1. Whose Choice?
I am continuing my preparation for Sunday. I wrote in my last post of how we downplay the New Testament theme of the Wrath of God. In 1 Thessalonians 5:9 Paul writes: 'For God has destined us not for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ ...' This touches on another theme that is rarely discussed nowadays, although it used to be a major pre-occupation in previous generations, that of predestination and free-will. What does Paul mean when he writes that God has destined us?
For most Christians, it is axiomatic that we human beings have free-will. Part of the reason we are so committed to the idea of free-will is simple human pride. We hate the idea that we are not masters of our own destiny and that our decisions are not our own. Part of it, though, is that it fits our sincerely held view of how the Gospel works. God offers his grace freely and we freely decide whether to accept it or not.
Personally, I have never bought the idea of free-will. It seems to me to be patently obvious that none of us have free-will in any meaningful sense. This doesn't mean that we can't make choices, but that our choices are never really free. We are conditioned by all sorts of things: our history, our culture, our upbringing, our experiences, our physical and emotional make-up - in fact, the list of things that influence and affect our choices is a long one. For the Christian not only are there historical, social, cultural, personal, and financial limitations on human freedom and choice, there are spiritual ones as well. The Bible tells us that we are trapped in sin, held captive by the world, the flesh and the Devil.
An old joke about the Judge who said that every Englishman is free to have tea at the Ritz makes the point. I may be free to buy tea at the Ritz, but if I am poor and homeless I do not have the ability to take advantage of that freedom.
All this raises interesting questions about how we become Christians. If God leaves it to us to choose whether or not to accept the Gospel, then isn't that being a bit random? Won't some of us be in a better position to make that choice than others? Calvin uses the example of an apple tossed into a crowd of young boys. Won't the tallest and fittest have a better chance of catching it than all the rest?
Is this how the Gospel comes to us: as an apple tossed randomly into a crowd?