One of the questions that often comes up when discussing universal salvation – that is, the predestination of everyone for salvation – is that of free will: Does being saved without your permission, or even against your will, overrule the individual’s free will? The quick and obvious answer would appear to be “of course it does.” But does it really? Or could predestination actually be compatible with free will?
The problem of free will
The whole concept of free will seems a bit overblown in my opinion. First, we have to accept the reality of the universe in which we live and the reality of our existence. Did anyone have a choice as to where or when they would be born? Are you proud to be an American (or anything else) because you chose to be born where you were, or are you simply proud of an accident of birth? Personally, I don’t recall being asked when I wanted to be born, or to which parents. Considering that I’m diabetic, I think I would have chosen better genes.
And what about life? How much of our lives are due to things outside of our control? Would it be your free will to be injured in a car accident that was not your fault, or any number of other calamities that have befallen you due to things outside of your control? Where is the free will in that? Then, of course, there’s the problem of death. Most of us won’t have any say whatsoever about when or how we’ll die. Our whole lives are subject to the wills of others, or to seemingly random acts of life.
Certainly, we have a certain amount of free will within the above constraints. Most of us can choose various paths for our lives, including education, what kind of jobs we get, who we marry, what kind of car we drive, whether we’re Democrat or Republican, and so on. I don’t believe any of these things are predestined for us (even who we’ll marry). We are free to make any number of decisions, good or bad, and hopefully we learn from the past and improve our lives as we go on. But at some point, our ability to make decisions comes to an end, and we’re faced with the possibility of eternal salvation. Do we have a say in that?
If we were discussing Calvinist-style predestination, where God chooses individuals to save (and chooses those who don’t get saved), then we may have an argument that predestination takes away free will of the individual. But you could always argue that God only predestines those for salvation who would make the right choice anyway. It gets a bit stretched, I think. Fortunately, we are not talking about this sort of predestination.
Let’s look at predestination from more of a cosmic viewpoint: God chooses to save the whole of creation. In other words, creation itself is predestined to be saved. We make whatever free will choices we make, but Jesus comes to defeat sin and death, and as a result the whole universe is redeemed.
Think of it as passengers on a plane. The passengers don’t know it, but the plane will crash unless God intervenes. God chooses to save the plane, saving all the passengers on board, and it lands on schedule, just like it was predestined to. I know, it’s not a perfect analogy, but you get the idea. The universe was always predestined to be restored and reconciled to God, and we were born into this flawed system that is destined to be fixed. We were born into a fallen universe and will just happen to benefit from its salvation as residents of this universe.
I can still hear people questioning whether God would save someone against their will, or raising the question of whether one is free to resist God’s love. CS Lewis in The Great Divorce suggests that one can resist God’s love. But this raises another issue: what would be the cause of someone wanting to resist God’s love?
The answer is undoubtedly sin, which is the underlying cause of selfishness, bitterness, etc., etc. The fact that someone’s sin hangs on to someone for eternity suggests to me that sin is not yet totally defeated, something that I have a hard time with. If sin is totally defeated, along with death (the final enemy to be defeated), then it suggests that all become totally sinless, removing any reason for rejecting God’s love. This would not be quashing free will, but removing the root cause for choosing evil (which would no longer exist).
Bottom line, I can’t see where universal reconciliation in any way removes free will, to the extent that we have free will. There are obviously limitations to our free will—for example, we cannot choose to live forever. But within these limitations our free will is alive and well.