The question of free will versus predestination is as old as humanity itself. For thousands of years, people have debated whether we are truly free, or whether some (or all) of our choices are predetermined.
For Christians, such questions have often focused on the nature of salvation. Calvinists have argued that God has predestined who will be saved, while Arminians have argued that salvation is contingent on our free choice to accept or reject God’s grace. Both views can be supported by Scripture, and there are many shades of opinion between these two.
For my part, I’ve always been more drawn to the free-will argument. Predestination has never seemed convincing to me. It seems to make God rather cruel, or at least arbitrary, loving some more than others. A truly loving God wouldn’t leave some of His children in hell!
Furthermore, if free will is only an illusion, then it doesn’t really matter what we do. There’s no reason to do good works, become holy, evangelize, or even have faith. God has already written the play, and we just read the lines that were written for us.
None of this fits with the God I have come to know; and so I have consistently placed myself in the free-will camp. Recently, however, some of my experiences have made me wonder if maybe some things are predestined to happen.
On February 14, for example, I was watching a movie I had picked out at the local Redbox. As I watched it, I had a strange sense of dejavu, as if I had seen this movie before (which as far as I know, I had not).
Furthermore, the movie reminded me so much of Christina (my girlfriend in heaven) that it seemed almost like she had picked it out through me! Every scene was full of things she liked, things I could not have known when I picked it out.
At one point I came right out and asked, “Stina, did you pick this out?” In my head I could see her grinning when I said that.
I think it’s funny that you think all your choices are your own, she said to me. Don’t you realize that Sophia (the Holy Spirit) and I have been guiding your steps for quite a while now?
An even weirder thing happened about ten days later. I was just going about my business when God pulled me out of my body into the spirit world. At the time, I had felt an urgency to get my writing and ministry work done, since we never know how long we have on this earth.
When I went into the Spirit, however, I saw things differently. Why are you so worried about what will happen after you die? God asked me. Don’t you know that you have already died and risen several times? And even if you die now, I can always put you back into the world in another form.
When I returned, I began to wonder what this could mean. As a Christian, I found it hard to believe in reincarnation; but what else could God mean by saying I had died and risen several times?
Did God simply mean that I had experienced a lot of small “deaths” at different times in my life, and come back from them? Or was something more implied?
On February 28, Christina appeared to me in spirit form once again. Why do you keep saying that you can’t wait to see me in heaven when you die? she asked me. Don’t you know you have already done that several times?
Christina’s implication seemed clear: we had known each other in previous lives. This explained why I felt (and continue to feel) such a strong connection to her, despite the fact that we only dated for a few months while she was on this earth.
Could it be that we are “cosmic lovers” who keep returning to each other in one life after another? This was hard for me to believe, but I couldn’t think of any other way to explain what I was experiencing.
As I was thinking about this, I felt myself drift off into the spirit world. I felt a very vivid sense of timelessness, of being with God both before and after all things. I have lived through all of this before, I thought to myself. I just keep going back and reliving it, as if for the first time.
I continued to reflect on these experiences over the next few weeks. I began to wonder if reincarnation really did happen, and if so, if I would get to be with Christina in a bodily form again.
One day in late March I mustered up the courage to ask her directly. “Is it possible for you to reincarnate in a new woman, with all of your memories of me intact?” I asked.
Christina’s response was very strange. Look out the window, she said. When I did, I noticed that it was raining heavily, and that a puddle had formed in the shape of a squirrel. I couldn’t figure out the meaning of this or how it had anything to do with the question I asked.
The next day, however, I got a clearer answer. I was leafing through Rob Bell’s Love Wins, a book I had read many times. I found myself drawn to one particular page, on which Bell wrote the following:
Everybody is already at the party. Heaven and hell, here, now, around us, upon us, within us (Love Wins, 190).
As I read those words, I once again found myself drifting into the spirit world. I felt the presence of Jesus, God the Father, Sophia, Christina, and my grandparents all around me, as well as several other saints whose names I didn’t know.
Am I getting this right? I asked. Am I to understand that right now, in this moment, I have access to all the saints, living and dead, and can communicate with any of them? And that this is true for everyone, not just me?
You got it, said Sophia.
Does this mean that another woman could meet Christina here, and Stina could put her spirit into this woman? I asked.
When I said this, I saw Christina winking at me. Then Jesus said to me, You found me here, remember; and you recognized me, even though you had never seen me before.
Eternity is now, Sophia said to me. It’s very important that you remember that. Don’t put it off until you die and “go to heaven!” If you do, you might miss out on the heaven that’s right in front of you.
After this I returned to my body, mesmerized by what I had seen and heard. I still couldn’t figure out what it all meant. In what sense had I died and risen again? And what did it mean when Christina told me I had reunited with her several times already?
These things could be explained by reincarnation; and yet Sophia had made it clear that I shouldn’t focus on the past, but live in the eternal now. How was all of this related? I still don’t know.
One thing does seem clear to me, and that is that our spirits are truly eternal; they don’t have a beginning or end in time.
While Christians (particularly in the West) have tended to think of themselves as souls created in a certain time and place, and have envisioned eternity as unending time, this isn’t how I see it at all. Indeed, my experiences in the spirit world seem to happen outside of time altogether!
The idea of immortal souls leads many to believe in reincarnation. After all, if our souls are truly eternal, where were they before we were born? The idea of disembodied spirits doesn’t seem to ring true to what most people have experienced.
Though some Christians believe in reincarnation, it’s never really caught on like it has in Hinduism, Buddhism and Native American religion. It seems to go against much of what the Bible teaches, including Jesus’ teaching that the resurrected dead don’t marry (Matt 22:30, etc).
But if eternity is beyond time, where do our spirits go when our bodies die? How do they live on, if they aren’t reincarnated? Do they become omnipresent like God, living in everything all at once? Maybe one day I will know. For now, the mystery must remain.
(Coming Soon: Why the Hell? Images of Eternal Suffering in the Teachings of Jesus)