Thursday, 16 August 2007

Predestination and Human Choice

So many (both opponents and supporters of predestination) struggle to maintain both God's complete sovereignty and man's complete responsibility.

Part of the problem is that it is treated as a zero-sum game. If God's got 100% of the control, then man has nothing left.

J. K. S. Reid, who is by no means infallible (he is worryingly Barthian in many places), makes this devastatingly brilliant observation in his Introduction to his translation of Calvin's Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God. Read it frequently and carefully - it is dense and complicated, but brilliant.

Philosophically, when we deal with the relation of a finite magnitude to a greater but also finite magnitude, the independence of the one is conserved only at the expense of the other; when we deal with a really infinite magnitude and its relation to a finite magnitude, this is no longer the case. Theologically, God is not simply the magnification of man, and His qualities are not simply the qualities of man increased to the power of n. If this were true of Him, then predetermination would be merely determination on a greater, grander scale, and there would be even less hope of securing the independence of the finite magnitude which man is. But just because He is really infinite, the Predestination of which He is the author does not rob man of his independence and therefore of his responsibility.


Steve Jeffery said...



Is there any mileage is thinking of the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility by analogy with the relationship between primary and secondary causes?

Leihart (I think - in his magnificent The Baptised Body) points out that secondary causes (like instruments) do not work 'in spite of' primary causes (like the hand that wields them). Rather, they only work because of the primary causes.

Obvious, really.

Thus the 'real' contributions to the action of both primary and instrumental causes are retained, without violating the particular character of either.

Neil Jeffers said...

Excellent. My dissertation needn't have been 15000 words after all!

I think I'd want to tweak though. I haven't read Leithart but a further distinction may be necessary (Distinguo, I cry!).

The relationship between primary and secondary causes will also differ, depending on whether the primary cause is divine (as always in this sort of discussion) or human.

Divine agency has a completely different character to human agency.

Steve Jeffery said...

How about another analogy: the relationship between my ownership of my body and God's ownership of my body.