Monday, June 03, 2002

Feeling a bit apologetic

I was digging into Peter Kreeft’s Handbook for Christian Apologetics over the weekend, and came up against an objection to Christian salvation that has troubled a lot of people, believer and non-believer alike, myself included (and included as both a believer and non-believer). Before returning to the Virtues, I want to take a look at this objection: the question of free will and determinism, or predestination. (Note to philosophers: please don’t email me with all the subtle shades of distinction between predestination and determinism. The terms are used here very loosely.)

The problem is this: if God is all-knowing, then He knows before a person makes any choices what those choices will be. Therefore, that person cannot really have free will, and therefore cannot really sin, since sin requires volition, or a free choice to commit it or not.

Many theologians respond first by taking God “out of time,” that is, by stating that since for God there is no such thing as time (in other words, since he exists outside the calendar) there is neither before nor after for God, only now. Therefore, all choices are made simultaneously, in some sense. This is a very good answer, but difficult to get one’s mind around, and perhaps a little Jesuitical for some.

Essentially, the predestination argument supposes that one’s life is like a book, with God the author, and each person a character in His novel. None of us has any more choice (in reality) about what happens next than Hamlet. No matter how much agonizing he does, he always seems to wind up in the throne room with corpses all around.

I have loved to read since I was very young. “Some people say life’s the thing, but I prefer reading!” My favorite time of year was always the spring, because that was when my elementary school would host the annual book fair. And for some strange reason, my parents barely limited my budget at the book fair. Whereas in a regular bookstore I was spending my own limited funds, the Jenkins School Book Fair was pretty wide open.

One reason to enjoy the fair: there were sure to be 3 or 4 new “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” novels available. CYOA books were great. In each story, you started out at a fixed point, but within a few pages, you had to decide, would you go left in the tunnel, in which case, turn to page 23, or right, in which case turn to page 19. At each new section, you had to make a new choice, and hence arrive at a different point in the story. In 120 pages, as a result, you could have 5 or 6 substantially different adventures.

And so, even in a finite world managed by finite people it is possible for an author to write a book whose outcome is open to question. The mistake of likening life to a book is to suppose that we are merely characters in the book. We are also its readers.

The author of a CYOA book knows when it is published all the possible outcomes, and every possible path to get to them. He must, in order to be sure that the story hangs together. He can pick up a copy any time he likes, and enter the story at any point he likes, or stand over our shoulder, and watch our choices, or even nudge us to make different ones. But we the reader, though we take on in the story the persona of one of the characters, and function within the choices the author offers, nevertheless have the ability to choose our own fate, “our own adventure.”

How much more possible, then, for the Infinite to stand outside of time, and see each of us making choices on the pages He offers us, nudging, suggesting, cajoling—even begging—to make good choices.

There are flaws in this metaphor, surely. But there will be flaws always when we finitely approach the Infinite. I merely offer this by way of suggesting that those who choose “book” as their means of objecting need to consider all kinds of books before moving on.


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