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Shedding Light on Predestination

By August 24, 2007One Comment

Right now I am reading a book called “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God” by J.I. Packer. So far it’s a great read and I recommend it. Packer begins the book by explaining the tension between God’s sovereignty and our personal responsibility. These two seemingly irreconcilable concepts compose what Packer labels as an antinomy: “A contradiction between conclusions that seem equally logical, reasonable or necessary.” In other words, both predestination and free will compose the doctrines to which we Christians ascribe, but they seem to blatantly contradict one another.

I don’t know about you, but the whole subject of predestination and free will has always baffledd me. Most of the time I can just accept that they are both important and leave it at that, but if I begin to think too hard about it, my brain starts to hurt. How can they both exist? And more importantly, how do we explain this concept to unbelievers? When it comes to apologetics, it’s not enough to say, “Well, you just have to trust God.” We need a way to describe this concept so that we can have credibility, rather than sounding like a bunch of wackos who blindly believe in conclusions that the rest of the world knows is insane.

Luckily, Packer provides us with just such an explanation. Apparently the tension between predestination and free will is not the only antinomy in the universe. There is another antinomy that is so common we take it for granted and use it every day, but scientists are still confounded by it. What is it? –> Light! As Packer describes:

“There is cogent evidence to show that light consists of waves, and equally cogent evidence to show that it consists of particles. It is not apparent how light can be both waves and particles, but the evidence is there, and so neither view can be ruled out in favor of the other. Neither, however, can be reduced to the other or explained in terms of the other; the two seemingly incompatible positions must be held together, and both must be treated as true.” (p. 19)

I always get a little suspicious when theologians begin speaking authoritatively about science, so I checked up on this explanation with a friend of mine who has studied science somewhat extensively. He said that Packer is exactly right. Scientists have no idea why light seems to manifest itself in two different ways, but it does. Because of this, scientists can measure light in two different ways–they can measure it by waves or by particles–but neither property can be coincided with or reduced to the other. They are completely different and distinct.

And this is just like predestination and free will! Depending on what part of God’s character you are discussing, you will either talk about God’s sovereignty or our personal responsibility. However, neither one is more determinative than the other, and neither can be reduced to the other. They are both equally present in Scripture, and equally important parts of God’s will.

All of this information has great implication for us as defenders of the faith. If anyone ever accuses you of being illogical by holding to both God’s sovereignty and human free will, you can immediately point to the science of light, since it presents us with an antinomy that the world more readily accepts. It shows us that two seemingly contradictory attributes can still be held in tension with one another to produce something that may be beyond our comprehension, but is still very real. It’s hard to understand how waves and particles work together to compose the essence of light, but the fact that I can see colors and sunsets and smiles means that they work together perfectly and beautifully.

Concluding his explanation, Packer quotes Charles Spurgeon, who, when asked how he could reconcile predestination and free will, responded as follows: “I wouldn’t try. I never reconcile friends.” Yes, friends. Predestination and free will are not enemies to be reconciled–they are working together mysteriously yet masterfully. Perhaps one day scientists will understand the dynamics of light, and one day we will understand the dynamics of God’s soveriegnty as well, but in the mean time they both do a tremendous job of working together to illuminate the world.

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