Free Will, Predestination, and Yoda




Exodus 4:21 ESV

(21) And the LORD said to Moses, "When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.

Exodus 8:32 ESV

(32) But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go.


This woman dies and goes toward heaven, but instead of the pearly gates, there is a fork in the road, and a sign pointing down each path. One sign says “Believers in Predestination.” The other says “Believers in Free Will.” The woman thinks, “I have pretty much always believed in predestination,” so she goes down that road, and eventually she comes to a huge wall and a big door with the word “Predestination” written over the top. She knocks, and an angel opens the door and says, 'What brings you here?” The woman says, “There were these two signs, and I chose the one that said predestination.” The angel says, “You chose it? I do not think so. You can't come in here,” and slams the door. The woman is heartbroken. Finally, she trudges back to the crossroads and goes down the other road. She comes to another giant wall and a door over the top of which is written,’ Free Will.” She knocks and another angel opens the door and says, “What brings you here?” The woman says, 'I had no choice!”

The joke ends there, but we are left feeling that the poor lady did not get in there either.

The argument of predestination versus Free Will is older than the Christian Church. I can imagine Og the caveman sitting around the fire, saying,”I think the gods control everything.” His wife Ogess replies, “Not so. You have free will and you are going to choose to go hunt mammoth right now because I am hungry.”

Or, to use a modern illustration, in the movie Star Wars Episode One, which is also called The Phantom Menace, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn brings a nine-year-old boy before the Jedi Council to ask that he be trained in the ways of the Force. When the council refuses to permit the boy's training, Qui-Gon declares, “He is the chosen one. You must see that.” To which Master Yoda replies, “Clouded this boy's future is.”

The boy is Anakin Skywalker, who will be Darth Vader. His being the chosen one is based on a Jedi prophecy about one who will bring “balance to the Force.” Skipping forward to the sixth film, Return of the Jedi, After Luke, Anakin Skywalker's son has lost his hand in a first battle with Darth Vader—his father, Yoda tells Luke that he will be a Jedi only if he faces Vader in battle a second time. Luke balks at the idea of killing his Father, but Obi-Wan responds, “You cannot escape your destiny. You must face Darth Vader again.” These scenes raise questions about free will and destiny.

Is Anakin Skywalker the chosen one? Can he fail to fulfill the Jedi prophecy? Is Anakin predestined to choose the Dark Side and become Darth Vader? Alternatively, if we shift to the next generation, Is Anakin's son Luke destined to save the galaxy or can he choose to give up this hero stuff and live out his life tending his uncle's moisture farm on Tatooine.

Dropping back to Anakin, Qui-Gon certainly believes that Anakin Skywalker is the chosen one, and he insists that Obi-Wan Kenobi train Anakin to become a Jedi Knight. However, Yoda points out the uncertainty of Anakin's future. For us, the future is also clouded. Human beings have resorted to all sorts of methods to try to predict the future--crystal balls, tarot cards, goat livers. But the fact is we do not know what is going to happen. When his friends, Han and Leia are suffering, Luke asks Yoda, “Will they die?” Yoda is the oldest and wisest Jedi, but he replies, “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.”

The faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam conceive of God as omniscient (all-knowing), and if God is all-knowing, God has an infallible knowledge of the future. If God knows from all eternity that on February 6, 2011, at 11:30 EST, I am going to be standing here preaching this sermon, it would seem that there is no way it can be otherwise, otherwise God would have known it. You might say that I could have chosen to preach another sermon, but God would have known that. The question is: was I free in my choice, or did God determine what I would preach this morning, from the beginning of time; and did God determine from the beginning of time, that you would be here today and not somewhere else.

Understand that predestination is not only about God's knowledge of what happens, because we can say that God knows what we are going to do but he allows us free will to do it. That idea says that God is kind of an observer who is not in charge of what happens. If we have free will, we are in charge. Predestination says the opposite. God makes whatever happens happen.

Let us go back to Star Wars for a moment. In the sixth and last film, Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker, is redeemed from the Dark Side. He destroys the evil emperor by throwing him down the reactor shaft. Thus, he brings balance to the force and proves that he was the chosen one. Question again, did Anakin choose to do this, or did the Jedi Prophecy lock him into his destiny?

Or to use a biblical example, did Judas choose to betray Christ, or was he predestined to betray Jesus from the beginning of time?

Or take another example, from the OT, did the Pharaoh of the Exodus make a conscious choice not to free the enslaved Israelites and thus force God to bring down the plagues upon Egypt? Or, did God force Pharaoh not to free the Israelites so that God could then bring death and destruction upon the hapless Egyptians?

You might say, well what does the Bible say. The Bible says both--that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and Pharaoh hardened his own heart. This is not a matter of one or two verses. Generally, in the beginning of the Exodus story, it says Pharaoh hardened his own heart. I counted 9 times in Exodus where it says that. There may be more. But then toward the end of the story, it says God hardened Pharaoh's heart. I counted 8 times where it says that before I quit counting. My point is this is a major issue. Was Pharaoh predestined to refuse to let Israel go, or did he freely decide not to let them go? The author of Exodus cannot seem to make up his mind. I did a Google search online, and I easily discovered about 50 websites devoted to Pharaoh's Hard Heart. I read through about 20 of these websites. Most of them are by good Christian folks, who are trying to figure out what was going on with Pharaoh, but they do not seem to be making much progress. No one has any problem with verses that say Pharaoh hardened his own heart. He brought his own doom upon himself, and what happened was his own fault. However, most people have a lot of difficulty with verses that say God made Pharaoh stubborn so he would not let Israel go and God then brought plagues upon Egypt and finally destroyed the Egyptian army and Pharaoh in the Red Sea. If that be so, If God predestined Pharaoh, then Pharaoh is not morally responsible for his actions. Now in the defenses of God that I read, people play word games. They say that the word “harden” does not mean “harden.” God did not really “harden” Pharaoh's heart; he just let Pharaoh do what he wanted to do. Pharaoh hardened his own heart and God went along with Pharaoh's decision. There are several problems with this interpretation. First of all, that is not what the verses say. The verses say God made Pharaoh refuse to let the people go. It is a poor defense to argue that the Bible does not say what it plainly says. Then again, to say that God did what Pharaoh wanted is poor theology. It says that God acts according to our will not his will. God is not in charge. We are in charge.

And if God is not in charge then God is not God at all. That is the extreme free will position. There is no God; therefore, you are free to do whatever you want. In the Star Wars Saga, this is the position of Han Solo. He says, “No mystical energy field controls my destiny.” Han is a charming scoundrel, a free spirit and sometimes smuggler. Throughout most of the first movie, he emphasizes that he is only in it for himself. He is cocky, assertive, sometimes arrogant. But in the end, he changes his mind, at the last instant he shows up, saves Luke and enables Luke to destroy the Deathstar.

The question is how much freedom does Han actually have? He says he is out to get what he can for himself, but in the end the movie shows that he does not act like that at all. How much freedom do we actually have? There is an old story by the philosopher John Locke that illustrates this problem.

Suppose a person is sedated and carried into a room where there is another person whom he wants to see and talk to more than anything else in the world. The room is a cell, and he is locked in and there is no possibility of his getting out. When he wakes, he is glad to be in the room because this other person is there. He stays willingly in the room because he wants to talk to this other person. He does not attempt to escape. If you ask him if he is forced against his will to be there, he denies it. He wants to be there. This is his free will, yet we know that is he is locked up; he has no free will.

Now, the man in John Locke's story has no alternative to staying in the room, but because he desires to be there anyway, he is free. He perceives the pleasurable company he is in and desires to stay. So long as he desires to stay in the room he is there of his own free will. If however, he desires to leave the room, and finds the door locked, then he is forced to stay in the room and he is not free.

Now I think Locke is trying to say a number of things. Much of what we call freedom is just our point of view. It might not be freedom at all from another point of view.

But from the Christian point of view, if sinners do not freely commit their sin, how can we hold them responsible for their actions? Saint Augustine was much concerned about this question. He said that desire is the foundation of all evil. He says that that evil people focus on temporal things and never see the things of God. Good persons love God and evil persons live a life so filled with shame and badness that what they live is a kind of death. In fact, they would be better off dead. Actually, the star wars movies portray this process in the life of Anakin Skywalker, who descends steadily into evil, darkness, suffering, and misery, until finally he becomes Darth Vader, the most evil villain of all time. Anakin's sin is that he wants to control everything and he destroys anything that he cannot control. And this desire proceeds from himself. Augustine says, “What each man chooses to pursue and to live lies in his own will (14). It does not matter whether Anakin acts on what he wills, he is already a sinner whether he does it or not. Augustine said that whether he acts because he was predestined or because he had free will does not matter; he is already a sinner because he wanted to do evil. Whether he achieves control or not, he wanted it and that makes him evil.

So Augustine avoids our question. He seems to think that it does not matter whether we think we are predestined or have free will.

But it does matter. Do we make our own choices or does God make them for us? I have been doing a little informal survey now for some years, and it seems to me that most people have no problem believing both. Ask them if God is in charge of the universe and they will say yes. Ask them if we have free will and they will say yes. Or to use the example of Pharaoh, did Pharaoh harden his own heart? Yes, Did God harden Pharaoh's heart? Yes. Now this seems to fly in the face of logical thought. Either God did it or Pharaoh did it. You must make a choice. You cannot have it both ways? But perhaps we can.

I wonder if this is one of those times when logic and reason fail us. We often say that God is incomprehensible. God does not fit into our neat little categories of language. We do not understand how Jesus could be both fully man and fully God. We do not understand the Trinity at all. How can one God be three persons? We speak of the unexplainable mystery of God and free will and predestination could be part of that mystery.

Furthermore, there is an illustration from science we can use here. I refer to the wave-particle duality of matter. Current atomic theory says that all matter exhibits both wave and particle properties. The basic building blocks of matter can be described as waves of energy or particles of matter. Neither explanation is fully satisfactory by itself, you have to have both, but they seem contradictory. Standard interpretations of quantum mechanics explain this paradox as a fundamental property of the Universe.

So if scientists can have both waves and particles to explain the foundations of the universe, I think that we can have both predestination and free will to explain our relationship with God. So you are free, you have free will. You make your own choices and live your own life. And God is in charge. God is the power of the universe. God is strength and love and God will be with you now and always.


If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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