Is Our Future Determined or Free?
Questions of freedom and destiny have been raised in every generation. Do we exercise choice, or has everything already been decided? Is our future determined or free? The resultant mental gymnastics leave many feeling confused and others feeling disappointed. Christians insist that nothing takes God by surprise. On the other hand, Christians throughout the ages reject the kind of fatalism that is seen in some parts of the world.
The problem with the question as it is presented is that it is not nearly difficult enough. In order to truly appreciate the magnitude of what we are discussing, we must first deal with an even greater question. And it is this: Imagine if I were able to stop time right now. What would you be thinking? What would you be feeling? The answer is nothing.
In the absence of time, we cannot think or feel or do. Everything is frozen. People sometimes complain that I speak too quickly—the problem being that there is not sufficient time for them to think about what has been said. I always try to cheer myself by saying that at least something has been said for them to think about! But it is a fair criticism because in the absence of sufficient time we cannot think things through. In the absence of time altogether, however, we cannot even begin to think, as there is literally no time to think in.
The Christian understanding is that we live and have our existence in a space-time continuum. “[We] belong to eternity stranded in time,” observes Michael Card.(1) This also means that before God created there was no time; in other words, time is not co-eternal with God. But Christians also attest that God was a thinking, feeling, doing Being even before God created. Can you imagine a Being who is able to think in the absence of time? Of course not, but the God Christians profess not only exists outside of time, God can think and act in the absence of time.
Just reading this may be enough to make us feel overwhelmed. And so it should. Whenever we think about the person of God, we should rightly feel that we have come across something truly awesome. And maybe this is part of the problem. We are not faced with a logical contradiction here. Rather, we are faced with the reality of what it means for God to exist, for God to be God. You and I are only able to think in time, and thus, God confronts us with choices: “Choose this day whom you will serve,” “choose life” and so on (Joshua 24:15; Deuteronomy 30:19). But God, as Christians believe, who is outside of time, sees all of history stretched out before Him. The problem comes, therefore, when the attempt is made to confine God within time. But this needn’t be the case. For Christians, a proper understanding of the tension drives us back both to God’s divine nature and to our knees, acknowledging how wonderful God is.
This understanding also helps Christians with the issue of eternal life. Many people when confronted with the idea of eternity find the idea frightening, tedious, or absurd. What could one possibly do with all of that time? Once again, the dilemma arises because we are captive both to the passage of time and too small a view of who God actually is. People also then ask: if God truly knows all things, then why did God create knowing that we would experience pain in a fallen world? But here Christians attest that God did not create the world and then think of a plan to rescue it. The book of Revelation depicts that the Lamb was slain before the foundations of the world were laid. This does not mean that the crucifixion took place in our space-time history before creation (there was no space-history for it to take place in). What it does mean is that even before God created, God also knew the cost—the suffering of his own Son—to redeem creation and unite us with the Father. God didn’t count that cost too great—and hence Christians sing of God’s amazing grace.
Let me conclude with the following. The Christian God is big enough to be able to say, “I know the plans I have for you… plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). There is no hope without a secure future, and the future is frightening in the absence of hope. Only God is big enough to bring these two things together—hope and a future—and this is what God has done for us.
(1) Lyrics from “Joy in the Journey” by Michael Card, 1986.
This post was written by Michael Ramsden.
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