The French philosophy of Absurdity, as I understand it, can be summarised thus: All major philosophical issues are defined by a tension between two perspectives. The first perspective is the perspective of God, known as sub specie aeternitatis, Latin for “Beneath the gaze of eternity”. The second perspective is our own, individual, human, subjective perspective. These two perspectives are often found to be clashing in seemingly irreconcilable ways on deep and major issues.
To give one example, subjectively it seems completely obvious that we have free will. We live it and breath it. We have strong experiences of choosing between different alternatives. Freedom is something hard to pin down, and when you try to look directly at it it tends to run to our peripheral vision, but it’s definitely there; freedom is an experience we can all relate to.
However objectively, when you zoom out and try to adopt Gods perspective, free will seems to disappear. We simply cannot locate it anywhere in objective reality. Everything seems either totally random or deterministically caused. When you zoom out and behold the entire history of creation, everything seems to follow from prior causes and free will is nowhere to be found.
So with the issue of Free will, there is a tension between our perspective and Gods perspective. From our perspective it seems plainly obvious that we are free; from Gods perspective we look like little machines operating according to predefined laws.
Predetermined according to freedom
This tension can be resolved theologically. The primary action of God is to give existence to creation. God’s primary role is creator. One of the things that God creates is time; past, present and future. However God himself is outside of time and beholds all of history as a single eternal moment: all moments in creation, from the beginning to the end, are present to him simultaneously. In this way, we can speak of God creating in both the present continuous and past perfect.
In the past perfect, God has once and for all created all of history; everything that is going to happen in the future is predetermined and set in stone, and everything that has happened in the past is set in stone. From God’s eternal perspective creation is immutable, complete, finished. God has already created the end of history and beholds it immediately, even though to us it seems to have not yet come to pass. This is why God is able to speak to us about the end of time in scripture; he is able to promise us the eschaton and make it manifest in our present experience of life.
In the present continuous, God can be said to still be creating each individual moment that we experience, and everything contained within that moment. In this way God becomes the perpetual creator of everything: the sun, the stars, our emotions, our pleasure, our pain, and most importantly; our freedom.
We know from our subjective experience of the present moment that God has created freedom in us. When we experience freedom it is a direct window into the creative action of God. So why can’t we locate this freedom when we zoom out to God’s perspective? God performs a single, all-encompassing act of creation which stretches from the beginning of time to the end of time. As such, from God’s perspective, creation is immutable. However questions about this creation can be asked: In what way did God create? What are the details of this creation? According to what laws and patterns did God let it unfold?
When we step outside ourselves and examine creation, we are looking at the ways in which God has created. When we discover “laws of nature”, these are not laws of nature so much as habits of God. We discover that God constructs his creation so that it unfolds according to these laws. A miracle is simply when God does something different and doesn’t follow his usual habits, and therefore the laws of nature are “broken”.
This is where freedom is to be found. Our freedom was taken into account when God created history. You can imagine the situation as God asking us “ok guys, what happens next?” and then consulting our freedom to work out how he is going to create the next moment. He repeats this for every moment in creation, until all of history has been worked out and set in stone. In this way, we all become co-authors with God of the story of creation.
And so this is why things seem predetermined and free will is nowhere to be found when we zoom out to God’s perspective: it is because everything is predetermined. However it is not God who predetermines: it is us! Through our freedom, we have predetermined the path that history will unfold. If you imagine God unfolding creation according to one big mathematical formula, our freedom was just another variable he incorporated into the equation.
The important point to remember is that this is true freedom: we are really and truly free, and this can be verified by our subjective experience of freedom in the present moment. However when God sums up all of our choices and incorporates them into the entirety of creation history, everything becomes predetermined. The paradox is that our actions are determined and predetermined according to our freedom.
Sovereign will and Permissive will
It is possible to talk about God’s will in two ways. There is his sovereign will and his permissive will. God’s sovereign will can be loosely summed up as “What God wants to happen and what he is working towards”. God’s permissive will is essentially “whatever actually happens”.
An example of God’s sovereign will is his desire that all men be saved. This is something that God wants and is something that he is actively seeking. Another example of God’s sovereign will is all of his commandments that we must follow: for example that we love him and love our neighbour; that we do not murder and steal. These are things that God desires that we do and he is actively working towards helping us do them.
Examples of God’s permissive will can be easily found by consulting history: Nothing happens which God does not permit to happen. When the Jews were hunted down and slaughtered by Hitler, God allowed this to happen. When the printing press was invented, God allowed it to happen. When I was born, God allowed it to happen.
A prime example of God’s permissive will is our freedom. Every single action I take, whether good or evil, is permitted by God, but not determined by him. God creates my action, my freedom, and the results of my action, however the entire time he creates according to my freedom and permits what I choose to come to pass. This is the origin of sin and suffering in the world. God does not desire sin or suffering, however due to our freedom we choose it, and he ratifies our choice.
Hope in the promise of Apokatastasis
The Gospel message of Hope is that God’s Sovereign will will eventually come to pass at the end of time, the end of creation, the eschaton. We hope and believe that God has a hidden and mysterious plan. He is like the perfect chess-master who is able to construct creation such that he can outmanoeuvre every single choice that we make, and eventually win the game. We cannot go on thwarting his sovereign will forever. In short, God gets what God wants. Every event in history is important to God’s plan. The entire reason we have a past, present and future is so that God can give us freedom and make us perfect in time, until we arrive at the eschaton in which all of God’s sovereign purposes have been achieved. The message of hope is that God incorporates all events, including our free choices, into his plan, and that once this plan comes to pass there will be no more tears, no more death, no more sin, no more guilt and despair, no more abuse of freedom. Instead there will only be boundless overflowing love, given freely, there will be glory and worship, every knee shall bow and declare that God is good. Hell will be empty, all of creation will be saved, singing and rejoicing. We will all look back and laugh. Slaves will forgive their masters. Rapists and their victims will embrace. Hitler and the Jews will be reconciled. No one will be left behind. All men will be saved. Even the Devil and his demons will be brought back to the light.
This grand vision of the eschaton is not something that we know with certainty. The future is still foggy for us where we stand right now. However we have promises from God written down in the holy scriptures that this future will come to pass. We trust that God can see this final future and we trust that he does not lie. We trust that he has the power to bring his promises about. Our freedom cannot thwart God’s plans: no matter what we do, he is able to outsmart us and eventually see us saved. How wonderful it is to hope and trust in this vision of the future.