It was inevitable, of course

It’s a theological and philosophical dilemma you’ve surely encountered before:

Guys like Luther and especially John Calvin had a problem: God’s omniscience implies predestination — if God knows everything that will happen (which is the definition of “omniscience”), then obviously He knows everything you’re going to do, which means He knows, and has always known, whether you’re going to Heaven or Hell. But if that’s true, then what did Christ die for? Dying for our sins is pointless — the slate is wiped clean for that second, and only that second, because we’re just going to go on sinning, as God Himself knows full well. For Christ’s death to have done what it did, we must have free will … which means God doesn’t know what we’re going to do minute-to-minute, any more than we ourselves, His poor creatures, do.

There’s an answer for this, of course* (read it later), but it only applies to God. For everyone else selling a Determinist philosophy — Marx, the Stoics, even my beloved Hobbes — the problem is insurmountable. If the Revolution must happen, comrade, then what’s the point of all this “activism”? Y’all are, as the man said, like a group of astronomers who know with mathematical certainty an eclipse is coming… but who immediately form a Party and start murdering people, to make sure it comes. The very foundation of your philosophy has a crack, and all the ugly neologisms in the world can’t fill it.

Still, as they gaze into the abyss, what they’re seeing is not the abyss staring back at them, but a receptacle for more ugly neologisms: imagining a demand, they hasten to provide a supply. And they have no concept of Christ dying for their sins; their priority is making sure that you die for yours, and their idea of generosity is making sure that you know what those sins are, by telling you at every available opportunity.

And now to solve the aforementioned predestination issue:

* As I recall, the answer is: Predestination in Calvin’s sense implies that God exists within the stream of time — He is, in a way, bound to the forward progress of His own creation. But that can’t be true, either, as it violates God’s omnipotence. Therefore, God exists outside the stream of time — He knows, and has always known, every possible outcome of every possible choice we could ever possibly make. It’s very sci-fi — we each exist, in a way, in our own personal universe, which veers off into another of infinitely many possible universes each time we make a moral choice.

Those who worship the State, demonstrably not even close to omniscient, are left with exactly the solution you’d predict: they scurry to redefine words to match their worldview. This works only if you let them.


  1. Roger Green »

    16 April 2018 · 7:54 pm

    Predestination is also a JCSS thing – “everything is fixed and you can’t change it. It’s also a Presbyterian thing (I’ve been one less 17 years), and I grapple with it regularly

  2. McGehee »

    16 April 2018 · 8:55 pm

    It’s very sci-fi — we each exist, in a way, in our own personal universe, which veers off into another of infinitely many possible universes each time we make a moral choice.

    I’m of the persuasion that, if there are parallel universes, everyone that comes along with us on the myriad veerings we cause by our decisions, must also drag us along on all of theirs — otherwise we eventually find ourselves in a universe in which everyone is merely a placeholder, a being without agency.

    That “otherwise” is an easy way to dupe oneself into being God unto oneself, and I don’t like those implications. But the first alternative has each of us essentially creating lives and souls by the billions every time we waver on what to have for lunch, and I don’t like that implication any better.

    I find predestination objectionable on similar grounds: if we don’t have the power to change the outcome of our lives, then we don’t have agency, and are therefore not created in His image. If we are of any value to Him at all, He had to have made us capable of surprising even Him.

    And if He can’t do that, how can He call Himself omnipotent?

  3. jb »

    16 April 2018 · 11:47 pm

    The Confessional Lutheran position on the issue . . .

    Pax Domini

  4. Holly H »

    17 April 2018 · 9:19 am

    To me, we arrogant humans should stop all the debating about how many angels fit on the head of a pin, and think more about how many bees died today.

  5. fillyjonk »

    17 April 2018 · 9:56 am

    I tend to figure a lot of that stuff is, to use a hackneyed phrase, “above my pay grade.” I have enough trouble with loving my neighbor, so that’s what I try to concentrate on being better at.

    (That said, I have speculated at times on “Does God ever regret the whole free-will thing?” when some particularly atrocious human atrocity happens)

  6. McGehee »

    17 April 2018 · 10:27 am

    Nothing arrogant at all about telling people what they should be thinking about. ;-p

  7. Holly H »

    17 April 2018 · 12:15 pm

    OK fair enough.

    (But I’m right.) ha!

  8. CGHill »

    17 April 2018 · 10:07 pm

    How many angels can sit on the head of a pin? Piece of cake:

    (1) Get the dimensions of the pin point.

    (2) Measure the angels’ asses.

    (3) Divide A by B.

    No sense making these things complicated.

  9. John Salmon »

    18 April 2018 · 2:08 pm

    I’ve never seen the slightest conflict between the two. The Catholic position is always both/and, not the either/or false choices Protestants trip themselves up with.

RSS feed for comments on this post