Written by Craig Denison
“I would rather be a man of paradoxes than a man of prejudices.”
― Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile or On Education
Over the last few months Rachel and I have been up against a few decisions that dramatically affect both our present circumstances and the trajectory of our future. No big deal. And in our processing together I’ve continually come up against the paradox of free will and predestination. Now before you click off this blog like I often do when I see those words in the same sentence, listen to my story real quick.
Growing up the concept of free will and predestination was put in the same box as that which is taboo or “non-pc.” It’s a box best left unopened, especially around the dinner table. Then I went to Christian college. At school the dinner table transitioned from being a nice, well-mannered time with family to being more like a poorly run debate. And predestination and free-will was like a topic chosen by an old teacher with a poor memory who forgot we just talked about this yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. So, after sitting through a word battle where my friends hurled verses like cannonballs back and forth at one another I vowed to find my way quickly and quietly out of any conversation in which the words free will and predestination were spoken together in short order.
But the problem with paradox is that it doesn’t go away if you ignore it. And doggonit it still matters even when you wish it didn’t. So, as if it wasn’t enough to be faced with life-altering decisions the last few months I decided to take some time and ruminate on topics argued about and unsolved by the greatest minds in Christianity over the last couple centuries. And to my surprise, God showed up in the midst of my ponderings.
In spending time with him I realized that I let immature conversation lead me away from the wonders of God’s eternal nature. I let the arguing of a few cloud my view of my heavenly Father in his glorious mystery. And in carrying my ponderings on the truths of free will and predestination into my time with God I felt him giving me the grace and desire to embrace all of who he is rather than shy away from him in my weakness. I felt the truth of my free will fill me with a yearning to seek God’s plan for my life. And at the same time I sensed the surpassing peace that only trusting in God’s sovereignty can bring. I saw both the need to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and the reality that God already knows what I will do both now and forever.
And in these times with God I felt a desire welling up within me not to avoid paradoxes, but to embrace all the gifts God offers us through them. I felt him directing my vision away from ideas and on to his face-- his character.
Maybe there’s a way we can allow the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit of all he is at all times. Maybe we don’t have to create camps around facets of God, but instead find life in the reality of his unchanging nature. Maybe we can allow paradoxes to be fuel for a passion to lean on God’s understanding rather than our own.
God didn’t create paradoxes as fodder for debates. He isn’t the way he is just so we could write or read book after book about him. He is the way he is because he’s perfect. And paradoxes exist because we are in desperate need of them. Maybe it’s time to grab hold of all we can of God and find purpose and rest in all he is to his glory and our good.
I’ll end with this quote by Charles Spurgeon who always seems to say things better than I can in fewer words. May his words lead you into a greater knowledge of who God is that you might experience greater depths of relationship.
"I see in one place God presiding over all in providence; and yet I see and I cannot help seeing, that man acts as he pleases, and that God has left his actions to his own will, in a great measure. Now, if I were to declare that man was so free to act, that there was no precedence of God over his actions, I should be driven very near to Atheism; and if, on the other hand, I declare that God so overrules all things, as that man is not free enough to be responsible, I am driven at once into Antinomianism or fatalism. That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other. These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring….You ask me to reconcile the two. I answer, they do not want any reconcilement; I never tried to reconcile them to myself, because I could never see a discrepancy…. Both are true; no two truths can be inconsistent with each other; and what you have to do is to believe them both."