it. However, in the Christian context, it’s still both widely believed and hotly debated. After all, if God knows everything, then is any man truly free? If there is an omniscient being who knows your beginning and your end, then do you truly make any choices in life, or are you destined to spring from these beginnings and arrive at these ends, no matter what it is you do or try to do?
It’s truly an idea at odds with America and the concept of Liberty… an idea at odds with modern society as a whole, a society built upon freedom and choice, or the illusion thereof. Indeed, over time, the predestination train of thought has fallen largely out of favor, namely since the late 1700’s when a little experiment called America began, and a constitution was written up which stated that all men were created equal and born free, that all men had the power to make their own choices and owned their own bodies, that they were no other man’s slave, but rather, if they were truly slaves to anything, it was to their own decisions - that they were responsible for their own actions.
Though the concept of Free Will certainly predates America and the founding fathers, it was around this time when it really became the dominant concept in the world. Before then, the idea of freedom was something new and revolutionary. The idea that a man owned his body and had rights, that a man could do as he pleased and make any decision he so wanted to, was almost unheard of. This was completely opposed to what mankind had believed for the majority of its time here on this Earth, and it changed everything.
The idea of Free Will dictates that nothing is set in stone - that a human being can and actively does shape his or her own life with every action or inaction they take. A man is his own entity, free of any overarching ‘plan’ or ‘destiny’ to decide his life for him. A man can do, think, say, praise, and be who or whatever he wants. Essentially, Free Will states that a human being is his own god, the master of his own little world. It is, seemingly, an idea completely opposed to the concept of an all-knowing creator.
If a man is free, if a man has been endowed rights by his creator, if a man can make his own decisions in his life and take responsibility for his own actions, then how can there possibly be a God? God is said to be all-knowing, but how can he know your beginning and your end if you are the one to decide it, not him?
Personally, I am of the belief that the two need not be so disjointed, but that the concept of an omniscient God and the idea of human Free Will can and do fit together rather nicely, that they can and do coexist in harmony. But how? My question is how can’t it?
The problem is people assume that because Christianity states that God knows everything, mankind can’t possibly have Free Will. Thus, there’s no real reason to make decisions - everything you do is already known and set in stone. But what if that’s not necessarily the case? What if there are countless possibilities, an infinite number of paths we can take in our lives, and that God simply knows what all of these different paths are and will inevitably end up leading to, but *we*, the individual human beings, are the ones to decide just what path it is we actually take?
The Bible also states that God created us in his image. To what extent is another debate entirely, but it is reasonable to assume that we carry many qualities of what God is and vice versa. We can think, imagine, create and decide for ourselves, just as he can. I mean, is it not possible that God gave us the gift of Free Will so that we may decide what we do in our lives, whether or not we even believe in his very existence? Is it not possible that while God already knows every conceivable path we could possibly take, and every situation we could ever be confronted with, that he has also, simultaneously, left it up to *us* to decide what we do when we reach these crossroads?
The assumption that an all-knowing creator ensures an existence where all is predetermined and you have no say and no choice in anything, is, in my opinion, an incorrect and a rushed one. There’s no reason why a man couldn’t possibly have Free Will, why he can’t decide for himself what path he takes in life, even if it’s already been seen and understood to whatever extent by some higher entity. The two need not be so disjointed. Thus, I believe a theory of pure ‘predestination’ is incorrect - nothing is truly predetermined in our lives.
That’s the way I see it today, and the way I believe that I’ll always see it… but even if for some reason, someday in the near or distant future, my positions change, in the end, it will still be my decision and of my own accord. I believe the idea of Free Will is a beautiful one, and one without which we wouldn’t have the world we do today. I believe that it most certainly could be the case, and that it isn’t necessarily opposed to what the scriptures tell us.
But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe, everything really *is* predetermined. Maybe the fact that I’m writing this and thinking this now really is something that’s just… inescapable. Maybe God really does control absolutely every aspect of our lives. But I personally just can’t see this as being the case, and I personally believe that it contradicts more scriptures than it may possibly reinforce. If we truly were created in God’s image, then it stands to reason that we can also make our own decisions, just like him.