Your Bible has mystery in it, even if you’d rather it didn’t.
Our kids think of us as walking contradictions. Little Jimmy can’t figure out how you can discipline him, but claim to love him. If your discipline was true, then your love wasn’t. And if your love was true, then your discipline was staged. Both can’t be true at once. It will be a while before he understands. In the meantime, you’ll look to him like you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth.
It doesn’t take long before Romans introduces us to a similar philosophical conundrum —predestination versus free will. This is a debate that has raged since the days of Aristotle.
Christians tend to handle it like a quarter, and choose a side. Some of them pick “heads.” They have a hundred verses demonstrating God’s headship, His control over all things from salvation to the flow of human history down to the count of hairs on every head. They are right. But then they begin treating the coin as though it were all a “head,” and God is so controlling that there are no authentic decisions made, no genuine interactions, only a pre-scripted, pointless fatalism. This is a distortion of the biblical data.
Other Christians choose the “tails” side of the coin, where the eagle means free will. They too have a hundred verses that show people making decisions, and God interacting with them, calling them to exercise various moral and spiritual responsibilities. They are correct. But then they treat the coin as if it were all a tail, with human beings controlling everything, including their own salvation. God stands by, careful not to offend anyone’s sense of sovereignty, and hopes to at least make the most of our messes. He Himself might not even know what the future holds. That is also a distortion of the biblical data.
Still, we’d like to pry that edge apart and find out specifically where heads and tails interface. This is where theologies like Middle Knowledge, or, Molinism (which I particularly like) try to offer solutions.
Regardless, some of us feel we must solve the issue. Otherwise we’ll be left with mystery in our Bibles, which sounds suspiciously like contradiction. And contradiction is the stuff of conflicting human opinions, not divinely inspired word.
We want a resolution.
But neither Paul nor any writer of scripture is interested in satisfying our philosophical quandaries. Rather than opting for divine sovereignty or free will—heads or tails—the Bible presents both in a pattern of heads-tails-heads-tails. This isn’t some isolated logic error that shows up due to a biblical writer’s errant views. Without apology, it is a deliberate pattern emerging throughout Scripture (such as Romans 9), woven into the very fabric of the Bible.
No embarrassment there.
(Continued in the next post)