This sermon started out to explore the question of "Who is chosen to sit at the right hand of Christ Jesus in Heaven?" But it has developed into a deeper discussion of predestination versus free will.
First the pertinent scriptures:
20Then came to him the mother of Zebedees children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.
21And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.
22But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.
23And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.
The following passage from Mark does not mention the MOTHER, but it is pretty well understood that it was a Jewish mother looking out for the best interests of her sons that initiated this exchange:
35And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire.
36And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you?
37They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.
38But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?
39And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized:
40But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared.
I am interested in the problem posed by the idea that "many are called but few are chosen" (a subject for a later sermon to be sure), so the secretive statement that honors in heaven will be dispensed to those for whom those honors are prepared (the implication is, "prepared in advance"), is very alluring to me. I began searching for commentaries on this subject, but they all led back to the larger problem of predestination. The "Foundation of the World" seemed to be a Big Bang as far as predestination is concerned. Constant reference is made to this point in time (the beginning of time) when all things were foreseen:
"Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.'"
"Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world."
"According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:"
2nd Timothy 1:9
"Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,"
"Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?"
"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom."
These scriptures clearly speak of a divine foreknowledge of people and events in advance of the great cosmic clock of time initially ticking its weary way into the private vastness of eternity and evoking material existence.
Many people have fanatically believed in the doctrine of predestination and have composed one dogmatic monograph after another in support of it.
In the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, Article XVII reads as follows:
"Of Predestination and Election.
PREDESTINATION to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God, be called according to God's purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God's mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.
As the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: So for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.
Furthermore, we must receive God's promises in such wise, as they be generally set forth to us in Holy Scripture: and, in our doings, that Will of God is to be followed. which [sic] we have expressly declared unto us in the Word of God."
Predestined for Free Will © 2004 by David Bennett is a lengthy article, crammed full of pro and con arguments from the earliest Christian writers up to the present day. It is clear what Bennett's opinion is at the outset, and his conclusions, if there are any, are tantalizingly predestined (ha ha) in the title, although I can find no real resolution of the problem beyond the fundamentalist penchant for sidestepping the issue. Nevertheless the background provided in this article is useful:
"WHAT IS PREDESTINATION?
Predestination is doctrine which teaches that God predetermined who would go to heaven and who would spend eternity in hell. Furthermore, it teaches that each person has absolutely no choice in accepting or rejecting salvation through Christ. Every move you make and everything that happens to you, good or bad, was predetermined by God. If you reject Christ it is because you never had a chance or option to believe.
Those who espouse predestination claim that if we have the free will to accept God’s salvation then we have earned our way into heaven.
Therefore we’re not saved by grace but by our own merit-- we caused our own salvation, not God. . . .
WHAT IS FREE WILL?
Free will teaches that when presented with the facts of God’s plan for salvation that every individual person has a choice to make, to either accept or reject God’s gift of salvation. God desires that every person accept His gift. What was predestined was God’s plan for salvation through Jesus for those who accept it. Therefore if you accept that Jesus died for your sins and you have made Him Lord of your life then you are a part of the predetermined plan. . . .
Consider what Calvinist Loraine Boettner has to say about the early church leaders. Boettner, author of The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination acknowledges that the early church fathers did not ascribe to the doctrine of predestination:
“It may occasion some surprise to discover that the doctrine of Predestination was not made a matter of special study until near the end of the fourth century....They of course taught that salvation was through Christ; yet they assumed that man had full power to accept or reject the gospel. Some of their writings contain passages in which the sovereignty of God is recognized; yet along side of those are others which teach the absolute freedom of the human will. Since they could not reconcile the two they would have denied the doctrine of Predestination...They taught a kind of synergism in which there was a co-operation between grace and free will...”
Free will acknowledges that God is active in our lives and that He does intervene and cause certain things to happen as evidenced by the prophecies in the scriptures. Other things that happen to us are a result of choices we make. While yet other events happen because of sin that is in the world, we can’t control the events, we can control how we react to them. Free will teaches that because God is sovereign and active in our lives He can use any event for our benefit, even those events He does not directly cause to occur. . . .
Gift: The Bible calls salvation a gift. A gift without acceptance is not a gift. If you force a gift on the receiver it is no longer a gift. In business law to have a legally binding contract or a legal transaction you have to have an offer and an acceptance. Another element to a legally binding
transaction you must also have consideration, that is, something of value or a price has to be given. In the case of our salvation, Jesus paid the price.
• But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! --Romans 5:15
• For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. --Romans 6:23
• For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- Ephesians 2:8
• There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words-- John 12:48
• Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. --James 1:21 . . . .
WHY DID JESUS NEED TO DIE?
Jesus did not die a painless, quick, clean, and honorable death. In taking on the sins of the world Jesus in fact suffered a very painful, lengthy, bloody and ignoble death. If God was going to predestine some to be saved and not others, why set up a scenario where Jesus had to die a horrible death on the cross for the sins of the whole world? Why not just create perfect obedient people in the first place without the capability or opportunity to sin? The reason is simple. Jesus died because God created us with free will. Jesus did not die for sins God created and predestined us to have, He died for the sins we willingly commit."
The article concludes by simply rejecting the idea of predestination outright, and introducing the power of God's love as a panacea for all difficult concepts. We have here powerful arguments in affirming salvation through grace, but we still don't get any explanation for the NUMEROUS biblical passages referring to foreordination from the foundation of the world.
A much more broadminded and helpful article appears in good ol' Wikipedia:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"A simplified taxonomy of the most important philosophical positions regarding free will.
Free will is the apparent ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints. Historically, the constraint of dominant concern has been the metaphysical constraint of determinism. The opposing positions within that debate are metaphysical libertarianism, the claim that determinism is false and thus that free will exists (or is at least possible); and hard determinism, the claim that determinism is true and thus that free will does not exist.
Both of these positions, which agree that causal determination is the relevant factor in the question of free will, are classed as incompatibilists. Those who deny that determinism is relevant are classified as compatibilists, and offer various alternative explanations of what constraints are relevant, such as physical constraints (e.g. chains or imprisonment), social constraints (e.g. threat of punishment or censure), or psychological constraints (e.g. compulsions or phobias).
The principle of free will has religious, ethical, and scientific implications. For example, in the religious realm, free will implies that individual will and choices can coexist with an omnipotent divinity. . . . .
Metaphysical libertarianism is one philosophical view point under that of incompatibilism. Libertarianism holds onto a concept of free will that requires the individual to be able to take more than one possible course of action under a given set of circumstances.
Accounts of libertarianism subdivide into non-physical theories and physical or naturalistic theories. Non-physical theories hold that a non-physical mind overrides physical causality, so that physical events in the brain that lead to the performance of actions do not have an entirely physical explanation. This approach is allied to mind-body dualism in philosophy. According to this view, the world is not considered to be closed under physics: extraphysical factors can influence decision-making. As a matter of free belief, an extra-physical will may be decided to exist. Depending on the way the decision turns out, such views may or may not accept an independent soul said to make decisions and override physical causality.
Explanations of libertarianism that do not involve dispensing with physicalism require physical indeterminism, such as probabilistic subatomic particle behavior – theory unknown to many of the early writers on free will. Physical determinism, under the assumption of physicalism, implies there is only one possible future and is therefore not compatible with libertarian free will. Some libertarian explanations involve invoking panpsychism, the theory that a quality of mind is associated with all particles, and pervades the entire universe, in both animate and inanimate entities. Other approaches do not require free will to be a fundamental constituent of the universe; ordinary randomness is appealed to as supplying the "elbow room" believed to be necessary by libertarians.
Free volition is regarded as a particular kind of complex, high-level process with an element of indeterminism. An example of this kind of approach has been developed by Robert Kane, where he hypothesises that,"In each case, the indeterminism is functioning as a hindrance or obstacle to her realizing one of her purposes—a hindrance or obstacle in the form of resistance within her will which has to be overcome by effort".
Although at the time C. S. Lewis wrote Miracles, (and physical indeterminism was only in the initial stages of acceptance), he stated the logical possibility that if the physical world was proved to be indeterministic this would provide an entry (interaction) point into the traditionally viewed closed system, where a scientifically described physically probable/improbable event could be philosophically described as an action of a non-physical entity on physical reality. . . .
Rudolf Steiner, wrote The Philosophy of Freedom, which focuses on the problem of free will. Steiner (1861–1925) initially divides this into the two aspects of freedom: freedom of thought and freedom of action. He argues that inner freedom is achieved when we bridge the gap between our sensory impressions, which reflect the outer appearance of the world, and our thoughts, which give us access to the inner nature of the world. Acknowledging the many influences on our choice, he points to the impact of our becoming aware of just these determinants. Outer freedom is attained by permeating our deeds with moral imagination. Steiner aims to show that these two aspects of inner and outer freedom are integral to one another, and that true freedom is only achieved when they are united. . . .
Early scientific thought often portrayed the universe as deterministic, and some thinkers claimed that the simple process of gathering sufficient information would allow them to predict future events with perfect accuracy. Modern science, on the other hand, is a mixture of deterministic and stochastic theories. Quantum mechanics predicts events only in terms of probabilities, casting doubt on whether the universe is deterministic at all. Current physical theories cannot resolve the question of whether determinism is true of the world, being very far from a potential Theory of Everything, and open to many different interpretations. . . .
In Hindu philosophy
The six orthodox (astika) schools of thought in Hindu philosophy do not agree with each other entirely on the question of free will. For the Samkhya, for instance, matter is without any freedom, and soul lacks any ability to control the unfolding of matter. The only real freedom (kaivalya) consists in realizing the ultimate separateness of matter and self. . . . A quotation from Swami Vivekananda, a Vedantist, offers a good example of the worry about free will in the Hindu tradition."Therefore we see at once that there cannot be any such thing as free-will; the very words are a contradiction, because will is what we know, and everything that we know is within our universe, and everything within our universe is moulded by conditions of time, space and causality. ... To acquire freedom we have to get beyond the limitations of this universe; it cannot be found here."
. . . .
In Islam the theological issue is not usually how to reconcile free will with God's foreknowledge, but with God's jabr, or divine commanding power. al-Ash'ari developed an "acquisition" or "dual-agency" form of compatibilism, in which human free will and divine jabr were both asserted, and which became a cornerstone of the dominant Ash'ari position. . . .
Free will, according to Islamic doctrine is the main factor for man's accountability in his/her actions throughout life. All actions taken by man's free will are said to be counted on the Day of Judgement because they are his/her own and not God's.
The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard claimed that divine omnipotence cannot be separated from divine goodness. As a truly omnipotent and good being, God could create beings with true freedom over God. Furthermore, God would voluntarily do so because "the greatest good ... which can be done for a being, greater than anything else that one can do for it, is to be truly free.""
I get a kick out the fact that even Wikipedia turns to C.S. Lewis for insight into problems of Christian dogmatics. Here is my collection of quotes for the day:
In The Problem of Pain, Lewis writes,
"I am going to submit that not even Omnipotence could create a society of free souls without at the same time creating a relatively independent and ‘inexorable’ Nature.... The freedom of a creature must mean freedom to choose: and choice implies the existence of things to choose between."
In Mere Christianity, Lewis said,
"Free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.... The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.” . . .
The business of becoming a son of God, of being turned from a created thing into a begotten thing, of passing over from the temporary biological life into timeless ‘spiritual’ life, has been done for us. Humanity is already ‘saved’ in principle. We individuals have to appropriate that salvation. But the really tough work — the bit we could not have done for ourselves — has been done for us."
"The bit we could not have done for ourselves"--hmm--is THIS our elusive predestination? Are we spiritual beings caught in a transient twilight zone between physical and spiritual realities, all powerful in our imitation of Christ, but still just a LITTLE BIT LOWER THAN THE ANGELS? Angels, indeed, are described as lower than Man precisely because they have no free will. Are the priorities of this declension a little skewed? Do we really have to indulge in relative ranking when we look eternity in the face?
In Out of the Silent Planet Lewis's hero, Dr. Ransom is said to observe that,
"Predestination and [human] freedom were apparently identical. He could no longer see any meaning in the many arguments he had heard on this subject."
One more quote from Mere Christianity:
"If that were true, if God foresaw our acts, it would be very hard to understand how we could be free not to do them. But suppose God is outside and above the Time- line. In that case, what we call ‘tomorrow’ is visible to Him in just the same way as we call ‘today.’ He does not remember you doing things yesterday; He simply sees you doing them, because, though you have lost yesterday, He has not. He does not ‘foresee’ you doing things tomorrow; He simply sees you doing them: because, though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him... In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it: but then the moment at which you have done it is already ‘Now’ for Him."
1st Peter 1:20 is a deep little scripture that contributes to this discussion. Here are some varied versions and comments:
1st Peter 1:20
"For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you."
1st Peter 1:20 (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
"It is true that He was chosen and foreordained (destined and foreknown for it) before the foundation of the world, but He was brought out to public view (made manifest) in these last days (at the end of the times) for the sake of you."
Below are two elucidating comments on 1st Peter 1:20 taken from the Institute for Creation Research website:
"1st Peter 1:20
1:20 foreordained. “Foreordained” (Greek proginosko) is the verb form of the noun (prognosis) better translated as “foreknowledge” in I Peter 1:2. Just as God foreknew that Christ would become the Savior, because the triune God had so ordained, so He also foreknew those who would be saved by Him.
1st Peter 1:20
1:20 foundation of the world. Before God ever created the world, in the mind of God, Christ had been sacrificed, and the names of the redeemed were known)."
These two quotes pretty much sum up my take on the subject: before time began, all that was to be, already was--time just made it stop happening all at once. Therefore, how could God NOT KNOW all that was to be? This idea does not contradict free will because the essence of the spiritual journey of all the soon-to-be-manifest beings was, at the creation of time, still a potentiality--TO THEM. Their choices were yet to be made. The fact that God knows what we are going to do doesn't mean that WE know. We are still choosing all the time. Furthermore, if we puny creatures of material illusion learn to step out of time maybe we can even change the past and the future in one fell miraculous swoop. Are there any other miracles in the Bible that negate this possibility? If faith in miracles is the last resort of the squamous mind, why not faith in this?
Gopi Krishna on Grace versus Pre-Determinism says:
" ...There is a class of scholars who, though themselves intensely religious and God-fearing, refrain from the inquiry on the plea that the sacramental and the holy should always remain beyond the touch of reason, and that the ways of God and the prophets are not amenable to intellectual investigation. Such an attitude of mind is not one of submission but of antagonism to the laws of God, for if He had decreed that reason should not meddle in the affairs of faith, then religion would have remained confined to the spirit alone and never encroached upon the province of the flesh. But since every prophet and inspired sage tried to regulate the behavior of the body so as to make mortal life in harmony with spiritual laws, this constitutes an invitation, even a command, to the intellect, which is a part of the body, to aid in making this harmony not only possible but also fruitful. For a number of reasons the modern intellect has shown an apathy toward the investigation of the phenomenon of religion which is completely at variance with the zeal evinced by it in other directions. The upshot has been that many infantile beliefs, dogmas, and practices still continue to obsess the mind of a large proportion of the human race, which is not only incommensurate with their intellectual stature, but also positively dangerous for their survival. The fact that a few intellectuals here and there put forward what appear to be rational interpretations of the religious idea and belief in defense of faith, does not serve to change the general atmosphere of doubt toward the expression of what is one of the fundamental urges of the human mind."
The intellect's will to meet the mental challenge of the Predestination/FreeWill dichotomy is ultimately an expression merely of one more vanity of the ego in search of a rational justification for itself; but will is everything, and, although we know we can never fully understand it with our puny physical brains, to throw in the towel on this point is to deny the material mind a vital point of intersection with a transcendent mind state which may provide us with an entry point into the infinite. We are talking about infinity here. In the infinity of timelessness why must we conclude that there is only ONE possible sequence of Time when it finally manifests? Why not Time manifest again and again, one sequence in an infinite sequence of sequences? God not only exists outside of Time, but the scope of Time itself must also be contained in the Mind of God, an environment of infinite dimensions. As the Sequential Mind steps into infinity, who is to say there is not more than one possibility? Perhaps Free Will is the entry of the Sequential Mind into the infinite Mind by stepping out of the material, outside of time. Perhaps our lives are played out an infinite number of times with all possibilities manifested at some sequential point or other.
William Blake wrote:
"Infinity is in love with the forms of time."
Indeed, as the Christ Consciousness plays over an infinite landscape of possibilities, the choice of one moment or another may coexist with all other choices, resulting in ABSOLUTE FREEDOM for the chooser, and ABSOLUTE INDETERMINACY for the chosen. It is thought by many that the whole point of physical incarnation is to refine the spiritual qualities of the soul. Thus, if the character of the soul is the active participant in this vast cosmic drama, every separate manifestation of time might constitute a new opportunity for the soul to choose, as the soul confronts every new situation AS IF it were the first time. The idea of parallel universes is firmly established in contemporary physics; perhaps free will is stepping outside time to choose the actions of a me in one universe offer another; I'm willing to accept the possibility of many acts of myself, but as to the me of me, the spirit of me, I think, like God, there can be only one.
In Perelandra, Lewis describes the temptation of that planet's Eve. In this scenario, the hero, Ransom, is sent to intervene between the weakening Eve and merciless Satan:
"In vain did his mind hark back, time after time, to the book of Genesis, asking "What would have happened?" But to this the Darkness gave him no answer. Patiently and inexorably it brought him back to the here and the now, and to the growing certainty of what was here and now demanded. Almost he felt that the words "would have happened" were meaningless --mere invitations to wander in what the Lady would have called an "alongside world" which had no reality. Only the actual was real: and every actual situation was new. Here in Perelandra the temptation would be stopped by Ransom, or it would not be stopped at all. The Voice-- for it was almost with a Voice that he was now contending-- seemed to create around this alternative an infinite vacancy. This chapter, this page, this very sentence, in the cosmic story was utterly and eternally itself; no other passage that had occurred or ever would occur could be substituted for it."
We cannot, in this plane of existence, hope to achieve an ultimate realization of this quandary, to make an ultimate peace with this paradox; but we can exercise our free will to make choices beyond our ability to understand them, take responsibility for the present moment, illusory though it may be, and meet our Maker in His proper dwelling place, and make His Home our Home. As to claiming a place that He has prepared for us, at His right hand, or elsewhere, He has told us that in His house there are many mansions. I'm sure that wherever mine is situated, in the vast hierarchy of the divine architecture, it is a groovy place, and I, for one, can't wait to move in.
Let us pray: Father take our lives and let them be ever more consecrated, Lord, to Thee. Give us the strength to do what we ought to do in every moment here and now, and the patience to await true understanding of your inscrutable ways later on. Amen.
Sept 18, 2011