Sunday, October 30, 2005

Free Will and Chaos Theory

Predestination, foreknowledge, and free will.

These are subjects I've spent a lot of time thinking about. In fact, I've come to regard free will as my "signature" topic of contemplation, since so much of my theological inquiry centres around it. It's a vast and fascinating subject.

So anyway, one night just before I fell asleep I turned the light back on and jotted down a few notes. I had been wondering how exactly it is that God works in our lives. How involved is God? Does he directly control every aspect of every thing that ever occurs (the hyper-Calvinist position)? Or did he wind the world up at Creation, then sit back to let the world run itself (the Deist position)? When a tsunami or a hurricane or an earthquake hits and people die, is it because God steered that disaster to that particular city, or is it just a random result of the natural effects God set in place?

Well, to start off with, it seemed pretty clear to me that God doesn't directly control our choices. God, being omnipotent, is able to make whatever he desires come to pass. Since, according to the Bible, God "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1Tim 2:4)," and since this is manifestly not the case, God must be allowing us to make our own choices in this area, choices which might conflict with what God wants. It also seems reasonable to me that if God is allowing us to make our own decisions in this most important of areas, then he probably is allowing us to make our own decisions in the rest of our lives, as well.

Why, you might ask? If you'll allow a bit of a digression from the main topic; even though I have no real proof on the matter, the most reasonable explanation it seems to me is this: without real choice, there cannot be real love or loyalty. A robot who cannot choose is not loyal, it is simply programmed to obey. The world was created to further God's glory, and clearly it is more glorious to be worshipped by people who do so willingly, than by a bunch of puppets on strings.

So how, then, does God work his will in our world, if he can't (or rather won't) force us to do things? That he does, in fact, work his will in our world is obvious: beyond the fact that we haven't all killed each other yet, the Bible says that "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." That's Romans 8:28 -- I know there's more verses that could demonstrate this point, but I'd rather not spend half an hour looking for them, and I'm pretty sure people (most Christians, anyway, I don't care what you other guys think about this topic) will agree on this one. God's will is done on Earth, but how can that be when so many people won't go along, and God won't force them to go along?

I think the answer is a combination of things, really. First and foremost is God's knowledge. He knows every thing that has been, is, will be, could have been, could be now, and could be in the future. He knows every possible thing about every possible thing. Therefore, God knows exactly what we will choose to do in any given situation, and why we will choose that. He knows all the factors that led up to that choice. He knows what events will result in what choices, and can work to create the events that will lead to the choices he wants. It's chaos theory: a butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo creates a chain reaction that results in a thunderstorm in New York that would not otherwise have happened, and all that. The only difference is, God knows what will cause what, and how it's all connected.

Not that God can always get the choices he wants. Since we do have free will, we can still decide to do whatever we want, despite God's best efforts. We mess up the whole cause-and-effect chain. God influences us, pleads with us, pushes us, disciplines us, all the things one might do to try to move a stubborn donkey, but there are certain people who simply will not obey God's will. And sometimes, even events themselves might conspire to frustrate God's will: if person A absolutely won't do action B, and action B is the only thing which could influence person C enough to accept God's dearly bought rescue from death, then person C is doomed.

And that's where we as Christians come in. We are person A. Our purpose here on Earth is to act as God's agents and assist in creating the situations and factors which will lead to life-saving choices by those still headed to Hell. When we do what God does want us to do, we fit like a piece of a puzzle into the grand scheme of things, bringing about chain reactions that affect the world in ways we can't imagine, but which God has carefully mapped out. When we do what God does not want us to do, then God can't use us in the way he would like, and those chain reactions we would have created will not take place. Maybe God can get person D to do action E for the same effect as us doing action B, but then again, maybe person D won't do it either, or maybe he's not as good at it as we might be. God created each of us for a purpose, and he has an ideal plan in mind for each of us that would result in the maximum possible good being done in the world. Each time we stray from God's purpose for us, and do something against his will, we take away from God's ideal plan, and God is forced to compensate with something less effective (after all, if his backup plan was more effective, then it wouldn't be a backup plan, now would it?).

Therefore, it is our duty as Christians, as God's agents in this world, to seek out God's will and perform it to the best of our abilities. We're not perfect, and we'll probably never be able to live up to God's ideal plan for our lives, but every step closer we get to his ideal plan, the more effective we will be as tools in God's arsenal. The more we obey God in every situation, the more we can be used in carrying out God's plan. The soldier who carries out his superior's orders swiftly and eagerly is quickly promoted up the ranks. Likewise, the better we carry out God's will, the more important the tasks we will be assigned. Why was Moses chosen to lead the Israelites, and not Jim-Bob the scribe? Because God knew that Moses would be more faithful in every situation than Jim-Bob would, and therefore more effective in carrying out God's plan.

Our actions are not inconsequential. If a butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo can cause a thunderstorm in New York, then how much more can be caused by a Christian who obeys God's will?

God will do his part. We just have to do ours.


Sputnik said...

Faaaaaaaaaaannnccyyy. Thats some nifty writin' thar Jay Red. Good show, good show.

fleamarketcreep said...

How DARE you insult my family's honour! Jim-Bob the scribe was my great great great great great great great great great great grandfather!

Joking aside, this is a refreshing way to look at God's Will. I've always struggled a bit with the balancing act between His and our will. This makes a lot of sense to me.

Benjamin said...

Yeah thats pretty cool

SEZ said...

Yeah, pretty cool!


Jeremiah said...

I love it when you can clearly put into words, what is in your mind.