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01 November 2005

Am I free to choose my future?

Am I free to choose my future?

by Michael Ramsden

Do we exercise choice, or has everything already been decided? The issue of freewill and predestination has raised its head in every generation of Christians. The mental gymnastics leave many feeling confused or disappointed.

Did you choose to read this article, or has God already determined that you will ... or won't? Maybe if you get halfway through, put down the article, and then pick it up again, you might think that you have double-bluffed God. We know that nothing takes Him by surprise, but we also often reject the idea of fatalism.

The real problem is that the question is not nearly difficult enough. To truly appreciate the magnitude of what we are discussing, we must first deal with something greater: Imagine if I were able to stop time right now. What would I be thinking? What would I be feeling? The answer is nothing.

In the absence of time, we cannot think or feel or do. Everything is frozen. People sometimes complain that I speak too quickly. It is a fair criticism, because in the absence of sufficient time we cannot think things through. In the absence of time altogether, however, we cannot even begin to think.

This is because we live and have our existence in a space-time continuum. Space and time are related. We ‘belong to eternity stranded in time,’ observes Michael Card in his song Joy in the Journey. Yet time is not co-eternal with God, which is why the New Testament speaks of God before time began (2 Timothy 1.8-9; Titus 1.2). God was a thinking, feeling, doing Being before He created. Can you imagine a being who is able to think in the absence of time? Of course not, but we worship a God who does this.

Just think about that for a second. We feel that somehow a clock must start ticking to enable God to think and to act. Yet God existed in a loving relationship before time began, and was able to act and plan in the absence of time.

Can you see the enormity of the problem? We can't even think what it is like to think in the absence of time, let a lone do it.

It's enough to make us feel overwhelmed. And so it should. Whenever we think about the person of God, we should rightly feel that we have come across something truly awesome. And maybe this is part of the problem with the way this issue has been addressed. We are not faced with a logical contradiction. Rather, we must confront the reality of what it means for God to exist - to be God.

We are captive both to an understanding of eternity concerned with the passage of time and a too­ small view of who God actually is.

Think about God's words to Moses: ‘I Am Who I Am’ (Exodus 3.14). The description only really makes sense when said by someone outside of time. However, God is not fickle. In this namesake by which God proclaims that He is to be remembered, He reveals Himself as the unchanging, faithful and living God, both now and forever. It is because of Him, the great I Am, that time even exists.

By now, some will have given up on this article. Don't lose heart; it was ordained to be so! Yet in fact, because we are only able to think in time, God confronts us with choices: 'Choose this day whom you will serve' (Joshua 24.15), 'choose life' (Deuteronomy 30.19) and so on. It is the only way we can understand our lives, analyse the past and plan for the future. However, God, outside of time, sees al1 of history stretched out before Him.

The problem comes, therefore, when we confine God within time. Part of me can't help but think that this is why so many people get lost on this issue. The God we have come to worship becomes too small when trapped in time.

Understanding how wonderful God is can also help us with the issue of eternal life. Many find the idea of eternity frightening: What will we do for all that time? After we singO for a Thousand Tonguesa few hundred million times, what then? Once again, a faulty dilemma arises because we are captive both to an understanding of eternity concerned with the passage of time and a too-small view of who God actually is.

People then ask if God knew the world would fall after He created it. If He truly knows all things, then why did He create knowing we would experience misery and pain in a fal1en world? But we know that God did not create the world and then think of a plan to rescue it. In Revelation 13.8 we are told that the lamb was slain before the foundations of the world were laid. What this means is that even before God created, He knew the price it would cost to redeem His creation and save us. And He didn't count that cost too great.

Those who assert that everything comes down to choice and that the future is full of possibilities, believe that they have a basis for hope, but acknowledge that the future is unknown. Of course, the French existentialist writers were famous for this.

At a recent conference I asked all who had read an existentialist to raise their hands. A surprising number did. I then asked them to keep their hands in the air if they had ever read a happy one. Two things happened: everyone put his or her hand down, and everyone laughed. There is no such thing as a happy existentialist, because when their hoped-for future is realised, it must always disappoint. Indeed, confronted with this void, some (like Albert Camus inThe Myth of Sisyphus) concluded that suicide was the ‘one truly serious philosophical problem’. Hope becomes wishful thinking when it has no secure future.

On the other hand, fatalists believe that nothing is or can be done; all has been determined. They have a future, but no hope.

Only God is big enough to be able to say, ‘I know the plans I have for you … plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’ (Jeremiah 29.11). There is no hope without a secure future; the future is frightening in the absence of hope. Only God is big enough to bring the two together.

Zacharias TrustMichael Ramsden

  • For more information on The Zacharias Trust, and to book speakers, visit www.zactrust.org
  • Michael Ramsden is European Director of Zacharias Trust
  • Image Credit: Krzysztof Poltorak (www.fotocommunity.com/photographer/krzysztof-poltorak/1448272)

Part of the Big Question series first published in idea magazine between May 2004 & July 2007