The Academics: Predestination or Free Will? (or, Best of Both Worlds: Why God Allows Miley Cyrus to Continue to Produce Music, and For Other Forms of Evil)

Two weeks ago, one of my classes spent a five-day span of classes disucssing the matter of the metaphysical free will of man and theological determinism. While we did not begin within an explicitly Christian context, our discussion drifted toward the matter of predestination as the week progressed, culminating in an essay assignment in which we were required to decide which view of man’s free will and God’s sovereignty we felt explained the matter most comprehensively.

Now, this is a matter that I have been avoiding for quite some time. I’ve seen far too many would-be theologians debate the matter until their faces are red and their heads are inflated for me to feel safe taking up any position on the issue. However, I have been coming to realize that at some point I would need to take a position, and this essay afforded me the opportunity to do so. It was not with little difficulty that I finally produced the essay below. Half-way through my first draft I started from scratch, a day before the paper was due, because I wasn’t satisfied with where my position led. The conclusion I came to is about as certain in my mind as a Cleveland sports team winning a championship anytime soon, and so I share my thoughts with you here not as having conclusively resolved the issue in my own mind, let alone on a grand scale, but rather as one who is still searching and still attempting to delve the apparent bottomlessness of the otherliness of God. I’ll try to hyperlink a few terms within the paper to terminology that I left out for sake of length in my original submission.

As a foundation for this discussion, I will begin with two biblical non-negotiables: God is in control, and He holds His creatures responsible for their actions[1]. The fact that God is in control over His creation is clearly stated throughout Scripture, in narrative and proposition, and is therefore rarely contested as being a matter of interpretation. The extent to which God’s control interacts with or overrides humanity’s freedom is not as clear and results in a variety of opinions on the topic. Two views of God’s control result in different perspectives on the issue. Meticulous sovereignty sees God as a God who works out His plan in infinite detail and scope, working every aspect of the universe to bring about His plan. This view of sovereignty is accepted by Calvinism and Molinism. General sovereignty sees God as an overseer, one who sees the overarching picture of the universe and works on a large scale rather than in the details, a view held by Open Theism.

In thinking through these views, I have come to a tentative conclusion that a variation of the Molinistic view is the best explanation for how God deals with His creation.  I believe that the God presented in Scripture is one who works out His will by both direct and indirect means. He works His will out through direct involvement with individuals[2], but also on a general level through directing the general course of history. I believe that Scripture presents a God who is concerned with His ultimate will, that of bringing all things to Himself and that He does this through a variety of means.

In light of this understanding of the desires of God, I will adopt the Molinistic perspective on His sovereignty to explain how I have come to understand the issue. Within Molinism, God possesses three types of knowledge: natural knowledge, middle knowledge, and free knowledge.[3] With His middle knowledge God is able to understand what free individuals could possibly choose in any given situation, as well as under what circumstances they will choose a specific option.  Traditional Molinism contends that God has used this knowledge to construct a universe in which the circumstances will be right for every possible choice such that His creatures will freely choose how He desires. In this way, God is meticulously sovereign while allowing individuals to express metaphysical freedom.

However, I would diverge from the traditional Molinism by contending that God knows all possible situations and choices in which His creatures will be placed, as well as the cause and effect nature of each choice. Rather than using this knowledge to create a universe in which the situations demand a specific choice from the individual, I believe that God has used His full middle knowledge to understand the full variety of life paths any individual could take. In this way, God does not need to act meticulously, for He already understands the dynamics of every situation possible. Thus, God’s sovereignty is expressed generally throughout the life of the individual. Individuals have an infinite number of free choices in every day, all of which begin them along a given life path as God has already seen played out. While every choice may not directly impact the overall direction of a person’s life, the development of will and character as a result of the aggregate events have a determining factor on the course of the individual’s life. Additionally, these choices are judged by God based upon His standard of holiness and justice, allowing for individuals to be fairly judged for the choices that they have freely made. Individuals are able to make free choices, but these free choices have implications for the life of the individual, all of which God understands and oversees.

Despite God’s general sovereignty, I believe that there are situations in which He has to act in order to bring about His overall will for individuals. In these cases, God can override the free will of the individual to cause the individual to choose a certain way in order to bring about God’s purposes. For example, in the case of Judas Iscariot, God acted in His sovereignty to cause Judas to choose to betray Christ so that Christ could die for God’s purposes of redemption. Thus, it is the case that God only acts to override an individual’s metaphysical free will when His plan and will are at stake. In another sense, God can work out specific events within a person’s life so that they are drawn toward Him. When left to our own devices, humans would never choose to seek Him; this is a basic understanding of the concept of depravity and sin nature. Thus, it is an act of the grace of God that individuals can move toward Him and only as a result of His direct intervention and superseding of the individual’s ability to freely choose.

This perspective is not perfect and contains within it some issues that are not easily resolved. The matter of counterfactuals is still an issue in this variation of Molinism; opponents critique counterfactuals by claiming that the validity of these statements cannot be known. However, if the interpretation of God’s middle knowledge includes His complete understanding of the cause and effect relationships of all possible choices, it would seem that God would be able to determine the validity of such statements. This is a weak explanation of the matter, but I am more willing to live with a God who has a complete omniscience as Molinism seems to support than a God who does not.

Another weakness to this perspective is God’s overriding of humans’ metaphysical freedom in situations where He sees it necessary to bring about His plan for the individual. This carries the risk of appearing arbitrary on God’s part, portraying Him as a God who does not care about the individual until it matters to His own plans. This also seems to weaken this perspective’s provision for metaphysical freedom. However, I would contend that God dealing with humanity directly at all is a matter of God’s grace, as Calvinism so well emphasizes. Thus, while it may seem arbitrary for God to act as such, it is really His allowing humans to have freedom while also drawing them to Himself.

As with any of the positions on this issue, this varition of Molinism contains its weaknesses; however, I feel that this perspective provides the fullest understanding of the omniscience of God and His working out His will with humanity. The weaknesses within my argument are ones which I can live with, and with an understanding of the weaknesses I also allow myself room to continue to question and seek understanding on this issue, for my thoughts are far from finished.

[1] These non-negotiables are those laid out in our class discussion.


[2] Moses (Exodus 3), Paul (Acts 9), and the Incarnation are some examples of this direct involvement.

[3] Natural knowledge is God’s comprehension of all truths and possibilities within His creation. Free knowledge is God understanding His own will and how it is working out in the world (“Middle Knowledge” Class Handout).

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