A Basis for Hope
The following is an excerpt from Jack’s book on divine determinism, The Most Real Being.
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The third [difference between divine determinism and limited determinism] is perhaps the most important: divine determinism provides a basis for hope; limited determinism leads to despair. Not that limited determinists cannot and do not live in hope. They can and do. But they do so without warrant. Their worldview provides no basis for it. The hope of the divine determinist is solid, because it is valid; the hope of the limited determinist is emptya groundless optimism.
Hope or Despair?
According to the Bible, human existence is fundamentally flawed. We have profoundly self-destructive tendencies. We are so incurably foolish that, left to ourselves, we would ultimately destroy ourselves and everything around us. That is the tragic consequence of human sinfulness. So what does the future hold? Will I ever escape my own self-destruction? Can I ever be rescued from myself? Is there any hope? Or is despair all that remains?
Only a very shallow and unbiblical understanding of the human predicament thinks salvation can result from a change of circumstanceseven being transferred to “heaven.” Heaven, the place of eternal life, is not a place where things will be different. It is a place where I will be different. Nothing short of a complete transformation of my very own nature can solve my problem.
This takes us to the very heart of the question: where are there grounds for hope? Who controls me? Do I control my choices and my future, or does God control them? My problem lies in the freewill choices I make. I do evil, foolish, venomous things that inject my environment, my relationships, and my very own soul with the poison of destruction. If these foolish choices are completely and only controlled by meif they are utterly beyond God’s controlthen hope for my future is without basis. The duck-billed platypus cannot change his snout. The leopard cannot remove his spots. Neither can the fool shed his foolishness, nor the born rebel cease his rebellion. The sinner cannot choose to be a saintnot if he is left to his own resources. If I, and only I, have control over the choices I make, then there can be no hope for me. I am hopelessly sinful, hopelessly self-destructive, hopelessly blind, and hopelessly lost.
But this is exactly the position to which limited determinism is theoretically committed. It insists that freewill choice is outside the province of Godthat the very definition of a “free” will is one outside the scope of his control. He does not and will not control the choices I make. Limited determinism, therefore, is theoretically committed to despair. If no one outside of myself (God, in particular) will ever exert any control over the choices I make, then I am a prisoner of my own moral and spiritual weakness. I cannot free myself, and my autonomy condemns me to be independent of any moral or spiritual resources beyond myself. So where are the moral or spiritual resources that could free me? If everything within me has proved itself wicked, with what righteousness will I overcome the inclinations of my own being? The only logical outlook is despairquiet, profound despair. I am damned to eternal self-destruction.
Nevertheless, many limited determinists do not live in despair. Why not? Here are three contributing reasons:
(1) Frequently, limited determinists do not really believe what the Bible teaches regarding human sinfulness. For them, man is not hopelessly sinfulnot to the core of his being. Rather, he is basically righteous; but, for a variety of reasons, he has not quite managed to manifest it yet. Accordingly, they are not despairing, for they see no insurmountable problem. Man is not a prisoner of evil. He can cease his sin and self-destruction whenever he chooses. And some, sooner or later, will. The real problem is our environment. We need a different situationheaven. Put us in heaven and all will be well. We do not need to be changed. The world we live in needs to be changed. While God does not control memy choiceshe does control my environment. So there is every reason to be hopeful. The Bible promises that my world will be made new, and that is exactly what I need. If all this were true, hopeand not despairwould be warranted. But it is not true; it is not compatible with what the Bible teaches. Nevertheless, many Christians hold this odd, unbiblical view.
(2) Sometimes limited determinists espouse hope blindly, dogmatically. The Bible teaches it; they believe it. Never mind that, in the context of their own theology, such a hope is completely unwarranted. Never mind that it totally contradicts everything else they believe. They go on in hope anyway, undisturbed by the logical contradiction it entails.
(3) Sometimes people who espouse limited determinism are divine determinists in hiding. Intuitively they recognize the philosophical superiority of divine determinism, butfor a variety of reasonsthey cannot bring themselves to consciously and explicitly acknowledge it. Their actions and attitudes are controlled by their divine-determinist intuitions, not by their limited-determinist theory. They see the hope that is really there and live in the light of it. But they consciously and explicitly espouse the opposing theory. So they embrace a false theory even while their inner hope is nourished by a true and valid intuition. What they embrace intuitively, they denounce publicly. The inconsistency either goes unnoticed, or it doesn’t bother them.
I cannot maintain, therefore, that limited determinists cannot be hopeful. My point is that they have no justification or support for it. If they took their explicit theology to its logical conclusions, their hope would be undermined and destroyed.
Divine determinism, on the other hand, provides a solid foundation for hope. If a good and loving God, who has my best interests in mind, ultimately controls my very choices, then what is to stop him from rescuing me? If God controls me, he can change me. My foolish choices can be changed into wise ones. My rebellious choices can be changed into submissive ones. Therein lies real hope. I can eagerly anticipate a future free from sin and death. The God who controls my will has promised it.
Glorification: The Christian’s Hope
The “one hope” that Paul refers to in Ephesians 4:4 isor, at least, includesthe hope of righteousness, the expectation that one day I will be morally perfect. This is the paramount hope proclaimed by the gospel.
Virtually every Christian perspective acknowledges this hope, but not all value it as they should. All too often we take this hope for granted, or even consciously denigrate it. But, in fact, this hope answers the deepest longing of the believer’s heart. The true believer is marked by a profound hunger for personal righteousness. For him, the good news of the gospel comes to this: “You who long for righteousness, rejoice! It is yours!” This is his hope. He lives in confident and eager anticipation of the day when the promise of glorious righteousness will finally be realized in his life.
Will this promise actually be realized, as the believer expects it will? Or will something happen to thwart God’s good intentions and prevent its realization? Perhaps the believer will ultimately be humiliated as he sees this hope dashed. Perhaps his confident expectation is nothing more than wishful thinking. Or will his confident expectation be vindicated?
In Romans 5:1-11, Paul asserts categorically that the believer’s hope for glorious righteousness will not fail. Then he explains the basis for his confidence. Our hope will not fail, he argues, because God loves us too much to allow it to fail. God has already demonstrated the extent of his love toward us by sending his Son to die on our behalf. If God’s love for us extends so far that, in the midst of our damnable rebellion, God acted toward us with mercy, then how can it fail to extend far enough to transform our moral natures and grant us the glorious righteousness he promised? If while we were abhorrent enemies, God loved us enough to show us mercy, then certainly nowbeing no longer enemies, but friendsGod loves us enough to grant us our inheritance, the “glory” of moral perfection.
But notice the implicit assumption in Paul’s argument. Who does Paul consider to be responsible for my ultimate glorification? Who is responsible for my becoming a gloriously righteous being some day? Not me, but God. If my glorification lay in my hands, then the depth and extent of God’s love for me would have no relevance to whether or not I shall achieve it. But it clearly is relevant for Paul. The very essence of his argument is that God’s love for me is so demonstrably far-reaching that my hope of glorification is guaranteed. But this argument is ridiculous if my performance, and not God’s, is what is relevant. In other words, God’s love can guarantee my glorification only if my glorification is ultimately in his hands. If it were in my hands, God’s inclination toward me would have no relevance.
Now what is this glorification Paul has in view? It is that event within the course of my existence wherein I am made purethat point where I attain perfect righteousness. But what is perfect righteousness, except the point where my choices cease to be evil and begin to be infallibly good? Glorification, then, lies within the nature of my own freewill choices. I am glorious just to the extent that I choose to act gloriously. Now, according to limited determinism, my freewill choices are beyond God’s control. I alone control my choices. If limited determinism is true, then, glorification cannot be in God’s hands; it would be impossible for God to guarantee it. Whether or not I can ever attain to perfect righteousness is squarely in my own hands. God has no say in the matter.
This creates an irreconcilable tension between the clear implications of limited determinism and Paul’s teaching on the certainty of our hope. Paul grounds our hope on God’s faithful, unfailing love. He assumes throughout that God is the one who will and must bring about our glorification. Limited determinism, on the other hand, is theoretically opposed to viewing God as the author of our glorification. That role is reserved for man himself. Glorification is perfect righteousness, and perfect righteousness can only be achieved by man, as he freely (and autonomously) chooses it for himself. In limited determinism, therefore, the basis for hope asserted by Paul disappears. We cannot ground our hope on the love and faithfulness of God, for God has no control over the outcome.
Can we ground our hope on our faithfulness to God? Hardly! It is from our unfaithfulness that we require to be rescued. Can we ground our hope on our basic goodness? No. It is our wickedness from which we need to be saved. Can we base our hope on the power of the Holy Spirit within us? No. For againas limited determinism sees itthe Holy Spirit cannot guarantee our glorification. Glory will be realized only to the extent that I, by my freewill choices, appropriate the power of the Holy Spirit now available to me. The extent of divine power available through the Spirit is irrelevant to the certainty of my hope. It becomes relevant only insofar as I choose to avail myself of it. But that I may never avail myself of it is entirely possible. My hope, therefore, is uncertain. My hope is only as certain as I am faithful to pursue my own glorification. Is that an adequate basis for hope? Can I, on that basis, say with Paul “and this hope does not disappoint”? No. Not unless I have a totally fallacious view of my own loyalty to the purposes of God. Anyone who understands the depths of his own rebellion could never base his hope on his own faithfulness. Limited determinism, therefore, provides no basis for hope. The logically appropriate outlook for limited determinism is despair. Wretched are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they must go eternally unsatisfied. Such is the real implication of limited determinismif it remains both logically and biblically consistent.
There is no greater practical import to the doctrine of divine determinism than the certainty of our hope. According to the Bible, nothing in all of human existence is more valuable than personal righteousness. It alone can truly fulfill our humanity and satisfy the longing of our hearts. Accordingly, the question of whether we can be certain of attaining this righteousness is the most personally vital question for all of human existence. Divine determinism provides a firm basis upon which we can have a certain hope. Limited determinism gives us no such basis. It leaves us with two unattractive options: quiet despair or dogmatic, irrational hope. A sound, justified hope is simply not available to the limited determinist. Only divine determinism can provide that.
Copyright November 2004 by McKenzie Study Center, an institute of Gutenberg College.