In an earlier blog post, I wrote about the debate between predestination and free will. I noted that I have always been more drawn to the free-will argument; and yet, many recent events in my life seem to have been predestined in some way.
As I continue to think about these things, it seems to me that both of the traditional approaches to this question (Calvinism and Arminianism) are woefully inadequate. Neither of them comes close to describing the mystery of God; and both of them short-change God in some way.
Both of these approaches face the same problem – the question of why people end up separated from God. Calvinists answer this by saying God only desires some to be saved, while Arminians say that God gives us free will, and some choose not to accept God’s love.
Of these two, I’m much more comfortable with the Arminian view. It rings true to my experience, in that many people do seem resistant to love or goodness of any kind; and the God I have come to know would not predestine anyone to be lost.
But the Arminian view runs into a big problem with regard to God’s power and knowledge.
Traditional Arminians teach that God elects people to salvation based on foreknowledge of who will respond to the gospel in faith.
But if God has such foreknowledge, why did God create people He knew would be lost? In fact, doesn’t the very act of creating something you know will later be destroyed predestine that thing to destruction? I would argue that it does – though perhaps in a less direct way than what the Calvinists suggest.
One response to this problem (which has come to be called “Open Theism”) says that maybe God doesn’t have unlimited foreknowledge, after all. Perhaps God doesn’t really know how all things will end. Perhaps God doesn’t know which people will eventually accept His love, and which ones will not.
While this proposal sounds nice to many people, it doesn’t fit with my experiences. Indeed, I have seen many times that God is not bound by concepts such as space and time. If the voice of God that I hear can be trusted, God is everywhere, in every time and place. If this is true, then God certainly knows which people will be reconciled to Her.
Why, then, did God create people that She knew would be lost? Or is it the case that no one really is lost? That everyone will be saved “in the end”?
There’s an analogy that seems helpful to me, one that I base on a childhood memory.
When I was a kid, I loved to read. One type of book I found particularly enjoyable was what was called “Choose Your Own Adventure.”
This type of book was much like any other children’s fiction, except that there were several possible endings to the story. The ending you got was determined by the choices you made. As you read, you would be given choices in how you wanted the story to go, and directed to different pages in the book that corresponded with the choices you wanted.
As long as you didn’t read ahead and learn all of the possible endings to the story, you had real freedom – you could choose which way you wanted to go, and receive the ending that corresponded with that choice. But this freedom wasn’t absolute, since all of the endings had been written ahead of time. Your choices could lead in a few different ways, but always resulted in one of a few pre-determined endings.
It seems to me that this is a pretty good analogy for the relationship between God’s plan and our free will. Since God has foreknowledge of all things, it is (from God’s perspective) as if all the endings have already been written.
We have genuine freedom, however, since we can choose which of these paths to follow. Since we don’t see where each path leads (as God does), we have the freedom to choose which way we want to go.
The only problem with this analogy is that God (unlike the authors of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series) knows which choices each of us will make. In that sense, our ultimate destiny does seem to be predestined (from God’s point of view).
But God doesn’t simply sit by and watch us live our lives. Indeed, the God I know is intimately involved in everything we do, guiding us in a certain direction. We have the choice of whether or not to follow these leadings, but God never stops trying to lead us back to Himself.
This being the case, it seems unthinkable to me that anyone could “miss out” on reconciliation with God. God would not have created creatures whose ultimate destiny is isolation, destruction, or despair!
A God who is infinite in both love and knowledge could not do this. And so I have come to believe that everyone will, in some way, be reconciled to God.
At face value, this belief seems to deny that we have free will (and indeed, this is probably the biggest objection to universal salvation. In order to be free, it’s argued, we have to be able to choose separation from God.)
Furthermore, it seems to considerably weaken (if not completely undo) Jesus’ warnings of final judgment. Why would Jesus warn us of coming destruction or loss if it wasn’t a real possibility?
My answer is that there are many different “levels” of salvation, and our choices here and now will determine just how much of each person’s total life will be saved.
I am convinced that God is able to wrest some remnant of goodness from even the most wretched of lives. But this earthly life is where this goodness is formed.
While God can preserve a remnant of goodness from every one of us, not all of us leave this earth in the same condition. A true saint gives God more to work with than a mass murderer!