Friday, January 16, 2009

God's will and human freedom in Jeremiah 18

A historic and still current issue of debate in Christian theology is the relation of God's sovereignty to Humanity's free will. In Protestant understanding this is often worked out as the Calvinist verses Arminian debate. A passage which I think encapsulates well the general teaching of scripture on this point is Jeremiah 18:1-11

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: "Come go down to the potters house, and there I will let you hear my words." So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.Then The word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do this with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? Says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter's hand, so you are in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if
it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind
about the good that I had intended to do it. Now therefore say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.

So here we are presented with a picture of God as completely in control of what happens, in the sense that God's will WILL be done. But that God reserves the right to CHANGE GOD'S MIND if human behaviour changes. This affirms that human free will is not just an illusion of choice while God the puppet master does whatever God wants, but a real choice with real consequences, even consequences for what God ultimately wills. Both God and Humanity are presented as being free in regard to what will eventually happen in the future. (which might just take us out of Arminianism and into Open Theism... ooops :-))

P.S. Look up Calvinism, Arminianism and Open Theism on Wikipedia cos I dont have time to discuss them now, i'm in an internet cafe in Mangawhai!!


  1. This is such a complex issue. Logically, it just doesn't compute; so let's flag the logic.

    One Roman Catholic biologist philosopher that I have read states that if everything was pre-determined then we would have no need of a personal God, a prime mover would suffice. (Let's all become deists!) His argument goes that if everything were pre-determined, God would just make a deterministic universe and set the initial conditions - wind up the clock, let's say.

    Enter quantum physics. God has created a universe which inherently contains uncertainty. This both gives space for man to make decisions and for God's will to prevail. It truly is a mystery.

    Just an idea (poorly constructed, mind you!)

  2. Lets flag the logic and look at how the Bible reveals God. Surely our view of freeill/determinism cannot be based on quantum physics, this is a recent and barely understood discovery, isn't God fully revealed in Christ rather than quantum theory??

  3. In some sense, you've misunderstood what I was trying to say. Of course I agree that God is fully revealed in Christ; I just approached your post from a completely scientific perspective.

    It is not the "quantum physics" that is interesting, as such, but rather that science has now incorporated uncertainty into its collection of theories.

    Science and religious dogma, and culture for that matter, all seem to follow the same philosophy of the time. For example, Calvinism appeared and then Newtonian mechanics followed with a deterministic explanation for how the universe operates. This theory was quickly snapped up by the church and incorporated into the theology.

    The advent of post-modernism identified that context is important in art, ethical interpretation, and (when Einstein developed his theories of relativity) in science. The principles of scientific uncertainty espoused by quantum theory have also been unknowingly incorporated into the church.

    I think that it is cool that science is now acknowledging that the universe inherently contains an element of uncertainty. This does not mean that the creator is uncertain, it just means that we, mere mortals, will never fully understand "the mind of God". (This upset Einstein... a lot!)

    Don't worry, I won't talk about science in your blogs any more ;)

  4. No, please do talk about science, i like it.. it makes the blog seem more erudite :)
    But my question is: is the uncertainty/ possibility revealed in quantum also revealed in Christ?