PREDESTINATION OR FREEWILL: PART EIGHT
Scriptural Evidence For Freewill:
In this series we have discussed many aspects of predestination and freewill. In this final chapter we will provide an overview of the primary issues we have addressed and provide Scriptural evidence for the conclusions presented.
Freewill is the capacity of a rational agent to freely choose a course of action from among various alternatives. Freewill presupposes the absence of interference with the ability to choose between alternatives. Predestination, on the other hand, prohibits freely choosing between alternatives. Under predestination, behavior is determined in advance to occur in a certain way and it cannot occur in some other way. With predestination, choice is illusionary. It only appears we are exercising free choice while all the while our choices have been predetermined by a power beyond ourselves.
I have maintained from the start of our discussion that both freewill and predestination are seen in Scripture. There are events in Scripture that are clearly seen as being predestinated. There are events in Scripture that clearly show freewill at work.
When dealing with theological issues, it is critical that we take a holistic approach to the Scriptures. We must look at all Scriptures that bear on an issue so that an informed conclusion can be reached. Where there is lack of explicit teaching on an issue we must look to implicit teaching. Where explicit evidence may be lacking, we need to consider implicit evidence. Implicit evidence is akin to circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial evidence is evidence that provides information which points to a specific conclusion about a matter. When there is significant circumstantial evidence we can safely draw conclusions.
Scriptural Evidence For Freewill:
The Scriptures provide an abundance of circumstantial evidence relative to our having freewill. While no Scripture explicitly says man has freewill, there are multiple dozens of Scriptures that provide circumstantial evidence that man does indeed have free will and the ability to freely make choices. Here are just a few Scripture that support this perspective.
Exodus 35:29 All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the LORD freewill offerings for all the work the LORD through Moses had commanded them to do (NIV, NKJV).
Ezra 7:13: I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and of his priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own freewill to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee (KJV).
Deuteronomy 30:19: This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.
2 Chronicles 7:14: if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Psalm 81:10-14: I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. "But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices. "If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes!
Joshua 24:15: But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
Exodus 13:17: When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, "If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt."
Proverbs 1:29: Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD,
Proverbs 3:31: Do not envy a violent man or choose any of his ways,
Proverbs 16:16: How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver!
Isaiah 7:15-16 He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.
Isaiah 56:4: For this is what the LORD says: "To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant--
John 7:17: “If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”
James 4:17: “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins”.
James 4:4: Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
It should be evident from these passages of Scripture that God has purposed that we humans have the freedom of will to choose between alternatives and that He responds to us based on the choices we make.
God created us with the ability to reason and to choose between alternatives. Throughout Scripture we see God instructing us to avoid deception and choose the truth. Such instruction presupposes having the ability to choose which in turn presupposes freewill. God expects us to use the intellect he gave us to carefully consider alternatives and choose the right alternative. God expects us do our homework to identify truth from error. God warned Israel to not be deceived. Paul warned Christians not to be deceived. These warnings presuppose having the ability to choose whether to believe or not believe what is presented to us. These warnings show we have the personal responsibility to carefully examine what is presented to us and make an informed choice.
Throughout Scripture it can be seen that God holds humans accountable for their behavior. Being held accountable for our behavior presupposes freewill. Scripture teaches we are held accountable for sin because we have the God given power of choice to sin or not sin and when we sin we are held accountable. God held the pre-flood world accountable. God held Israel accountable for their behavior, both in OT times and in the judgement of A.D. 70. From Genesis to Revelation we see God holding humans accountable for their behavior.
Accountability presupposes the ability to choose between alternatives. It presupposes having the freedom to choose right from wrong, good from evil. Accountability presupposes freewill. It is unreasonable to conclude humans are held accountable for behavior over which they have no control because their behavior is predestined to be as it is.
Most of what goes on in the world is not predestinated by God. For example, God does not predestine the massive amount of suffering extant in the world. It is largely due to the exercise of free will in making the choices we humans make. Hitler and Stalin made choices that resulted in millions of people suffering and dying. There is no reason to believe God predetermined that massive amount of suffering to occur. There is no reason to believe God predetermined the recent killing of the children in the Connecticut school, the killings at the Sheik temple in Oak Creek Wisconsin or the violent murder of a member of my church congregation whose funeral I did in 2112. To conclude that God predetermined these events is contrary to everything I understand about God as revealed in the Scripture.
Does God predestinate some things? Of course He does. Does God predestinating some things establish a template for God predestinating all things? I believed the Scriptures speak loudly against such a conclusion. In determining the will of God we must look at the whole of Scripture and see what God says and does in a variety of circumstances in order to determine how God acts in the world.
Does God change His mind?
Another issue we have discussed in this series is whether God sees everything in advance and whether God changes His mind as to things he has determined to do because of changes in what we do. The Hebrew word naw-kham' is found in a number of OT passages. The KJV translates this Hebrew word as “repent.” Naw-kham means to be sorry. This word implies a change of mind about what one has done or purposes to do. The following Scriptures taken from the KJV make it evident that God has and does change His mind at times. These Scriptures also make it evident God does not know in absolute terms all that will happen in the future.
Genesis 6:5-7: And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.
If God would have known in absolute terms how sinful man would become, it would not make sense for Him to be sorry and grieved over something He knew with certainty would occur. The belief of hyper-predestinationists that God predestinated the extreme wickedness of pre-flood man makes even less sense. Under this view man could not choose to behave other than the way he did because man doesn’t have free will. Under this view God becomes grieved and sorry He made man and punishes his creation for behavior He predetermined them to have. The absurdity of this view should be apparent.
Exodus 32: 9-14: And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation. And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.
Here we see God making a decision to destroy Israel because of their being stiff-necked. Did God foresee that Israel would become so stiff-necked that He would want to destroy them? It would appear counter intuitive for God to have gone to great lengths to bring Israel out of Egypt only to destroy them for what He knew in advance would be their stiff-necked behavior. It would seem much more reasonable to conclude God did not know in advance just how stiff-necked Israel would become and when He did see how stiff-necked they became he was very angry with them and decided to destroy them and start all over with Moses. It is instructive that Moses implored God to repent of the evil He intended against Israel and God did repent which means He changed His mind. 1 Samuel provides another example of God changing His mind.
1 Samuel 15:10-11: Then came the word of the Lord unto Samuel, saying, It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the Lord all night.
Saul had disobeyed God’s instruction to completely destroy the Amalekites. Because of this, God is shown as being sorry He established Saul as king of Israel. Did God know in advance that Saul would be unfaithful? If so, why did He set him up as king? Did God predestinate that Saul fail? If He did, why would He repent of having established Saul as king? It makes no sense to see God repenting over something He knew in advance would happen, let alone something He predestinated to happen in the way it happened. It should be evident that God did not know in advance or predestinate how Saul would turn out. When Saul exercised his freewill in not fully obeying God’s instruction to totally destroy the Amalekites, God became angry with Saul and was sorry He had appointed Saul King over Israel. Now let's look at 1 Chronicles 21.
1 Chronicles 21:15: And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the Lord beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand.
Here we see God changed course when He saw the magnitude of the suffering and destruction upon the people and He ordered the slaughter stopped. This is another example of God changing his mind. In the following Scriptures, we see God willing to change his mind based on our repentance.
Jeremiah 18: 7-10: At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.
Jeremiah 26: 2-3: Thus saith the Lord; Stand in the court of the Lord's house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the Lord's house, all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word: If so be they will hearken, and turn every man from his evil way, that I may repent me of the evil, which I purpose to do unto them because of the evil of their doings.
Jeremiah 26:13: Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God; and the Lord will repent him of the evil that he hath pronounced against you.
Joel 2:13: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.
Here we see God willing to change His mind based on how we behave. God is seen as responding to man according to how man responds to God. This presupposes God not knowing in advance or predetermining how man is going to behave. God is seen as pronouncing punishment on an evil nation but repenting of such pronouncement if the nation repents. A classic example of this is God repenting of his designs against Nineveh upon their repentance.
Jonah 3:10: And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.
Some point to Scriptures that speak of God not repenting and conclude God cannot change His mind and act differently from how He intended to act.
Psalm 110:7: The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
Ezekiel 24:14: I the Lord have spoken it: it shall come to pass, and I will do it; I will not go back, neither will I spare, neither will I repent; according to thy ways, and according to thy doings, shall they judge thee, saith the Lord God.
Numbers 23:19: God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
1 Samuel 15:29: And also the Strength of Israel (God) will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.
Malachi 3:6: For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.
As I have stressed throughout this series of essays, we must look at the whole of Scripture in regards to a particular issue before drawing a conclusion about that issue. The issue we are presently discussing is whether God knows all things in advance and whether he changes his mind. It should be evident from the Scriptures already discussed that God does not know all things in advance and can change His mind when he wants to. When God wants to repent or not repent is the key to understanding Scriptures that appear to teach He doesn’t repent or change his mind.
In Psalms 110:7 it should be apparent God did not want to change his mind about making Christ a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. The context of Ezekiel 24 clearly shows that Israel was not going to change her ways so God had no choice but to bring judgement upon them and therefore He did not want to repent of doing so. Numbers 23 shows God not wanting to repent of prohibiting Balaam from cursing Israel. In 1 Samuel 15 we see God not wanting to repent regarding removing Saul from office. In saying “I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed,” it is apparent from the context of Malachi 3 that God is telling Jacob that despite their sins, He will not abandon them and in this way He doesn’t change.
Throughout Scripture God is seen as “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil: Joel 2:13. God doesn’t change from being these things. These very unchangeable attributes of God presuppose His being able and willing to repent (change His mind) and turn from His intention to bring judgement when we are willing to turn from sin. Therefore, as Scripture clearly shows, God does change His mind about bringing judgement upon people when people change their minds and begin to behave righteously. However, at times God does become weary of relenting on his intentions to punish for sin and will determine He has had enough and will act accordingly.
Jeremiah 15:5-6: For who shall have pity upon thee, O Jerusalem? or who shall bemoan thee? or who shall go aside to ask how thou doest? Thou hast forsaken me, saith the Lord, thou art gone backward: therefore will I stretch out my hand against thee, and destroy thee; I am weary with repenting.
If we look at the Scriptures in a holistic manner, we will see that God has ordained the expression of freewill as the primary and most powerful attribute of human behavior. In general, God allows this process to go on unabated without His interference or intervention. At times God does determine to bring about corrections in our behavior. As He did with ancient Israel, God will at times pronounce judgements upon us humans because of our sin. If we turn from sin, He will be merciful and retract some or all such judgement.
Scripture shows God predestines certain events and behaviors when necessary to achieve specific results in keeping with His overall purposes. We see this manifest throughout the Scriptures. Both freewill and predestination are clearly evident in Scripture. Freewill, however, appears to be the driving force behind much of what happens in the world. The attribute of freewill allows us to freely choose between alternatives.
Some believe free choice to be illusionary because our choices are limited by forces outside ourselves. For example, if I am convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison, I will be forced to go to prison even though I choose not to. It should by noted, however, that my inability to be free does not do away with my choice to be free. Whether we are able to receive the goal of a choice is immaterial to having the ability to make the choice. Many obstacles can stand in the way of reaching the goal of a choice. This doesn’t prevent one from making the choice. I may chose to run a marathon and only get half way through it. My inability to finish the marathon does not make my choice illusionary. I still choose to run the marathon.
Reaching the goal of our choices may not always be attainable. Our choice may be interfered with by man or by God. God may at times predetermine an event in our lives and any choices we make to the contrary will be negated. This, however, appears to be the exception and not the rule. There is no Scriptural reason to believe God predetermines most human events and behavior. What God does predetermine are the consequences of our behavior. If I hit my thumb with a hammer I am going to experience injury to my thumb. God didn’t predetermine that I hit my thumb with a hammer but He did predetermine that a blow of sufficient force to my thumb will injure my thumb as such cause and effect is built into His creation.
Finally, there is no Scriptural reason to believe God predestines some to receive salvation and others to be condemned as is believed by Calvinists. As covered in parts one through three of this series, it is apparent God desires all to be saved and the sacrifice of Christ has efficacy for all.
I trust this series on predestination and freewill has been instructive and I welcome constructive commentary.