Actor Nicholas Cage plays an MIT astrophysicist in the 2009 science fiction thriller “Knowing.” Professor John Koestler lost his wife to a senseless traffic accident sometime before the setting of the movie. The son of a Presbyterian minister, Cage’s character grew up believing that life had some sort of master plan. Life had meaning and purpose. Professor Koestler no longer believes this.
Early in the film the viewer is introduced to this theme by a lecture Professor Koestler delivers in class at MIT. He leads a discussion about determinism versus randomness. Determinism is the belief that things are predetermined to some degree or another, by a god or some other power, according to some sort of design or purpose. There is meaning and purpose in life.
Randomness is just the opposite. Nothing in life is predetermined. Life just happens. Thus, there is no great meaning or purpose behind the events of life. What happens just … happens.
When a time capsule is opened at Koestler’s son’s school he comes into possession of a sheet written by a child over 50 years earlier. It is covered with numbers that appear to be random. As he studies them a pattern begins to emerge. The numbers are dates, latitude and longitude, time of day, and the number of deaths. Each date marks a catastrophe or tragedy. Every such event in the world since 1950 is on that sheet in chronological order.
It is a well-made, intense movie. I won’t play the role of spoiler here, but it is a disaster flick.
It raises a question, however, one that we think about every time there is a tragedy. Was this event predetermined, or was it totally random? Are the events of life determined according to some master plan, meaning we have no free will? Or, are the events of life random, thus giving us total free will? This is how the debate is usually framed: either we have free will or we don’t.
Many people pull the Bible into this debate, but I contend to you that this is not a struggle in scripture. From a Biblical perspective, do we have free will? The answer is, “Yes!” Are things predetermined according to some master plan? Again, the answer is, “Yes!” It is both, not one or the other.
I know, this doesn’t seem to add up. That is because we two-legged land dwellers think of this question as a zero-sum game. If God is totally sovereign, then we cannot have free will. Or, if we have a morally free will, then God is not totally sovereign. One cancels out the other in a zero-sum game.
Some try to settle the question in terms of degrees. God is sovereign in 60 percent of the equation, humanity’s free will 40 percent – or maybe it is 50-50, or 70-30. Whichever, this is still a zero-sum game.
I contend that according to scripture, God is 100 percent sovereign; and our free will is 100 percent. God is 100 percent sovereign and in control, and we are 100 percent morally free and responsible for our own decisions. How can this be?
Well, how can it be that the incarnate Lord Jesus was 100 percent man and 100 percent God? How can it be that the Bible is 100 percent God’s word, and 100 percent the words of men? Call it spiritual math if you must, because it is not human math – but it works.
On the day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter stood before the crowds in Jerusalem and declared that Jesus was delivered up to them by God’s “deliberate plan and foreknowledge.” But then he adds that, “you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” Then he goes on to add, “but God raised Him from the dead.” (Acts 2:23-24 NIV)
There it is – God’s 100 percent sovereignty; humanity’s 100 percent free moral will. It is called a paradox.
Here is how it works. God in his absolute sovereignty acts first. In John 15 Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” Notice the order; God acted first.
After God acts, we, in our complete moral freedom, act. We believe, or we don’t believe. We pursue peace and goodwill with others, or we cling to our prejudices and box people into deplorable baskets. In our moral free will, we get to choose, we get to act, but it is second.
Finally, God in his 100 percent sovereignty, acts again. Thus, as Peter preached, God delivered Jesus up according to his deliberate plan and foreknowledge. We nailed him to the cross, as a free moral choice. Then God raised him from the dead. One hundred percent sovereignty of God; 100 percent human free will.
You have the moral free will to believe, but only because God acted first. Because He chose you, you are free to choose him, or not. His action empowers us to respond, but our response is not the final act.
Because God sent His only begotten Son, in your freedom you have the choice to believe or not believe; to follow Him or not follow Him, but your moral free will does not have the final say. This same Jesus is coming again, according to the determined plan and foreknowledge of God. So the most important question that remains is, will you be ready?