The Free Will/Predestination problem has taxed the minds of many, and still does. Frequently a fruitless debate between Calvinism and Arminianism takes place. I believe the answer can be found with a little exercise in thinking through, with the usual caveat that our understanding of God is never perfect because His intelligence and knowledge are so far above our own.
Some key points that must be incorporated into any rational understanding of the supposed dichotomy here are as follows:
1 Men must be accepted as having Free Will, because God is just and cannot possibly punish men for something they have no choice about.
2 The Bible talks about Predestination, so in some sense Predestination must occur.
3 God has foreknowledge.
4 Men have a body and a spirit. The body is locked into time, but the spirit is eternal, unless destroyed in Hell . For the period that we live our spirit is effectively locked into Time because it is locked into our mortal body. When our body dies, the spirit is released.
5 What a man really is, is his spirit. It is the spirit that has Free Will. The body is only so much clothing around the spirit, with no Will, although its natural needs and desires may well prove a temptation for the spirit.
Most of the points above are not controversial, and those that are have at least been debated at times. The next points I wish to raise, however, are rarely considered. Where does a man’s spirit come from? How is it given? When is it made? There is something a little strange here. Considering the general acceptance of a person’s spirit being released back to God when we die, how is it that we never seem to ask how it gets into the body at birth?
From our simple human perspective there are only a limited number of possibilities here. The spirit, which we accept is God-given, may come into the body at conception, or at birth, or perhaps sometime in between, or even shortly after birth. And the spirit might be made at that time, or may have been made earlier. Finally, a particular spirit may come into a particular body by chance, through some sort of celestial lottery, or it may be placed specifically by God into a particular body.
For our purposes here, we need not consider the first point. We can just accept that the spirit enters around the time of conception or birth. Regarding the time when the spirit itself comes into existence, Scripture gives no clear indication. I take the view that it is pre-existing in eternity. This is at the very least a possibility, and fits with the thesis presented here. Regarding the issue of lottery or choice, I opt firmly for the latter, and given all that we know about God I’m sure many will readily accept this is likely the correct choice.
Some other issues need to be discussed before making a synthesis of these points. One is that God gave Dominion over the Earth to Adam and his descendants; this dominion is given in the very first chapter of Genesis. If we accept Free Will, which as pointed out at (1) above is scripturally necessary, God cannot know every detail of what will happen in advance. The idea that God knows everything and nothing happens outside of his Will is false. It should be obvious that a very great many things happen which are outside of his Will, so He is clearly not taking control. If He did, all those bad things we see would not happen, and God would not be fulfilling his decision or promise in Genesis to give Dominion over the Earth to Man. You can’t give a child the responsibility to walk to school on his own, and also put him on a lead and walk behind him with a big stick, hitting him whenever he departs from your constant and precise instructions. You give responsibility, and the power that goes with it, or you don’t. God gave us both.
In view of the above, it might be asked how anything called Predestination can happen. But consider people born in different places, at different times in history, into different classes or castes. We can see even as mere humans that much of what happens to people is effectively predestined. If we know people half-way through their lives, such that we also know their level of intelligence, their motivations, their particular skills and shortcomings, all in addition to the human and physical environment they live in, we can know with a fair level of accuracy what they will do next year. That does not mean knowing if they will have beans or egg on their toast next Wednesday; it means knowing the general direction of their life. We cannot predict everything, for as the Bible itself says, time and chance happen to all men. But the general progression is normally pretty clear.
Now try to see the same thing, but from God’s viewpoint. He understands far better than us any particular human environment. When He places a spirit in a baby, He already knows the inclinations of that spirit. He can see them far more clearly than we ever can, not only because He is God, but also because He looks upon the spirit He has created before it is clothed in a human body. There are no outward appearances to deceive him, even if that were possible. This is His foreknowledge. When he chooses where to place that spirit He knows not only the Human environment it will grow up in; He also knows the parents intimately; He also knows the precise DNA makeup of the new person, which includes whether it will be male or female. There’s a lot of predestination in all of that; yet the spirit, from the moment of its creation, has Free Will, and retains that Free Will throughout its life in a human body. It reacts to the situation it finds itself in according to its inclinations, be they loving or aggressive, rebellious or obedient.
Has your life been predestined? To a large extent it has. God chose where you would live, at what time in history, with which parents, and with what DNA. But within those limits you show your Free Will by the way you respond to the situation God has chosen for you. Free Will and a very significant degree of Predestination are not contradictory.