Is the Future Open and Not Preordained? YES and NO
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is part of our series on controversial questions. A NO post will normally follow a YES post. Join in by posting your comments.]
by Lee Wyatt
I do not believe the future is either open or preordained. At least in the oppositional sense in which they are usually paired. To read the biblical text as either open or preordained and to oppose them reflects a strategy of posing God and humanity on the same level as if deciding, acting, agency, and responsibility mean the same thing for both. But the Bible is clear that God and humanity do not exist at the same level. Human language about God is analogical and analogy is a specific similarity in spite of other differences between two realities.
The Bible points to both the truth that God is sovereign, in control, and that nothing happens apart from his control and knowledge. The Bible also treats human responsibility, agency, will, and action as irreducible truths about us.
So how can it say both without speaking out of both sides of its mouth?
Let me give you my five rules for understanding (or at least living with) this reality and what it means for us.
Predestination/Election/Providence (PEP) are not synonymous terms but do converge in that each of them deals with the relation of divine action and human action. Election is the primary term biblically, but predestination is what most people usually call this issue. I call it PEP here.
Three observations about the relation of divine and human action to begin with. First, PEP is not fatalism (a pagan Greek doctrine often confused with it). It has nothing to do with a prescripted history that unfolds as foretold and cannot be changed. We have to rid our minds of this notion if we hope to understand PEP.
Second, God’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways. Just because we cannot imagine how God’s sovereignty and human freedom can both be real without one canceling out or overriding the other does not mean God cannot manage it!
Third, the relation of divine and human action in PEP is asymmetrical. Divine action is prior and primary, human action responsive to divine action.
My five rules for understanding PEP are these:
- PEP is the most radical way we have to say “grace.”
From creation to consummation and at every step in between the Bible affirms and proclaims that God acts first in creative and generative ways towards us.
- PEP is the most radical way we have to say “love.”
God is for us. From all eternity God has determined to be for us, not against us. What God is himself – an eternal communion of love given and returned between the Father and the Son in the Spirit – he is toward us.
- PEP means “victory/justice.”
God will prevail. Somehow and in some way God will take this tale which so often seems “told by idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing” (Shakespeare, Macbeth) and bring it a fitting and flourishing end. All things will be set right, judgment (however we envision it) will be executed, and shalom will reign throughout the ages of ages.
- PEP means “gratitude.”
Our lives are gifts, received with gratitude and lived with thanksgiving and generosity. The primal human response to God is to say “thanks” (instead of the “You’re not the boss of me” our first parents offered their creator).
- PEP means the “courage to live by the cross.”
All of this means that when the rubber hits the road we can and will “take up our cross” and follow Jesus wherever he goes and whatever he asks us to do.
The best way I’ve found to put all this in a proposition is this: Human history under a loving, gracious, and ultimately victorious God is a matter of definite goals and open routes. God will play the hands we deal him, and play them in such a way that everyone wins – both God and us!
This is why Karl Barth calls the doctrine of election “the sum of the gospel”! As such it ought to inform and undergird all we are and do.
So is the future open and not preordained? Yes and no. And thank God for that!
What a lovely way to say yes and no. Let’s have a pep talk from you any time.