A question was raised to me the other day…
“Will someone explain to me how this fits into the whole “free will” argument….. if all my days have already been written before one of them came to be, how, exactly, am I suppose to write them myself?”
Psalm 139: 15, 16 (New International Version)
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
I thought I would share my response, and see what everyone else thought…
I really want to go under that assumption that you might be looking for the Truth. After all, “to give truth to him who loves it not is only to give him more plentiful material for misinterpretation,” so said George MacDonald. Either way, it’s good, fun thinking for me to do.
I don’t expect to have the solid, final answer, not to have it all figured out. I don’t expect this answer to be the one that convinces you otherwise, but hopefully, if nothing else, to get you to think about it more. “Seek and you shall find.” Would love to hear what everyone thinks. Sure is a sticky question, but here’s my thought on the matter…
“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (NIV)
So they are. If you were to write an autobiographical book about your whole life, beginning to end, before you were dead, and knew the future and how it would end… would you not be seen as ‘rigging’ the future in a way? If you had certain plans that needed to happen in this life and you had all power, would you not see to it that you made people certain ways, while still giving them the will to choose through life? You already knew how they would choose, but you still give them the choice. You see, it all gets very hairy if you dig too deep. Let’s take it from one angle…
This nature of question, I believe really boils down to a common argument or question.
Do we have Free Will or are we Predestined?
I suppose that verse 15 is not the core of the question, as it only mentions the fact that when we were made we were not hidden from God. He knew this was going on. Let us dismiss this verse from the rest of the discussion, along with the first line of the next verse, as it is in the same sentence. “When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.” (NIV)
Defining the terms:
First, you really have to define the terms. What exactly do you mean by ‘free will’ and ‘predestination’?
Merriam-Webster‘s online dictionary describes these as the following:
Predestine – to destine, decree, determine, appoint, or settle beforehand
Predestinate – destined, fated, or determined beforehand
One might also look at ‘destiny.’
Destiny – a predetermined course of events often held to be an irresistible power or agency
Free Will – (1) voluntary choice or decision
(2) freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention
Clearly these two contradict each other by definition of Websters. I suppose if you were to go strictly by these definitions, then no, we do not have free will. Question answered.
However, most of us describe ‘free will’ as something that is simply ‘choice’, and that’s about it. Do we have a choice in the decisions we make?
For example: If I do not eat or drink anything for 3 days, then my body is screaming at me to eat something. If I do not, I will die. If I want to live, then I must eat something. If I want to die, I can continue doing what I am doing, and not eat.
If I take the definition of ‘free will’ as freedom to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or divine intervention, then in fact I do not have the ‘free will’ to not eat. My body violates my free will by requiring me to eat and live. I have the free will to eat or not eat, but on the other hand, it is violated because I will die if I do not eat, which really doesn’t leave me much of a rational, sane choice in the end because we want to live.
Dr. Jerry Nelson once said, “Your choices are free because you make them (no one coerced you) AND your choices are determined because they are driven by your desires.”
Perhaps, the above is what we mean by free will generally. We have a freedom of choice. We can choose right or wrong, eating or not eating, what channel to watch, and so on. We cannot choose what other people do to us, what happens to us if we get shot, or fall off a cliff or some other uncontrollable situation as such.
Let’s assume we are to go by these common definitions, and carry on…
Bible Translations: Psalm 139:16
Literal Translation of the Holy Bible (LITV): “Your eyes saw my embryo; and in Your book all my members were written the days they were formed, and not one was yet among them.”
Young’s Literal Translation (YLT): “Mine unformed substance Thine eyes saw, And on Thy book all of them are written, The days they were formed — And not one among them.”
King James Version (KJV): “Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.”
New International Version (NIV): “…All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
As you can see, there are subtle differences in each translation given. With this information, we must be careful to what we read, and not always ‘jump to conclusions’ when something sounds strange. Not always can we just explain it away though.
Free Will or Predestination… Yes
If we have the free will to choose God or not, then we can and will go to Hell if we do not choose Him (like death if we do not eat food).
If we do not have the free will to choose whether or not we want God, then we are quite possibly a bunch of marionettes running around on this green earth for Gods sole entertainment. This could not be.
Why would Love, as one example, be a factor then, in a “staged play” of Gods? One cannot be ‘forced’ to love. We cannot love others or God. God could not love us.
Dr. Ravi Zacharias once said, “If you are determined in going in a certain direction; if you are bent upon silencing the voice of God in your life, you know what God will do? He’ll step aside and second your motion. If that’s what you really want. Because He cannot violate your Will and still call you free… If I am a free being, He cannot overrule my freedom in the most ultimate sense, and still call me free. He can lure, He can rule, He can plead, He can beg, He can even put the pressure on, but He cannot violate your will and still call you free.” (emphasis mine)
I suppose there is no real set answer to all of this, and we could discuss in circles all day long. I do believe there are factors in both that go to play, and I could go on for another couple pages about it, but for now, I won’t. We cannot answer away every verse in the Bible, nor explain why God does some of the things He does. Some things happen that God has put a sort of ‘forced play’ on, because they need to happen.
God Knows All
God knows all, see’s the future, all that has been and will be.
God Knows All + God Has All Power
With that sort of knowledge put along side the all powerful aspect,
God Knows All + God Has All Power + Love
And add that to the fact that He is a loving God,
God Knows All + God Has All Power + Love + Justice
And the fact that He is a Just God,
God Knows All + God Has All Power + Love + Justice + …
Added to all the other factors of God that play into this, who are we to ask God ‘why’ when certain things happen really?
Like a parent who teaches the child to make the right decisions, gives their child a choice and an opportunity to learn from their mistakes, intervenes where necessary but will not always “make the choice for you” like when you were a child… perhaps so is God like to a degree.
There is a story in the Bible about a man that lost everything. Nothing that happened to him was of his own doing. Most of his family died, most of his possessions were lost, and friends abandoned him. He was helpless. He asked God ‘why’ so many times, and he felt betrayed by God because he didn’t seem to have much choice in the matter. Finally, God responded…with a staggering 64+ questions back to this man, showing him that God is God, and man is but mere man. “Then Job answered the LORD and said, I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.” Job 49:1-4 (NASB, emphasis mine)