Friday, December 2, 2011

Are All Who Believe in the End of Time Fatalists?

In commenting on whether or not there was any substantial difference as to how determinism or fatalism view a predetermined end, I said, "...if the end is predetermined, the circumstance is fatalistic--regardless of whether or not one envisions the steps that lead to it as determined or not." That concept is worth exploring a bit further, so let's give it a go.

If one believes that God not only knows the end from the beginning but can, Babe Ruth-like, point to a desired end to events and then "hit the ball" to that spot, we certainly have the makings of a fatalistic viewpoint. That would just about include all Bible believing Christians I would think. By that reasoning, if one takes seriously the biblical concept of the "End of Time," that one would have to be generalized as a fatalist. Are all who believe in the end of time thereby fatalists?

If God were merely speaking on the basis of prescience, that is foresight, when such things were prophesied maybe we could say no and leave it at that. In that case, he would only be telling us what unfolds in time rather than what he was causing to unfold: determination would be removed from the equation. That, however, clearly is not the flavor of at least some of what he says. For example:
“Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done. Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it." (Isaiah 46:9-11 NASB)
It appears from this passage that not only did God see what would happen, but he knew what he wanted to happen and made it so. Much of eschatology seems to me to be of this ilk. Despite this apparent difficulty, there are two factors which keep biblical Christianity from being truly fatalistic: (1) time and temporal sequence is of the created order not of the Creator's, and (2) there is nothing to say that God's determination and the indeterminacy of free agents can act on cause and effect without being co-opted by each other.

The first factor is hard for the human mind to grasp. We don't have the context to understand it--we're creatures of time and everything happens in our existence by temporal sequence. God, however, is outside of time: it's a characteristic of creation but not of the Creator. He is capable of reasoning, and seeing, and understanding in ways we are not, ways which are not limited or timebound. Just because he knows and sees all that for us is in time (past, present, or future), it doesn't follow that he must thereby have determined all that he knows and sees in time. 

If we project our experience upon God, and try to force him into the box we live in, we not only do not see him as he is, we also misinterpret, miss, or make inconsistent all that he says about himself and about stuff in his Word. We think that God has to do things ordered, as in temporal and/or logical sequence as do we, without a shred of evidence other than our own experience. The truth is we don't know how God thinks. Whether God reasons with us or we reason with him, we do so within human constraints--as for God in himself, who can know his mind?

In identifying the second factor, I am not referring to compatibilism. Compatibilism requires that the choices of free agents are made freely by those agents in a way that is foreordained (determined) by God. Those are really mutually exclusive concepts which cannot be contemporaneous anywhere but in the mind of Lewis Carroll. A better concept is concurrence, which posits that the free agent chooses and acts and God concurs (i.e preserves and allows). Of course, either construct envisions God as able to direct things toward a chosen end, so long as, generally, free agents remained free, which is the heart of the matter.

The point is that without freewill everything is most definitely fatalistic. With freewill and God not bound by time, not so much. Is it possible to have true freewill and a predetermined end? I think that is what the Bible describes. So yes, but in order for us to accept it we have to abandon our ability to mentally grasp the way it was reasoned out. Thankfully, we have adequate warrant from the scripture to do that very thing.