Have you ever wondered why you were here? For what purpose you were created? I am almost sure you have. What guides us as people? Some will say that God is sovereign and thus our lives are planned out from the beginning, that God has "pre-ordained" all that will happen to us and what direction our lives will go. On the other hand, many will say that God has created man with "free will", the innate ability to choose for oneself the direction that life will take them. Now I must digress here and make the point that these are by no means new questions or concepts, but have been at the very heart of religion in general and Christianity in specific. Such questions have created entire denominational and sectarian concepts, fueled theological wars, and caused great angst to the hardest nosed philosophers.
First of all we must divine the question that is at hand. Is man free to choose at will, his or her path in life, or is that path chosen for each person by God. So our base concepts here are choice, path or life, will, man, and God. A simple logical equation can be garnered from this: Life = choice + man/will (Freewill) or Life = choice + God/will. Such equations leave out some obvious action, for freewill it would look something like this; Life = choice + man/will – God/will or (Pre-destination), Life = choice + God/will – man/will. If we assume that one concept is true, we also tend to assume the other to be false. Let's define the variables and then tackle the equations to get a better picture of what is going on here.
Life is the finite path which each human takes through existence. Our lives pass through the current existence for only a short time comparative to the entire timeline of history. Each finite life affects the timeline in its own way and to its own extent, affecting also the lives of others that pass close to it. Choice is the particular effect that each life has on its timeline and any other lives that come into contact with it. Man is simple a determiner that states who has power over the choice, God is also a determiner of the same sort. Will is the dividend of each determiner and symbolizes the freedom of each determiner to create its own affect.
So with this in mind, we can begin to breakdown the equation. Life paths exist; we know this because we exist within those paths and experience those paths firsthand. Since life is a concrete reality it is affect able, in that its essence can and is affected by some power. We know this because every life is not the same. Most lives, perhaps all, are unique to some extent or another. If this is the case we must assume that each life is affected by something which causes each life to diverge from a default path. Simply put we know there is more to life than just existence, because life is variable, good and bad, hard and easy, so on and so forth. Choice then becomes our affect. Life is affected by something, and that something is choice. Man represents our conscious state, our ability to think and reason and so it is our independence. Man is a determiner because it gives us the ability to view and process the situation and determine a response which is choice. God functions the same way, except that if God is the determiner then man cannot be the determiner. Will is then the effect of the determiners choice, to will something is to choose and create an effect, which gives a unique life circumstance and causes the divergence.
Life = choice + God/will – man/will (Predestination)
The problem, as you may have already determined, is that neither of these equations present a very hopeful picture of what God and man might mean to one another. If God is in charge, creating ahead of time, by will, affects for each life. The problem then becomes that God is simply "stamping" out life paths with no actual relation to the lives themselves. God becomes a creator that only creates but is otherwise unconnected to the lives affected. God sets lives in motion, but since God/will must be the determiner, God/will cannot be combined with Man/will or otherwise God/will will be neutralized. God must do what God must do and Man can have no part in it for the equation to be valid.
The same problem exists if man becomes the determiner. If Man creates affects for life as he or she passes through that life, perspective is limited to that life and that life only. Man can only know what is available to know, and thus can choose only what is known, and thus can only choose affects from a limited perspective. This creates a very narrow view of life and almost no concern for other lives or the possibility of God. Again, God/will and Man/will cannot be combined so man is left absolved from any affect except that which is known. Man is not involved with God and God is not involved with man. The end result of either concept is that there is not relationship, there is only absolution. The long term problems most theologians have with arguments of determinism vs. free will is that God must be sovereign and that God must be relational to man and vice versa. But this is the leading vexation…God cannot be absolute and relational. If God is in control God has no need to be active in man's existence…since that existence is pre-determined and will not change. There is no need for a relational God as no change can be affected at all, and man has no need for a relational God as no amount of activity on man's part will result in any affect on the life path. If man is in control there is no need for a God since God has little affect on the life path, and why would God want to affect the path since God imbued man with the power to affect his own life path. In other words, if God was willing to give up his control on our lives, what point would exist in then attempting to usurp power from us? I have trouble with a "wishy washy" God concept as I am sure most of you would as well.
So then we beg the question; if God is in control and we cannot be, or if we are in control and God cannot be…and because of these concepts there is no relational ability on either part…so that all that is left is either the sovereignty of God or the sovereignty of man…what use is any of this? Truthfully it is of the greatest use, in that it shows that neither man nor God can be sovereign or relational in the current mind set, or in any means which is rational or logical to the mind of either science or philosophy. This leads us then to wipe the board clean of thousands of years of guess work and start over. This is the conclusion to which I alluded earlier as a "great claim", in truth, I cannot answer the question, but I do feel that I can tear down the old system of thought and give us fresh ground with which to start anew and begin new foundation on which to build concepts of an interwoven sovereignty and relational process.
At this point we must throw logic out the window because we have seen through logical concepts God cannot be relational and absolute, sovereign and affected. It is really a fault of the system of thought which we in the west suffer under, that irascible tradition of dualistic thought given to us by our Greek forebears and carried on as the favored ideal of western culture. We are "separators and organizers" by our very nature, we love to break down concepts into systems of opposites, and categorize these concepts in concrete terms. Black and white, good and evil, right and wrong, this either/or mentality causes some pretty severe problems when considering spiritual things.
Presenting concepts like grace, forgiveness and love in dualistic terms is, as you might have already deduced, quite confusing. These three particular biblical concepts don't tend to fit well in dualistic thought because they are non-static, holistic ideals. Now the term "holism" might need some definition. You've probably heard the term "holistic" applied to medicine…its base meaning is "the consideration of the whole over its integral parts", or more appropriate to spiritual concepts, "an interweaving of integral parts so that said parts create a single essence rather than individual constituent parts. So we can gather from this that presenting spiritual concepts as holistic and relational (non-static) means that the concepts are "interwoven" into the very aspect of our being as humans, because it is interwoven into the aspect of God. This changes our perspective from either/or to both/and as Richard Rohr likes to say. We see that the base concepts we have of God, love, forgiveness, and grace are part of the plan, a great interweaving of the various strings of our lives. We are often limited to seeing only our own single string of life, but if we could step back we would be able to see the entire interlaced web of existence within God, God being the entire structure, we being the individual strings and colors that make up the pattern.
This leads us a step closer to finding some answer to this riddle of determinism vs. freewill. If we begin to understand the holistic nature of God, we see that God and man are interwoven into the very fabric of one another, our nature, God's nature, our being, God's being become one fabric, one thing, one state of being. Our forgiveness is God's forgiveness, God's grace is our grace…and more importantly our will is God's will…and vice versa. We become interwoven in the relationship and realize that the tension between God's will and our will is where we live, where we function…God is so intertwined in us and we in God that there is no either/or…there is no "other" but only a single ideal, a single state and place of being. Waking up to this reality helps us cease the struggle between our need for independence and our want to please God. We are both free and bound at once.
In Christ we are given our freedom, we are humans unbound by the law, grace becomes free, but the true person of God knows that this is not where it stops…freedom is a gift, and for us to grow to our greatest extent we must be willing to give that freedom back to God…to choose to follow God not because we have to…but because we want to.
Only this way does our relationship truly become mutual with God, a true dance of involvement and openness to change and growth. God has given us the freedom to be whatever we choose, and we must be willing to give it back and be humbled to learn and grow into the path God alone can carve for us.