(I have since retracted some of my points here and here. I decided to leave this post in the Press so people might see how I have changed from thought to thought.)
I live within two miles of two Universities and school is back in session. It’s probably safe to say about half of the people in my church building on Sunday go to college. In the past few weeks, I’ve met so many new students that I warn them immediately “I might forget your name.” Sometimes that doesn’t offend them and we’ll get to talk. During these conversations, at least five people have brought up the subject of God’s will and how that works with free will. I’m not kidding. The conversations all had their own, unique subjects that funneled into stuff like Predestination. One began as a discussion on Descartes and why I hate his work. Here’s one way someone asked me a question on God’s will:
Me: So what do you want out of life? (I really ask this question, usually during uncomfortable pauses. If we ever meet and you run out of small talk, watch out.)
Them: I want to know what God’s will is for my life. Should I be doing this or should I pay more attention to that? I’m having a hard time telling if it’s God directing me or if it’s just what I want.
Me: It sounds like you want to know how to discern the voice of God and know when He’s telling you something as opposed to you telling it to yourself.
Them: Yeah, that’s pretty much it.
Then after I tried to make myself look cool by telling them about my book, the person asked what I thought of Reformed Theology. I thought this was pretty funny, having moved from West Michigan, where the Reformed Church of America set up its headquarters, to Nashville, where Southern Baptists and the Church of Christ reign supreme. Then again, I don’t know what they think about Reformed Theology, either. There are too many denominations, huh? Moving on.
Me: I like some parts, but not other parts.
Them: What do you think about predestination?
Me: Ooh. Uh. Well, I seem to remember a verse that says God does not wish that any should be lost. So it sounds like it’s God’s will that all should be saved. But of course, not everyone will choose to follow God. Then the question is, if God is all-knowing, doesn’t He know if people will accept or deny Him?
Then I used a metaphor that has become very dear to me. I’m aware that some Christians will give themselves headaches when I compare God to a gambler, but stay with me. Imagine that God is a really good poker player. He could stack the deck if He wanted to, but then anything won would be meaningless because He set Himself up to win. So He has to set that ability aside in order to have true victory. At the same time, He can count cards. So based on what you throw out, He has a pretty good idea of what you’ll do next.
God’s omniscience is a part of His character, but then let me ask you an uncomfortable question: Was Jesus, God, omniscient while here on earth?
In Matthew 4, Jesus begins a forty-day fast after His baptism. Matthew 4:1 says, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” But if Jesus, God, were omniscient, why would He need the Spirit to lead Him anywhere? Wouldn’t He know where to go already? Or consider what Jesus said in John 8:28, “I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.”
Here’s how I see it. God the son had to willingly put His Omniscience to the side in order to become fully man. That way he could learn and live and make choices between right and wrong. He could be filled with the Holy Spirit (another theological knot I won’t try to untie for you right now) and operate as an example to His disciples of how to live by the Spirit.
I used this example to show that God is omniscient, but for the sake of truly winning our love, He is able to set his omniscience to the side in the area of our choices. This gives space for free will to exist. I think he did this so He could give us opportunity to choose Him. If He knew absolutely from the beginning that a person would not choose Him, two things would make me believe that God was cruel. First, God would have created a person to be damned. That goes against the scripture I referenced earlier, 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” Second, He’d offer salvation to people He knew were incapable of accepting it. That’s just, you know, a tease. And my new friend who got me started on this conversation said, “Exactly. Otherwise, what would be the point of praying for people? What would be the point of Evangelism?”
Now that I’ve come to the end of this post, I realize that I didn’t have an agenda when I started it. I can say for certain that I don’t want readers to think less of God’s power, but more. I don’t want to diminish the truth that God never changes, but emphasize the fact that God is not stiff and rigid. God is loving and will find a way to allow us to love Him. He wants you to seek His will, but He’s also able to work our own decisions to our good and to His glory. And He will be glorified. But that’s a different card game. God stacked the deck on that one. He will be glorified no matter what we do.