Why I am not a determinist

It is sometimes asserted that evil is not simply allowed but “ordained and guided” by God for the purposes of a grand narrative; it serves the “story” he is telling in creation. I think I get where people that hold this view are coming from, and I agree that the system (usually connected with Calvinism) has a high degree of explanatory power if you grant all of the inherent assumptions and interpretations of the biblical text.

That said, I find the deterministic view quite unsatisfying from biblical, theological, and pastoral points of view. Unfortunately I think the “God as author” metaphor (often very useful) is usually pushed to the breaking point and beyond.

While we do see a robust assertion of the sovereignty of God in the Bible (and I would never want to undermine this), in my opinion we can press the concept too far so as to undermine the true moral agency of human beings. God can be sovereign (in charge, in control, etc) without being a micro-manager.

My conviction is that while God’s ultimate purposes will necessarily come to fruition, the ways in which he accomplishes them depend on free moral agents like humans and angels. In other words, he works all things for his purposes in the context of respecting the free will of his created beings. In the process, God’s immediate desires and will can be resisted and even frustrated. For instance, take the story of the flood:

“And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (Genesis 6:6, ESV)

At least in some sense, God wished for a different outcome for humanity that didn’t happen in the moment.

In the New Testament, human beings are even given the agency to “quench the Spirit.” (1 Thes 5:19)

It doesn’t seem logically or theologically consistent to me that God would ordain and guide someone to quench the Spirit!

So, I suppose the idea of humans as truly free moral agents is where the “God-as-author” analogy breaks down for me. This is often addressed in a variety of ways rarely deals openly with the elephant in the room: characters on a page are completely pre-determined from start to finish. They have no agency of their own. Humans, however, clearly do.

The abundance of Wisdom literature in the Bible itself also lends support to the conclusion that we may make real choices that have real consequences in this life. It seems to me that we could encompass this in the author metaphor, perhaps by saying God has written the beginning and the end of the Story, and invites us to join him as junior co-authors in the middle.

In Lamentations, there’s quite a bit about both Good and Bad coming from God (mostly in the context of punishment/consequences of sin), and yet there’s this remarkable passage as well:

“For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.” (Lamentations 3:31–33, ESV)

So, I would say that a very rigid deterministic framework doesn’t quite jive with the whole biblical story. At the same time, neither does a Deistic, distant, “hands-off” conception of God. I think we have to keep the both the ultimate control of God and the real freedom of human beings (and Satan) in tension, and be careful not to attribute evil to God.

His perfect will is overwhelmingly revealed in Jesus, who heals, restores, redeems, loves.

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