In this series I’ve explored what some see to be a conflict between God’s Power and Man’s Free Will. From a Catholic perspective there is no conflict at all. For a Catholic, God’s free grace empowers mankind to use his free will to “cooperate” with God’s will that desires all mankind to eternal salvation. God desires all of His children to return to Him for eternity, but God does not force His will on us. God does not force mankind to love Him.
Within the many groups of Protestant Christians, Calvinists hold what I think to be the most extreme position on this topic and that is that man’s free will has nothing whatsoever to do with his eventual salvation or damnation. For this reason I chose to use the Calvinist theology, summarized by the acronym T.U.L.I.P., to contrast the Catholic position of cooperation. If you are not familiar with the TULIP set of beliefs I suggest you return to the earlier posts in this series at SimpleCatholicTruth, especially Part 2 Calvin’s Tulip and Part 3 Graphical TULIPs.
One of the most troubling outcomes of TULIP is the concept of “double predestination.” Double predestination holds that God created some of mankind with the pre-meditated, pre-planned intent that only those “elect” are destined for heaven and that destiny can not be altered by mankind’s influence. This theory also must hold that God created another group called the “reprobate” that are similarly and irreversibly destined to hell. If this sense of double predestination were true, it would eliminate God’s infinite mercy and love and justice. Because of this, Catholics must reject this theological theory of double predestination. Double predestination makes God an unloving, unjust monster.
As described in the first paragraph, Catholics hold to a salvation theology that allows for both God’s infinite power and a role for man’s free will. In the spirit of SimpleCatholicTruth, I will use a graphical analogy to explain this idea. This analogy is borrowed from a blog post by an incredible Catholic lawyer turned seminarian (to be ordained in 2018) named Joe Heschmeyer. Joe offers amazing insight and clarity on a wide range of interesting Catholic topics. His blog is called Shameless Popery and I highly recommend that you go over there and browse around. [But after you’ve finished reading this post 🙂 ]
Let’s set up the analogy by stating that God desires His people the happiness of a having an everlasting home. God was responsible for building your house for you in the first place. The house was a free gift from God, unmerited and undeserved. You could never could have built a home like this, you are a simple man without the knowledge or skill or tools.
Now, imagine God as a painter, who both advertises free home interior painting, and who goes door-to-door offering the same.
Some people have heard of the door to door painter and are not interested. They won’t listen to anything the painter has to say, even to the point of refusing to open the door.
Some people begin to listen but after hearing the Good News of free interior paint, refuse His entry. He is a law abiding painter and won’t break in and paint the house even though that is what He desires and that He is powerful enough to do so.
He respects the owner’s foolish decision to say no because He loves them. His offer to those who slam the door in His face is genuine even though he knew the outcome.
How ironic that it was this painter that gave them the house in the first place when he worked as a Carpenter on the building team.
Since He’s God, He packs exactly the right amount of paint, and He has a list with the names of everyone who will accept and those that slam the door. Even so, he goes to every door and knocks.
Some people will let Him come in and He slowly transforms the interior of the house. He transforms them.
Later, a firestorm sweeps the neighborhood.
For those that rejected the divine house painter, they have only themselves to blame. You see, their houses burned down because they don’t have His free fireproof paint.
When their neighbor’s house remains standing, those lucky souls have only Him to thank. It isn’t like the saved neighbors painted their own house (the works-righteousness position). Yes, they did something by listening and accepting the Good News of the painter and took on faith His promise of protection. But it was God’s powerful paint, even though they allowed His entry and the application of the paint that transformed their house (themselves).
Okay, I know this is only an analogy and all analogies fail on some level. But even though not perfect it contains some elements of great truth.
The first thing that we must understand and embrace is the fact that God, in all His infinite power, knowledge, love, justice and mercy, is the boss. God is absolutely the author of all aspects of His plan for our salvation. All events – past, present and future – all actions and outcomes are due to His divine will and power. It is in this sense that we Catholics use the word “predestination.” With this understanding, the word predestination simply means that God has a plan, knows the plan, and affects the plan of salvation to its ultimate completion. God knew what houses would stand and which would fall. In a sense, he planned it – it was predestined. His plan, however, does not – can not, eliminate mankind’s free will. God did not force the individual outcomes. God did not break in and paint the house without permission. In this second sense, the house surviving or burning was also the result of the owner’s cooperating and to accept the power of God or to reject it.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says “When therefore he [God] establishes his eternal plan of “predestination,” he includes in it each person’s free response to his grace.”(CCC600)
So here we are at the conclusion to our series of God’s Power and Man’s Free Will. You hopefully now see that in truth there is no conflict between the two.
The final eternal results are not an either-or proposition (God’s power OR man’s free will) but rather a cooperative action…just as God planned.