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This is the forum to discuss the spectrum of views within Christianity on God's foreknowledge and election such as Calvinism, Arminianism, Molinism, Open Theism, Process Theism, Restrictivism, and Inclusivism, Christian Universalism and what these all are about anyway. Who is saved and when is/was their salvation certain? How does God exercise His sovereignty and how powerful is He? Is God timeless and immutable? Does a triune God help better understand God's love for mankind?

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Atheists are welcome to discuss and debate these issues in the Apologetics 301 or General Theistics 101 forum without such restrictions. Theists who wish to discuss these issues outside the parameters of orthodox Christian doctrine are invited to Unorthodox Theology 201.

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Is everything part of God's plan?

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  • Is everything part of God's plan?

    An atheist friend of mine recently argued, "If God gave man free will, how can everything be part of God's plan? If everything is part of God's plan, how can we have free will?" (I think I've also heard atheists argue against the thesis on the grounds that it would imply that God planned--and thus indended/caused--evil and sin. E.g., asking why is it God's plan for some children's lives that they die of starvation.)

    Now I understand that this is closely connected to debates about the relationship between free will and predestination, with some denying libertarian free will, or some proposing 'middle knowledge', or some denying God's total foreknowledge/predestination (for example). My intention is not necessarily to start a debate among such theories about the relationship between the two, nor to focus on the free-will side of that debate, but to raise the specific question of whether everything is part of God's plan (in the sense the atheist intended--that everything including every human choice/action was already part of God's predetermined plan from the beginning). And how would you answer my friend? I'm not sure it would be effective to explain different theories of Calvinism, Molinism, Open Theism, etc. I think his take-away would just be that Christians can't even agree among themselves, and take that as further evidence that Christianity is fictional.

    As far as I know, the Bible doesn't say that everything is part of God's predetermined plan. If the saying is extrabiblical, where did it come from? Or is it soundly inferred from the Bible, from passages on predestination or from verses like:

    Acts 2:23 "...this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death."

    or

    Gen 50:20 "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive."


    Personally (so you have an idea of where I'm coming from), my first response would be to tell my friend that the Bible doesn't say everything is part of God's plan. I lean toward libertarian free will, and it seems these verses can mean that whatever men freely choose, God incorporates it into his plan. (Though I don't think this necessarily implies open theism.) I guess I could also say that the Bible also doesn't say that man has libertarian free will.

    Romans 8:28 "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."


    A secondary question for discussion: If every human choice was part of God's plan, then does that mean that God intended each human to commit every act of sin he commits? Or does "God's plan" have multiple meanings (e.g., such that X can be planned in some sense, but not intended or caused by God)?

  • #2
    Theodicy is a difficult question no matter how you slice it; we simply are not God and do not think like God. I do find it helpful to speak of different senses of God's intent or God's will, so that God commands some things of men which nevertheless do not come to pass, though He could make them so. One could give a much longer list of verses beyond the three you quoted which attribute everything to God in some sense. As for Libertarian Free Will (LFW), I simply don't see the need to appeal to that particular extra-Biblical construct to interpret what the Bible does say.

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    • #3
      molinist here.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Joel View Post
        Acts 2:23 "...this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death."
        I think this verse actually tells us what you are asking for:

        1. God has a plan
        2. God has foreknowledge

        Without 'free-will' in the LFW, foreknowledge would not be a necessary part of the equation. But God uses both.

        So the idea of God's plan not that everything that happens is God's desire - but that God knows our free choices, and still brings about what He has promised.

        In otherwords, God does not desire that evil should occur (God has no sin in Him), but God is able to use evil for good (and He does). God uses evil (not His desire, but our free choice) as a part of His plan.

        Some Biblical examples of this are:

        1. Joseph being betrayed, falsely accused and imprisoned to eventually rule over Egypt as Pharoah's RHM - providing for the needs of many, including Israel.
        2. Jesus being betrayed by the Jews and executed - as the propitiation of our sins.
        3. The Jews rejecting Jesus, and God using their rejection to bring salvation to the Gentiles.
        4. The stoning of Stephen, and the believers scattering from Jerasalem to the surrounding areas (and bringing the gospel with them).

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by phat8594 View Post
          I think this verse actually tells us what you are asking for:

          1. God has a plan
          2. God has foreknowledge

          Without 'free-will' in the LFW, foreknowledge would not be a necessary part of the equation. But God uses both.
          Or... it's a standard Hebraic parallelism in which two synonyms are used together for rhetorical purposes, not with the intent of distinguishing between them but with the intent of affirming their similarity. The Bible is full of those. In that case, attempts to distinguish between "God's plan" and "God's foreknowledge" actually subvert the text.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by RBerman View Post
            Theodicy is a difficult question no matter how you slice it; we simply are not God and do not think like God. I do find it helpful to speak of different senses of God's intent or God's will, so that God commands some things of men which nevertheless do not come to pass, though He could make them so. One could give a much longer list of verses beyond the three you quoted which attribute everything to God in some sense. As for Libertarian Free Will (LFW), I simply don't see the need to appeal to that particular extra-Biblical construct to interpret what the Bible does say.
            So my atheist friend is saying, Hah contradiction! Your response to him is what? Why is it not a contradiction in Christianity? Because there's no need to assume LFW? But you would affirm that everything is in God's pre-determined plan, and would not condone saying that that's not in the Bible?

            Originally posted by Sparko View Post
            molinist here.
            So your answer to my friend's apparent contradiction would be something like this?: that God planned everything by determining all the situations in which you will act, knowing your choices in all possible situations.

            Originally posted by phat8594 View Post
            I think this verse actually tells us what you are asking for:

            1. God has a plan
            2. God has foreknowledge

            Without 'free-will' in the LFW, foreknowledge would not be a necessary part of the equation. But God uses both.

            So the idea of God's plan not that everything that happens is God's desire - but that God knows our free choices, and still brings about what He has promised.

            In otherwords, God does not desire that evil should occur (God has no sin in Him), but God is able to use evil for good (and He does). God uses evil (not His desire, but our free choice) as a part of His plan.

            Some Biblical examples of this are:

            1. Joseph being betrayed, falsely accused and imprisoned to eventually rule over Egypt as Pharoah's RHM - providing for the needs of many, including Israel.
            2. Jesus being betrayed by the Jews and executed - as the propitiation of our sins.
            3. The Jews rejecting Jesus, and God using their rejection to bring salvation to the Gentiles.
            4. The stoning of Stephen, and the believers scattering from Jerasalem to the surrounding areas (and bringing the gospel with them).
            So none of that implies that everything is part of God's predetermined plan. Would you resolve the apparent contradiction by saying that not everything is?


            Incidentally, regarding Acts 2:23, perhaps "delivered over" means delivered over into "your" hands, which may be a different statement from: you then put Him to death? Thus (looking at solely this one verse) it could be read to say that the predetermined plan was to deliver Him over to whatever they would happen to choose to do to Him, and then they happened to choose to kill Him.

            But I suppose RBerman would say that this is a Hebraic parallelism within a parallelism, and that the two clauses both refer to the choice to kill Him?

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Joel View Post
              So my atheist friend is saying, Hah contradiction! Your response to him is what? Why is it not a contradiction in Christianity? Because there's no need to assume LFW? But you would affirm that everything is in God's pre-determined plan, and would not condone saying that that's not in the Bible?
              I would ask your atheist friend to show me the contradiction. We'd have to start by defining "free will" in a way that didn't beg the question by assuming that free will is necessarily LFW.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by RBerman View Post
                I would ask your atheist friend to show me the contradiction. We'd have to start by defining "free will" in a way that didn't beg the question by assuming that free will is necessarily LFW.
                We can interpret my friend's comment based on the fact that he means it in a way he thinks is contradictory. Thus he means "God's plan" and "free will" in such a way that:

                - God plans what you do implies that you don't make a free will choice.
                and
                - You making a free will choice implies that God didn't plan it.

                Thus it seems clear to me that he means libertarian will, and that God planning is meant in the sense of being logically prior to the choice and thus determines the choice thus eliminates the possibility of your choosing otherwise.

                To refute the argument it seems you would need to do one of the following:
                1) Deny that humans have LFW.
                2) Deny that God plans everything logically prior to its actuality
                3) Deny that logically-prior planning implies determination
                4) Deny that determination eliminates the possibility of the thing's occurring otherwise.


                How would you argue that the Bible teaches that God's predetermined plan includes everything?


                (I would be interested in asking you more about your understanding of human will and its relation to moral culpability, but I don't think this is the thread for that. Is there already a thread we could talk about that, or would we need to start a new thread?)

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Joel View Post
                  We can interpret my friend's comment based on the fact that he means it in a way he thinks is contradictory. Thus he means "God's plan" and "free will" in such a way that:

                  - God plans what you do implies that you don't make a free will choice.
                  and
                  - You making a free will choice implies that God didn't plan it.

                  Thus it seems clear to me that he means libertarian will, and that God planning is meant in the sense of being logically prior to the choice and thus determines the choice thus eliminates the possibility of your choosing otherwise.

                  To refute the argument it seems you would need to do one of the following:
                  1) Deny that humans have LFW.
                  2) Deny that God plans everything logically prior to its actuality
                  3) Deny that logically-prior planning implies determination
                  4) Deny that determination eliminates the possibility of the thing's occurring otherwise.

                  How would you argue that the Bible teaches that God's predetermined plan includes everything? (I would be interested in asking you more about your understanding of human will and its relation to moral culpability, but I don't think this is the thread for that. Is there already a thread we could talk about that, or would we need to start a new thread?)
                  LFW seems like the easiest one of your four assumptions to question. There used to be about 10,000 threads around here discussing whether LFW exists. Suffice to say that the Bible never grounds human culpability in libertarian free will. It simply commands us to obey. "Choose whom you will serve" and the like. No concept of LFW is needed to say or hear such things.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Joel, I think that your friend is imposing constraints on the definitions of both "free will" and "plan" that, to my mind, do not exist. First, I see no conflict between free will and God's foreknowledge. Just because God knows what my choice will be does not mean that it wasn't my choice. For instance, if my niece (5 years old) has been playing out in the hot sun and not eaten lunch yet, and I offer her ice cream, I know that she'll eat the ice cream. She likes ice cream, and I know that. But did I force her to like ice cream, or did I force her to eat the ice cream? No. God's knowledge and intellect far exceed ours, so it doesn't surprise me that he knows what we'll choose to do.

                    Furthermore, free will is something that God clearly intended for his creation. Because he intentionally introduced free will into his creation, He had to know that some people would make decisions that he does not endorse. This reminds me of a rather eloquent argument by C.S. Lewis (in either The Problem of Pain or Mere Christianity, I can't remember which one) concerning free will and pain. Lewis basically says that God has created a universe which is inhabited by multiple sentient beings. For those beings to be able to communicate there must be some type of environment (i.e. matter, physical space, etc.) with set laws for the manipulation of the environment. If the way the environment responds to stimuli is not consistent (in other words, there are no laws of physics), then the two beings may well find it impossible to communicate. Lewis uses this basis, then, to explain why pain exists in our world (basically, it is a logical consequence of the environment God has created). I mention all this to highlight the idea that God has created a universe in which free will is an integral part of his creation and that the way the universe is constructed allows for people to make decisions that God may well disagree with. In that sense, the consequences that follow may be easily considered to be Ďpart of Godís planí.

                    Your friendís conception of Godís plan necessarily imposes (false) limitations on God. Your friend seems to assume that God has a plan details every decision made by every person that has ever existed. I may be wrong, as this is an area of interest to me that I need to study further. However, I donít think that there is any requirement for every human action to be part of Godís plan. I think that Godís plan may well cover important points and supporting details, but leave the rest up to us. I donít know this, but I think itís possible.

                    Quite frankly, God could easily have a plan that incorporates the consequences of free will to accomplish what he wants. It is not necessary for God to approve of every consequence of free will to make it part of his plan. I think your friend needs to make a distinction between what God allows to happen, and what He wills to happen.
                    "If you believe, take the first step, it leads to Jesus Christ. If you don't believe, take the first step all the same, for you are bidden to take it. No one wants to know about your faith or unbelief, your orders are to perform the act of obedience on the spot. Then you will find yourself in the situation where faith becomes possible and where faith exists in the true sense of the word." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Joel View Post
                      As far as I know, the Bible doesn't say that everything is part of God's predetermined plan. If the saying is extrabiblical, where did it come from? Or is it soundly inferred from the Bible, from passages on predestination or from verses like [Acts 2:23 and Genesis 50:20.] . . .
                      Creation, Fall & Redemption

                      I personally do not believe evil was ever originally a part of God's plan. God's original purpose for creation was for his creatures to live in ongoing communion with him, to share in his goodness and attributes. We were to reflect his character. This is his will even today. Creation is, first and foremost, an act of goodness. It may be considered something God did out of the overflow of his love. Of course God was never lonely or in the desperate need of a companion. The Father and the Son shared in each other's glory prior to the existence of the world (John 17:5).

                      Was it God's will that Adam and Eve should break their relationship with the Creator?1 What are we to say of our first parents' transgression if God foreordained they should fall from grace and their posterity2 inherit the tragic legacy of sin and death? We must go all the way back to the beginning. If God withheld the grace necessary for Adam and Eve to obey God's commandment not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the only fair inference that may be drawn is that their apostasy was God's original intent for creation. The Fall of humankind, then, must be considered a means to an end, for God truly willed and desired that Adam and Eve transgress.3 If this is true, God never wanted humans to continue on in unbroken communion with their Creator. These are some of the implications of Reformed-Calvinist thought.

                      One of the major differences between Arminianism and Calvinism is that the former maintains the primacy of creation, the latter the primacy of redemption. Calvinists believe it was God's original purpose for some persons to be damned for all eternity. Conversely, Arminians do not believe God ever wanted the human race to depart from him, though God did mysteriously foreknow the Fall of Adam and Eve and planned for the redemption of the human race even prior to the establishment of the world (cf. 1 Peter 1:17-21). In Arminianism, God's rejection of human beings is contingent upon the human response to divine grace. Logically, human rejection of Christ precedes God's rejection of his creatures. This is not so in Calvinism.


                      Notes

                      1 I am aware that Calvinists maintain a rigid distinction between God's preceptive will and decretive will. The latter is always "efficacious". In Calvinist thought, is impossible that any should ever perform any action or think any thought outside of God's decretive will. There is no room for libertarian freedom.

                      2 The human race (i.e., us).

                      3 Calvinists maintain that it was not God's preceptive will to transgress the command to refrain from eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but his decretive will. This is quite different than the Arminian notion of God's permissive will whereby God allows evils to occur in his good creation. However, a divine permissive will is not sustainable in Calvinist thought. As long as an all-encompassing divine decree is maintained, there is no room for the concept of divine permission. (Some have resorted to a notion referred to as "efficacious permission", but such an idea is nonsensical at best.)
                      Last edited by The Remonstrant; 04-06-2014, 09:23 PM.
                      For Neo-Remonstration (Arminian/Remonstrant ruminations): <https://theremonstrant.blogspot.com>

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by The Remonstrant View Post
                        I personally do not believe evil was ever originally a part of God's plan....
                        So your answer is that not everything was part of God's predetermined plan?



                        Doing more thinking about Molinism, it seems to me that it too says not everything was part of God's predetermined plan, because it says that the content of Middle Knowledge is not determined by God (but is determined by (contingent upon) the free choice of creatures). However Molinism is still able to conclude that everything in our space-time continuum is part of God's plan.

                        Incidentally, as I think through things more, I suspect I am kind of molinist.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Joel View Post
                          So your answer is that not everything was part of God's predetermined plan?
                          Of course not. Exhaustive predetermination is the language of Calvinism.
                          For Neo-Remonstration (Arminian/Remonstrant ruminations): <https://theremonstrant.blogspot.com>

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by The Remonstrant View Post
                            Of course not. Exhaustive predetermination is the language of Calvinism.
                            "If you believe, take the first step, it leads to Jesus Christ. If you don't believe, take the first step all the same, for you are bidden to take it. No one wants to know about your faith or unbelief, your orders are to perform the act of obedience on the spot. Then you will find yourself in the situation where faith becomes possible and where faith exists in the true sense of the word." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Joel View Post
                              Doing more thinking about Molinism, it seems to me that it too says not everything was part of God's predetermined plan, because it says that the content of Middle Knowledge is not determined by God (but is determined by (contingent upon) the free choice of creatures). However Molinism is still able to conclude that everything in our space-time continuum is part of God's plan.
                              True, but Molinism still doesn't absolve God of ultimate responsibility, if one was trying to accomplish such. That is, a man going to Hell would still be able to say, "Why, God, did you not substantiate the possible, feasible world in which I freely chose to become a Christian, rather than the one in which I did not?"

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