In the Right Place at the Right Time

Yesterday, I spent a few words here talking about the idea of predetermination. It’s a very difficult thing to wrap my mind around. (Almost like a story about time-travel where travelling into the past closes a loop–the thing that you travel to the past to accomplish has already happened, because in any version of the present from which you originated, you had already traveled back to the past to change that thing. Whoa, right?) Today, I’d like to spend a few minutes further exploring that, and the opposite, and how free-will (choice) figure into it.

Determinism is the branch of psychology/philosophy that says that every event in our lives has led to this moment. Every decision we’ve ever made, and everything that has ever happened to us, has colored our mind in a way that determines how we will act, or even how we will make a choice. When we go to make a choice, the confluence of events that led to the choice being presented shape how we will react to that decision. The core of the idea is that external stimuli determine our actions and thoughts. Some take it a little further, and say that we are not really responsible for our own actions, because we could not control those external stimuli. (That last part is baloney.) Predetermination is similar, but is the idea that everything that is happening cannot be changed at all. It’s a very fatalistic view.

I remember reading an article a few months ago about the idea of predetermination. The article started with a simple “experiment,” wherein the author addresses the reader directly and said, “lift your right arm,” or something to that effect. The author’s point was that the reader chose to lift his or her arm, but it’s difficult to say whether or not it was predetermined that they would do so. I remember not lifting my hand.

I also remember an episode of the television show “Fringe,” which I loved dearly. A quantum scientist explained the idea of time by pouring a bit of water through a tube. This illustrates the idea we can only see part of time at one time. But in reality, he said, time is not so linear. The truth, he argued, is that the tube is always completely full, and all events are happening simultaneously. Just because we cannot see the entire tube at once, we perceive time as linear because we perceive everything linearly.

(As an only slightly humorous aside, one of the fathers of American science fiction, Ray Cummings once wrote that “time is what keeps everything from happening at once.” This quote is commonly misattributed to Albert Einstein.)

For the purpose of this essay, there are two ways to look at it, and both have effectively the same outcome. One: God, who is omnipresent, exists outside of time and can see across it. Two: time does not exist (or rather, only exists in our perception), and therefore God, who is omniscient, perceives everything all at once because everything is happening simultaneously. Either way, the outcome is that God knows what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen.

Here’s the rub: if everything is predetermined, then what is the point of this exercise that we call life? If there is no free will to choose our own path, then there would be no need to continue the experiment. If there is no choice, and our path is predetermined, then we would already be where we’re headed…

Let’s take a look at a few key verses (at least they’re key to me), with my thoughts in italics:

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). There is no need for patience if our choice has already been made for us.

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free” (Galatians 5:13). We have the freedom to make our own decisions. If we didn’t, we would have no need for salvation.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20). God is asking us to let us into our hearts. If that choice were already made, and we could not change it, there’s no reason to ask.

“And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden” (Genesis 2:16). This is the big one. This is the first one. This is why the whole thing started anyway. If we weren’t free to choose, and our choices were predetermined, none of this mess would have happened anyway!

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’m sure I’ll revisit this topic soon, but I’m mentally spent. Maybe I’ll go watch a time-travel movie.

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