Who makes the choice?

There are many doctrinal divisions among Christians.  For example, some believe that human beings repent and believe because God causes them to do so by choosing them to be saved while some believe that people believe and are saved because they choose to do so.  What does the Bible say about this?

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.
Deuteronomy 30:19

Whether we are saved or lost depends on our choice.

He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
Ephesians 1:4

Whether we are saved or lost depends on whether we are among those God chose before the foundation of the world.

How can we reconcile these apparently contradictory statements?

Here is one way.

Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Romans 8:29,30

God knows who will choose to receive the salvation he offers and on this basis he predestines them to salvation.

Here is another way.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
John 6:44

God draws those whom he has chosen to himself and gives them the power to choose him.

Both sides can find support for their views in the Bible.  Does this mean that the Bible contradicts itself and can’t be trusted as a guide to the truth?

We can find a possible answer to this by looking at a subject that at first may seem completely unrelated: the nature of light.  Here is what Wikipedia says about this subject.

Wave-particle duality is perhaps one of the most confusing concepts in physics, because it is so unlike anything we see in the ordinary world.

Physicists who studied light in the 1700s and 1800s were having a big argument about whether light was made of particles shooting around like tiny bullets, or waves washing around like water waves. At times, light seems to do both. At times, light seems to go only in a straight line, as if it were made of particles. But other experiments show that light has a frequency and wavelength, just like a sound wave or water wave. Until the 20th century, most physicists thought that light was either one or the other, and that the scientists on the other side of the argument were simply wrong.

In 1909, a scientist named Geoffrey Taylor decided that he was going to settle this argument once and for all. He borrowed an experiment invented earlier by Thomas Young, where light was shone through two small holes right next to each other. When bright light was shone through these two small holes, it created an interference pattern that seemed to show that light was actually a wave.

Taylor’s idea was to photograph the movie coming out of the holes with a special movie that was unusually sensitive to light. When bright light was shined through the holes, the movie showed an interference pattern, just like Young showed earlier. Taylor then turned down the light to a very dim level. When the light was dim enough, Taylor’s photographs showed tiny pinpoints of light scattering out of the holes. This seemed to show that light was actually a particle. If Taylor allowed the dim light to shine through the holes for long enough, the dots eventually filled up the movie to make an interference pattern again. This demonstrated that light was somehow both a wave and a particle.

To make matters even more confusing, Louis de Broglie suggested that matter might act the same way. Scientists then performed these same experiments with electrons, and found that electrons too are somehow both particles and waves.

Today, these experiments have been done in so many different ways by so many different people that scientists simply accept that both matter and light are somehow both waves and particles. Scientists generally admit that even they do not fully understand how this can be, but they are quite certain that it must be true. Although it seems impossible to understand how anything can be both a wave and a particle, scientists do have a number of equations for describing these things that have variables for both wavelength (a wave property) and momentum (a particle property). This seeming impossibility is referred to as the wave-particle duality.

This shows that in the physical realm two ideas that seem to contradict each other can both be true.   Isn’t it possible that this is true in the spiritual realm as well?

The Wikipedia article shows that if we accept the results of scientific research we must believe that light is both a particle and a wave even if we don’t see how both of these things can be true. If we believe the Bible we must believe that God is completely sovereign in the matter of salvation and chooses whom he will save and we must also believe that each person is responsible to choose whether or not he will be saved even if we don’t understand how they can both be true.

We live in a universe which had a beginning and will have an end. One component of this universe is time, which flows in one direction so that some things are in our past and some things are in our future. The decisions we make may be influenced by our past but they can only affect our future. Temporally a cause must precede its effect so that one event can be the cause or effect of another but not both.

This limitation doesn’t apply to God and his actions because he isn’t part of the creation and so he is not subject to its laws. Because we are part of the creation there are many things about God that we can’t understand and it is because we lack understanding that many of the truths he reveals seem to contradict each other.

It is possible that the two natures of light that we see are manifestations of some natural law that scientists haven’t yet discovered and that if we understood that law we would see that there is no contradiction in the way light behaves. In the same way, the doctrines of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility to choose are probably manifestations of some higher truth that hasn’t been revealed and if we could understand that truth we wouldn’t see any contradiction between the two.

While there are many things about salvation we don’t understand the Bible makes it perfectly clear what we must do to be saved.  God is holy and and his holiness demands that he punish all sin.  We have all sinned.  Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty that we deserve and rose again from the dead.  Anyone who repents of his sins and puts his faith in Christ will find salvation and be forgiven.  It isn’t necessary to know whether you are believing of your own free will or because God has given you the ability to believe.  It is possible to eat food and receive nourishment from it without understanding how your body digests it; in the same way it is possible to receive salvation without understanding all that is involved in it.

On this subject, as on many others, we need to keep in mind what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:12.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Posted on March 27, 2012, in Bible study, salvation and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Who makes the choice?.

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