Erwählung und freier Wille …

In Vorbereitung einer Veranstaltung am kommenden Wochenende kam ich bei meinen Recherchen auf die Webseite von David Rieke, dessen ‘Benutzerhandbuch‘ in einem Privatverlag auf deutsch rausgekommen ist.

  • Seinen Artikel zu dem alten Thema fand ich erfreulich ausgewogen! Auch wenn die ‘Zeit-Ewigkeit’-Diskussion uns exegetisch gesehen relativ bald aus dem Ruder läuft, ist es (philosophisch) doch eine spannende Frage

Since my son has been majoring in biblical studies at the nearby Christian university, it was inevitable that he should run into the perennial election-predestination (Calvinism vs. Arminianism) debate with his teachers and classmates. At his particular school he hears both sides of the controversy, which is a good thing. Still, debaters tend to be so certain of their own positions, and each considers the other’s position to be so very off-putting, or even heretical. With my son, I guess we all wonder why equally devoted and intelligent Christians can’t come to a consensus on this issue.

The Two Sides of the Debate

The Calvinist says: God Himself already chose (in eternity past) who would be saved and who would not be saved, and human beings only seem to choose salvation for themselves. Predestined individuals may feel like they are making independent choices but, in reality, their fates are (as the ‘i’ in the TULIP acronym indicates) “irresistible.”
The problem with this, of course, is that the normal, natural reading of the Bible becomes incoherent if we don’t acknowledge the reality of legitimate human choices. “And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17).
The Arminian says: Human beings choose for themselves whether or not they will be saved, and God only seems to choose them. God simply sees ahead of time which individuals will choose to trust the gospel, and then follows their lead and “elects” them accordingly (i.e. after they have dictated their own choices to God).
The problem with the Arminian view is that the Bible specifically says that God does indeed take the initiative in choosing His children. “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.  So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Rom. 9:15-16).
And thus the line is drawn in the sand. The majority of Bible-readers in the world take the Arminian side and stumble all over themselves trying to explain the election and predestination passages in Scripture. But a carefully educated (read “coached”) and strong minority of believers take the Calvinist side and stumble at every text that involves human free will.

Thoughtless Arguments That Are Easily Countered

Then, to make matters worse, both sides enlist their straw-man armies to scare off their opponents.

  1. “Really,” say the hard-core Calvinists, “there’s no such thing as human free will.” But doesn’t the passage explicitly say, “whoever wills to do so, let him take the water freely”?
  2. “The belief in predestination,” says the Arminian, “completely undermines all motivation for evangelism and prayer.” But aren’t we forced to admit that a great many Calvinists have been our premier models of Christian evangelism and prayer?
  3. “No one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him to do so—irresistible grace. Period. Case closed,” says the Calvinist (John 6:44). But didn’t Jesus Himself promise that if He were crucified He would “draw all people,” not just the elect, to Himself (John 12:32)?
  4. “All things cannot possibly be predestinated. That would defy all reason,” says the Arminian. But didn’t the apostle teach us that God predestinates and “works all things after counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:11)?
  5. “Total depravity makes us all completely unable to respond correctly to God’s voice,” says the Calvinist, “and God alone can awaken the hearts of the elect.” But doesn’t the Scripture say that every heart is impacted by the grace of Christ “who sheds light upon every person who comes into the world,” not just the elect (John 1:9)?

An Impossible Possibility?

It is evident, I think, that an unprejudiced reading of Scripture (or as close to unprejudiced as it seems any man is able to come) is going to yield two conclusions: God really chooses man for salvation and doesn’t just seem to choose him; and man really chooses Christ for salvation and doesn’t just seem to choose Him.
This may seem impossible and hopelessly contradictory, but it does fit very nicely with the testimony of “the whole counsel of God.”

A Proposed Solution

Perhaps the disequilibrium caused by the election-predestination passages in Scripture is largely attributable to the “difficulty” of marrying time and eternity in God’s dealings with humankind.
God “inhabits eternity” (Isaiah 57:15), and is the creator of time. We perceive time by the movements of the earth relative to the sun, as though the universe were one great timepiece. But there was a “time” when the earth and sun did not exist at all, when they were not yet created.
Our Lord apparently doesn’t need time, and He exists outside of time. We are like people walking along a timeline with a very definite past, present and future. God doesn’t walk on our timeline. He apparently lives right now in all our “tomorrows” and in all our “yesterdays”—a mind-boggling prospect.
A glimpse of the problem we humans run into when trying to wed our time with God’s eternity may be found in Jesus’ words to the Pharisees, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). This sentence doesn’t make sense to us because it lacks tense agreement (mixing up the past and present). We want it to read, “Before Abraham was, I was.”  Instead, it apparently says, “Before 2000 B.C., I am there right now.”
Now, what if these considerations are factored into our election-predestination questions? What if our conversion experience (or any other experience) actually involves a collision of time and eternity—our time and God’s eternity? How exactly could human language describe the choosing that God does and the choosing that man does in that process?
If God is in our past right now (“Before Abraham was, I am”), is He just now arriving at the moment when we once responded to His gospel—perhaps at some gospel service in our past, or at some quiet moment with a friend who told us the gospel? Is He right now experiencing what is in the past to us?
Of course, an eternal God should also be experiencing at this same moment what we call the future, our tomorrows. And He should be experiencing our present moment as well, all at the same “time.”
How then can we speak dogmatically about whether God hardened Pharaoh’s heart first, or whether Pharaoh hardened his own heart first? Or whether God chose us first, or we chose God first? What, after all, does “first” mean if there is no sequence of time with God? What does “first” mean to a God who is living in this present moment as well as in a time before Abraham existed?

My proposed solution for the Calvinism-Arminianism debate is that we all become a lot more humble, and that we believe what seems to be an impossibility—that God truly elects people according to His own preferences, and that humans truly choose to accept or reject the gospel without being “irresistibly drawn” into doing so. Perhaps it is because these two choosings—divine and human—are happening on two different plains—temporal and eternal, that they can both be truly independent and truly authentic.

And if the ways of a God who “inhabits eternity,” and yet meets us in time, seem impossible for us to imagine, we may comfort ourselves in knowing that our God is not so small as to be understood by silly humans who still require calendars to know what day we are in.