Examining the Problem of Evil in the world often brings up the argument of Free Will vs. Predestination – a favorite topic of Professor Barbara Sproul, the director of the Religion Program at Hunter College in New York City. I thought that, in this blog, I’d try to see if I can reconstruct what I recall of her lectures on this subject. Bear in mind this is just my own take on what I remember, and may not accurately reflect her statements.
The argument over Predestination versus Free Will can never be resolved, simply because both concepts are based on an egocentric (and therefore incomplete) understanding of time. Both ideas see time as linear – moving from the past, through the present, to the future. How can we not think of time in this way, especially since we perceive ourselves to be finite beings with a beginning and an end? Time, for humans, is continually dragging us towards our own deaths. Naturally, with this view of time, we are fixated on origins (do they determine later events?) and outcomes (are we responsible for them?).
But it seems unlikely that God would perceive time in such a linear way. A God that is eternal (with no beginning and no end) wouldn’t need to distinguish between the past, present and future. A God that is unchanged by the events of time (immutable) wouldn’t need to differentiate between origins and outcomes. Perhaps, instead of viewing the universe as a long, incrementing timeline, He might view it more like a Petri dish, where everything is happening at once, and there’s no distinction between past, present, and future. Without a “pre” (past) that is separate from its “destination” (future), the concept of “Predestination” becomes impractical and unnecessary.
If the notion of Predestination is the product of a false sense of separation, so is the idea of “Free Will.” We tend to think of Free Will as a freedom from something – generally, as the freedom from restrictions that keep us from doing what we want, when we want. But perceptions of personal desire are dependent on a self-centered outlook, requiring some separation between the “self” and everything else: the want comes from “me,” the restriction comes from “not me.” Our tendency is to place a higher value on the needs of the self, as if the “me” were somehow better or more important than the “not me.” Of course, when we think of the world theocentrically, and see everyone as the children of God, we can no longer value one life above another. At least theoretically, then, “Free Will” should not be a freedom “from,” but a freedom “for” – the freedom to forgo an absorption in the finite, temporal self, and to promote the infinite, eternal universe. With such a perspective, when a choice is to be made, there is no personal will to exercise. “Free Will” at that point becomes irrelevant – there is only one will, which is the will of God, and which we, as His children, follow without demur.