2 Thessalonians: 2:13-14 (Predestination, Free Will, Open Theism, and Such)

map of greeceI apologize for not being involved in the comments these last several days. I’ve been under the weather with something called “endocarditis,” meaning an infection of the heart valves. I’ve been on 24-hour IV antibiotics for a month. (Anti = against; biotic = life; hence, against life or feel like death warmed over.)

Some hours are better than others and I’ll spare you the disgusting side effect details. Suffice to say I’m pretty much housebound and watch a lot of football. (Roll Tide!)

I’m likely headed toward heart-valve replacement surgery.

But I noticed a lot of comment traffic dealing with the “election” and “calling” passages. I thought I’d add this thought to the mix — inspired, of course, by watching way too much TV.

Presently, there are several shows on TV dealing with time travel and the resulting paradoxes that so fascinate science fiction writers, such as The Flash, The League of Legends, and Timeless. (I particularly enjoy Timeless because they have so much fun replicating the old days — with hair styles, clothing, and all.) The problem with time travel is that, in theory, you can go back in time, prevent your parents from meeting and so never be conceived, meaning you didn’t go back in time, so you were conceived after all … 

Now, there’s a similar paradox that arises when you can see the future, which time travelers inevitably do. If I were to travel to 2020 and read about a college football coach deciding to go for a first down rather than chip-shot field goal and then if were to travel back to just before the game, I would inevitably see the coach faced with the same decision, and he would make the decision I’d earlier read about — inevitably — unless I somehow interfere with the process (and we’ll ignore that possibility for now).

Or I can travel into the past, watch President Kennedy agonize over how to handle the Cuban missile crisis, and if I don’t interfere, he’ll necessarily make the same decision that history records. Did he do so as a matter of free will — even though from my perspective he seemingly had no choice?

Before I time traveled, if you were to ask whether the coach had a free will choice to kick a field goal or to try for the first down, all but the most hyper of hyper-Calvinists would agree that he has a truly freewill choice. A few determinists, who deny freewill in order to deny God, might disagree as well because they see all human thought as sheer chemistry and physics, which have no consciousness or free will. Hence, to them, free will is an illusion (not that they can live their lives consistently with their theorizing.) But let’s ignore the hyper-naturalist and hyper-Calvinist worldviews (ironic that they lead to the same conclusion, isn’t it?) and go with the consensus view: he made a choice.

Now assume I travel to the future, read about the choice he made and its outcome and then travel back to my regular time. Does he have a choice now that his choice is known to me in advance? I mean, while he thinks he has a choice, it would seem to many that the cosmos is pretty much required to deny him any choice other than the one he must make because — to me — he’s already made it. Hence, his choice is no longer free will — even though I’ve not done a thing to influence him either way.

This is the theory behind Open Theism, which insists that God could know the future but either not know all possible futures (contingent futures) or else chooses not to know the future (or parts of it) so that his knowledge does not take away free will.

But I’m convinced that my knowing the future does not eliminate free will. There are several reasons:

  1. There’s simply no scientific basis for cause and effect. How does my peering into the future affect whether your brain has free will or not?
  2. We instinctively assume the absence of free will, because in the ordinary world, we can only precisely predict the future in systems that are governed by natural laws and have no free will. Thus, we can precisely predict the location of planets 1,000 years into the future. Therefore, some part of our brains just assumes that this is the only way we can see the future — and so seeing the future implies an absence of free will. But that part of our brains is just plain wrong. When we see the future by stepping outside of time as a physical dimension of the cosmos (as God does and as a time machine would do), we see the future without changing or causing the future. I covered this sometime ago in a past.
    1. A Heavenly Time.
    2. Searching for a Third Way, Predestination, Part 2
    3. Searching for a Third Way, Predestination, Part 3
    4. Searching for a Third Way, Open Theism, Part 1
    5. Where Are the Dead?

That’s a lot of reading, but the posts answer differently questions raised by the theological fact that God exists outside of time (since time is part of the Creation both as a matter of modern science and scripture).

If they’re helpful, enjoy. If not, don’t worry about it.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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