Jason B. Ladd

Ask the Questions. Embrace the Answers. Make the Leap.

Causation: Augustine’s Response to the Predestination Paradox

Augustine Causation
This guest post is by Brian Hershey, a veteran youth worker specializing in military teen ministry. To learn more about Brian’s ministry, check out his bio at the end of this post, and watch his story here. Brian also writes at http://rightlanereflections.wordpress.com

Walking across the street to greet my new neighbors, I was unprepared for the conversation I was about to have.

As I shook the hand of the family’s seventeen year-old, I invited him to tell me about himself.

“Oh,” he said, “I’m into Old Testament studies right now.”

“Old Testament what?!” I thought to myself.

The statement rocked me back on my heels. I’ve worked with teens over ten years, but I’d never met anyone express that level of interest in the Old Testament.

What followed was a conversation about Biblical prophecy, end-times issues, and the ever-thorny topic of predestination and freewill.

It was that last issue which consumed most of our time together.

Which got me thinking:

Why does this particular subject attract so much attention?

Perhaps it’s one you’ve mulled over. And maybe you’ve discovered satisfactory answers to be as elusive as my happen-chance meeting with Aeron.

The Problem

On the one hand, Christians have historically affirmed that God knows ahead of time every human choice. Yet they have also affirmed that mankind is morally responsible for his choices.

It raises the mind-bending question: How do you square God’s comprehensive knowledge of future events with human freedom?

Moreover, how do you resolve the tension in way that makes clear sense?

I’ve found great insight in Augustine’s work entitled “On Free Choice of the Will.”

Permit me to summarize the issue in a word: Causation.

Ask any researcher or lawyer and they will tell you causation is difficult to prove especially when it comes to human behavior.

I’ve found in my discussions with teens and adults a common underlying assumption: God’s foreknowledge is the cause of human choices and behavior.

In other words, “How can I be held morally responsible for something I didn’t cause?”

The problem is that the argument hinges on a wrong assumption.

The truth is that just because God knows how someone will act does not necessarily mean that God caused the particular action.

The Solution

The solution to the predestination/freewill problem, therefore, is to unmoor the cause from the effect.

Maybe this is a product of our Westernized, linear thinking. We prefer order and structure. We naturally seek the cause for observable effects—the why behind the what.

Consequently, in the predestination/freewill debate, we uncritically maintain the cause/effect relationship between God’s knowledge and human choices.

And to further complicate matters, the guilty human conscience is always looking for that divine loophole that will absolve us of immoral choices.

Yet no such loophole exists. The awful reality is that mankind freely chooses lesser goods through his own inordinate desires.

There is no other greater force acting upon his choices.

The buck cannot be passed.

While mankind is free to act in whatever way he chooses, he is not free of the consequences that follow from his choices. In fact, he is bound by his choices for good or ill.

Which leads to a second inconvenient truth: God never unjustly punishes.

If God is the cause for evil human choices, then how can he punish that which he ultimately brought about?

Answer: he cannot, for to punish someone in such a predicament would be unjust. Yet, by necessity God is just. Therefore, it is correct for God to be the cause of those who suffer evil as a rightful consequence of choices freely made. But in no way can mankind accuse God of being the agent of evil.

Augustine is right to make a distinction between the agents and recipients of evil. God is, indeed, the cause of the later but not the former.

In summary, Augustine’s explanation holds in perfect tension the paradox between God’s omniscience and human free will.

The debate may not be thoroughly resolved, but I have personally found Augustine’s reflections in “Free Choice of the Will” immensely helpful.

The Application

So the next time you find yourself in a predestination/freewill conversation, remember this solitary word: Causation!

I know it brought new clarity to my neighbor—maybe even to you as well.

Augustine Causation Brian HersheyBrian Hershey is a veteran youth worker specializing in military teen ministry. From 2002 to 2009 he and his wife, Bonnie, served military families and chaplains in Germany and Italy through Youth For Christ/Military Youth Ministry (YFC/MYM). He is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary (ThM 2014) where he focused his studies in Spiritual Formation and Leadership Studies and is excited to return to Kaiserslautern, Germany this summer where he plans “to leverage every available resource in order to produce twenty-five year old followers of Jesus Christ.” Brian and Bonnie have been married since December 2002. They have three wonderful children together and currently live near Dallas, TX. If you would like to learn more about their ministry, please click here to watch a short introductory video.

Sources

Augustine. “On Free Choice of the Will.” In Classics of Western Philosophy, ed. Steven M. Cahn, 7th ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2006.

Related Briefs

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally or believe will help readers in developing their worldview. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

About Jason B. Ladd

Jason is an author, speaker, Marine, and father of seven. He has flown the F/A-18 Hornet as a Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 (MAWTS-1) Instructor Pilot and the F-16 as an Instructor Pilot. His award-winning book One of the Few: A Marine Fighter Pilot’s Reconnaissance of the Christian Worldview has been optioned for film adaptation. He is represented by Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency.

3 Replies

  1. Lisa Rosier

    Not sure if this adds anything to the discussion, but God causes things in His perfect will — things that He intends for His glory, regardless of whether humans perceive it as good or bad. God also allows things in His permissive will — things that are the natural positive or negative consequence of our actions/inaction/choices which may cause us joy or pain. He always knows whether we’ll obey Him in our choices and He blesses us with opportunity accordingly. He is merciful and loves us and wants to see us joyful, so He often gives us many, many opportunities to obey His will. I think He is the ultimate possessor of hope — He truly does always hope we will commune with Him and obey His will.

    1. Brian

      Lisa, thanks for your comments. I do believe it adds to the conversation. Food for thought: how many wills does God have? You identified at least two, a perfect and permissive. But how can God have more than a single will? It would seem that that which he allows/permits is at the same time his perfect will. Also, do you beleive anything happen apart from God’s will or knowledge? If yes, then that would seem to impinge upon God’s omniscience. Therefore, everything that happens must happen because that was what God willed, even the evil and bad. The important distinction that Augustine makes is that just because God’ willed it, or knows what will come about in time future, does not mean that he also caused it. By unmooring the cause from the effect, Augustine preserves both the divine attributes and human free will. I think it’s ingenious.

      I welcome your thoughts and feedback!

  2. Janice

    “The truth is that just because God knows how someone will act does not necessarily mean that God caused the particular action.” Yes! I have used the example that I know what my husband and children will do in a situation, but that certainly doesn’t mean I caused them to do it. Of course, God’s knowledge goes infinitely beyond familiarity. He knows because He KNOWS. But the example works to an extent. Good points made. ~Janice