One of the biggest debates within modern Christianity is the debate between Calvinists and Arminians. A majority of the debate and disagreement between the varying degrees of both sides is their view on election and free will.
Since the time of Calvin (and some may argue as far back as Augustine) this debate has yet to have been solved in the eyes of many Christians. I am going to offer my opinion on the subject, though I do not claim to have solved it. I will offer a possible solution, a solution that I personally hold as true. That said though, if I arrive in heaven to find I am wrong I will not be completely surprised. When we begin to delve into the purposes and mind of God let us remember what God himself has told us,
[Isa 55:8-9 NKJV] 8 “For My thoughts [are] not your thoughts, Nor [are] your ways My ways,” says the LORD. 9 “For [as] the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.
and elsewhere we are told,
[Rom 11:33 NKJV] 33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable [are] His judgments and His ways past finding out!
So then, I would be a fool to tell you I have found out God’s ways, that I fully understand His wisdom and His knowledge. If someone does tell you that they understand the solution to this conundrum they would do well to heed the verses stated above.
When the debate between Reformed Theology and Arminianism eventually arises in Christian circles the debate is almost always focused on either this is true, or this is false. Or this is partly true and this is partly false. On both sides proponents feel to give any ground on theological issues means granting that ground to the other side. If the five point Calvinist feels that they must surrender part of a point they feel that in doing so they grant that to the other side and vice versa.
Essentially both sides are doing algebra.
Lets assume for the sake of analogy that greater than means better than. Proponents of either side see the equation as 5 + 5x > 5y+ 5 . The variables of “x” represent any given doctrine of Reformed Theology and the variables of “y” represent any given doctrine of Arminianism (although I wouldn’t even say that those are the only two options to put into the equation. There are other options that could be represented by inserting another variable, but we will keep it simple to illustrate the point). The constants may represent sub points which each side may be more easily willing to compromise (or add or subtract from one side to the other).
Lets make it even more simple. Let “x” represent election and “y” represent man’s free will. So we have 5 + x > y + 5.
Let’s say the Arminian surrenders five constants (sub points) to the Calvinist. We now get to remove that from the equation (or the debate) and are left with x > y. Well, then we have Calvinism is greater than Arminianism. But it really just depends on where your starting point is to the debate. If you start with 5 + x < y +5 then you will end up with x < y.
The debate cannot really be solved since each side is going to write the equation according to their preconceived biases. We still don’t know which one is true and which one is false.
So what are Christians supposed to do? The Bible clearly teaches both election (Eph. 1:4; 2 Th. 2:13; John 15:16, 19; Romans 8:29-30; Eph. 1:5, 11; etc. ) and man’s free will (Lev. 1:3; Lev. 19:5; Lev. 22:19, 29; Josh. 24:15; John 3:16; etc.) –although I prefer the word man’s free choice or free ability to respond rather than “free will”.
So do we have a contradiction in the Bible?
The problem is that many good intentioned Christians on both sides have left out one very important variable in the equation.
They debate Calvinism vs. Arminianism, or election vs. free will, etc., etc. But they often times leave God out of the equation.
To put God back into the equation we must rewrite the problem, since by adding a new variable we have changed the equation. Let G = God knows the answer.
The equation then becomes x < y or x > y which is equal to G. When we do this we can now write the problem in logical form because what we really want to know is if x and y is true or not because if we do then we will know which is greater. Let x = p and y = q and G = r. So we have if (p ∨ q) → r. If p is true or q is true then r is true. In fact the only time this statement can be false is when God does not know the answer.
Let’s assume that we were given the truth value of “r” as always true since we (as Christians) believe that God exists, and if He exists as the Bible says He does then He surely has the power to know the answer. So it could simply be that one statement is false and the other is true or that they both are true, but only God knows the answer.
So what if both x and y are true? What if it isn’t an either or problem? Well then it is written ( p ∧ q) → r. Again we assume that we are given the value of “r” through the source of the Bible. If the Bible is not true then “r” would not be true. Assuming that “r” is true and “p” is true and “q” is true then the statement is true in that instance.
Following our assumptions of ( p ∧ q) → r we can finally translate to basic arithmetic.
Election is true and free will is true because God knows the answer can be translated as election + free will = God. The problem makes sense now doesn’t it? God is the answer.
You might say but wait a minute, the problem is much more complex than that! Is it? It was a simple mistake to leave God out of the equation, so it is a simple solution to put Him back into it.
It is the same reason that God is the answer to the problem Father + Son + Holy Spirit = God. How can that be comprehended? It cannot. Not by a finite mind. It can be understood vaguely, but not comprehended. We only know the answer. We know that the answer is God.
Could I still be wrong? Sure! All you would have to do to prove me wrong is show me that either election or free will is not in the Bible. But an honest look into the Bible shows both these teachings exist. And even if you do, the answer God knows is still true. But again, His ways are past finding out. So I am completely open to being wrong.
The Biblical Proof: Compliment Not Contradiction
Although the fact that the Bible seems to teach both election and man’s free will appears as a contradiction, I am glad to say that it is only an apparent contradiction. It is instead a compliment. The doctrines of election and man’s free will compliment each other and bring us to a greater understanding of a divine truth comprehensible only in the mind of an absolutely Divine Being, IE God.
I believe God gave us both sides of the coin on this issue because it was the only way to explain the thoughts of an infinite mind to a finite mind. Like the doctrine of the trinity, we cannot fully understand God’s purposes and plans and how exactly he functions in time and space. If we could fully understand it, then it is not truly a divine concept and God isn’t really God anymore. Part of God being infinite means He is also incomprehensible to a finite mind.
Now then, back to my point about election and free will being a compliment rather than a contradiction.
Lets look at a simpler concept that seems to be a contradiction, but actually is not, to help us understand the bigger problem we have been considering. In mathematics looking at a simpler problem can often be the key to unlocking a solution to a more complex problem.
[Pro 26:4-5 NKJV] 4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him. 5 Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own eyes.
In verse four we see that the Bible tells us “do not answer a fool according to his folly”, but then in verse five it tells us to “answer a fool according to his folly”. At first glance this may seem like a contradiction, but Solomon in his wisdom wanted to teach a greater and deeper truth in a more impacting way by making us dig for the answer. The only way to get the answer is to compare the two sides, see the benefit to both sides, and learn the lesson the proverb is trying to teach us.
You must not answer a fool according to his folly, or else you will be like him. You must know when not to answer a fool, and more importantly not to answer a fool according to his foolishness. In other words, if he is being an idiot don’t answer him like an idiot. If he is being rude then don’t answer him in a rude way.
Yet, you must give him an answer. If you don’t the fool will think he got you. He will begin to think he is wise in his own eyes (which is worse than being a fool –Prov. 26:12).
There is truth to both sides and we must do the work to grasp at the answer in the middle. This does sound like algebra, so doing algebraic theology isn’t a bad thing. But it isn’t where you should end at.
The Math Is Simpler Than You Think
The solution is a little bit of both and somewhere in between.
In other words the answer to the equation is God knows.
His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. But He did talk about election and free will in the Bible. So it is something He wants us to think about, and He wants us to think about both sides of the issue. He wants us to grapple with it, to learn from both sides and realize that there is a truth value on each side of the coin. I am not advocating relative truth (and please don’t take this idea too far –keep it Biblical), but rather that there is an absolute truth to the debate that may be out of our reach. We should receive the blessings of each, because the Bible teaches each. God is sovereign (and elects from His sovereignty) and He allows man free will.
So free will + election = God.
Is this a contradiction? No. It is a compliment. It is a contrast. An infinitely divine concept to convey to finite creatures in a way that helps us to understand at least the very concept of the existence of an idea (because comprehending the idea itself would likely be impossible).
God is the only way that the answer can be both in the same way that we saw we are to both “answer a fool” and to “not answer a fool”. Why? Because God is the one that makes sense of both sides of the coin. He is the one that knows all the variables to solve the expression. If you are like me you are going to want to dissect what I mean by “free will” and “election”, and you should (because if we plug in a variable into the equation it better be Biblical –it can’t have God as its answer if it isn’t Biblically provable), but if you do then do not miss the point I am trying to make.
Let God Be The Answer
If this issue hasn’t caused you to come before Almighty God and fall before Him in worship already then it should. It should cause us to come before Him and realize His greatness, His wisdom, and His knowledge. It should cause us to worship Him as God, and not divide Him as theology.
I am not saying you can’t work this problem to death. It is in the Bible so you are meant to study it, but don’t forget the most important variable in order to solve your equation.
Let God knows be the answer. Let God be God.