Free Will Versus Predestination

How some people view their destiny
Image courtesy of Boaz Yiftach at

[Originally published on Helium 26 February 2009]

Does a person have free will, or is a person’s fate predetermined? What is fate, anyhow? How do various religions view fate, such as ancient Greece and Hinduism? What of Calvin’s view of predestination? What does the Bible say?

According to, one of the definitions of fate is “that which is inevitably predetermined; destiny”. Perhaps you have heard the saying, “You can’t fight fate.” It is pretty much the belief that your life is drawn out before you were born, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

The word “fate” comes from Greek mythology. The Fates were those which had control over a person’s destiny. Supposedly, even the Greek gods feared them. Perhaps you have heard of a “Greek tragedy”, which is a play that shows forces set in motion over which the protagonist has no control. The story of Oedipus Rex is a prime example, where a prophecy is made that he will grow up to kill his father. Later, an oracle tells him that not only will he kill his father but that he will also marry his mother. The characters, in trying to prevent the prophecies from being fulfilled, instead cause the situations that bring them about.

Hindu stories also carry with them the concept that you are not in control of your destiny. While there is division among Hindus about the role of karma, it is evident that you can suffer for acts done in a previous life. However, there are sects in Hinduism that contrast with the teaching of karma.

One sect known as Ajivaka preached a form of determinism. They believed that all human endeavor is a waste of time. Talk about fatalism! These seem to be in the minority in modern Hindu teaching, however.

Interestingly enough, the Hindu teacher Sri Aurobindo in 1910 brought up that “unless we adopt a Calvinistic fatalism, the admission of the guiding and overriding will of God does not exclude the permission of freedom to the individual.” John Calvin taught a form of predestination often referred to as “double predestination”. The basic argument is that God predetermined who He would call and save, and by way of exclusion those whom He would not.

Since God’s call was “irresistible” by his theology, those people were saved without having any real choice in the matter. Therefore, by excluding some people by not calling them, they were eternally condemned to Hell. Thus, they were also predestined, but in the negative sense. Most who adhere to Calvinism today try to moderate his stance somewhat, but the true teaching of Calvinism is that the individual really doesn’t have a choice and that God really does create vessels for destruction (misapplying Ro 9:22). Therefore, Calvin’s view is more like the Greek view that no matter what an individual does, he or she cannot escape their destiny.

Any Christian must either confess that the Bible teaches predestination or disavow the Bible. The teachings are in Romans 8:29-30, Ephesians 1:5 and Ephesians 1:11. The first thing that is noteworthy is that these are all positive predestination passages, which sheds doubt upon the notion of “double predestination” right away. Indeed, what these passages show is what Jesus referred to in John 6:44 that “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Does this mean, however, that human beings do not have free will? Does it make sense that God would create human beings, decide not to call them and then punish them for not being called? No, of course it doesn’t. God told ancient Israel to “choose life” so that it would go well with them (Dt 30:19). It makes no sense for God to tell anyone to “choose” anything if there is no such thing as free will.

There are limits to mankind’s free will, however. A big lesson in this life, in fact, is that our power, and therefore the extent of our will, does have limits. The biggest constraint is death, which is the destiny of all of us (Heb 9:27). Even though Satan has free will, God has put limits on what he can do as well (Job 1-2). There is a balance between free will and predestination.

The real question, though, is “Predestined for what?” Surprisingly, not too many have the right answer to that question!  It might surprise some to learn that the Bible does not teach that we have an immortal soul, that Heaven is not the reward of the saved and that an ever tormenting Hell is not the destination for sinners! Instead the Bible teaches a resurrection from the dead (Jn 5:28). Instead, everyone will be resurrected according to God’s timetable, in the correct “order” determined by His plan:

22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive [resurrected!].

23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. [And, notice there is yet a second resurrection in Rev 20:11-13.]

24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.

~ 1Co 15:22-24

Instead of a God who is partial and unfair, the Bible reveals One that will resurrect people at the proper time and open their minds to the truth. The books, the “biblios”, the Bible, will finally be opened to them (Rev 20:12) and all will have the opportunity to repent and not perish (2Pe 3:9) and have their name entered into the Book of Life.

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