Friday, July 18, 2008

Questions I Can't Answer... Pre-destination vs. Free Will

My mind was wandering, and I ended up with a question that I cannot answer. Perhaps you have a thought on this? Let me start with the beginning...

I had gotten an email (that usually circulates in September) about 9/11 and a poem about "Where Was God?" You can read the poem here - but in a nutshell the author pointed out all of the places that God WAS... calming the airplane passengers, discouraging people from heading in to work, holding up the Twin Towers an extra 1/2 hour to allow more people to escape, carrying 3000+ people to Heaven, trying to comfort those who had lost loved ones, etc...

Then my mind wandered to that little boy I wrote about a couple of months ago - Joey - who had died of cancer. He was only four years old. And my mind settled on my niece, Julia, who lived for only 6 days.

And then my mind started in on the idea of God knowing where we will be and what we will doing at any given point of our lives - and how this relates to the idea of "free will." I find it hard to reconcile the two ideas... that if God already knows what we will be doing, how can we have the free will to choose it?

All of that tied together with this question:

Is it possible that our life span has been pre-determined from the moment of our conception?
That the reason God knows where we will be is that our physical time on earth (years, months, days, minutes) is already set when we are born? Yet, within that time, we are free to make our own decisions - God just knows what all we need to accomplish in our lifetime?

As you can see, my mind was really busy this day!!

In Joey's case, was it already determined by God that Joey's life would be 4 short years - that that was the time needed for Joey to accomplish all of the things he needed to do in this life? And that even if cancer had not sent him to Heaven, some other end would have come around the same time?

In my case, was the reason that I did not die from a brain tumor (nope... haven't blogged about that yet... but never fear, it's coming!), was because it simply wasn't my time yet? That the time I rode in a car going 110 MPH on the back roads of Oxford, Ohio did not results in my death by a massive traffic accident because again, it wasn't my time? That the time when I rode my bike on a busy street (read: an almost-highway) when I was nine did not result in me being squished by a semi-truck because I still had more to do in this life?

That people can do all sorts of whacked-out, daredevil things and not be killed because dying at that particular moment would leave their life unfinished? That I could skydive, go bungee-jumping, or cliff-diving and I would be absolutely safe from dying... UNLESS it was my pre-determined time to go anyway?? That you physically cannot and will not end your life one second before "your time" - because God will intervene to push you on a different path.

When a child dies... or a young person, people always comment at their funeral that they "died too early." At other funerals, people shake their heads and say, "It was their time... what can you do?" What if the latter is true? What if it was exactly their time to go? And all of the treatments or alternate decisions would not have changed the outcome in the least?
And if this is true... does it matter?

Well... in terms of how you life your life? No. You still go on day after day, living life to the fullest, making the most of each day, living in as much of a Christ-like manner as you can. Because regardless, each of us does not know the exact day and time we will leave this Earth - and brooding about that fact will not do us any favors.

But, in terms of how you deal with the death of a loved one - perhaps it could make all the difference...?

Perhaps it could ease the mind of a person plagued with the "if only" laments...

IF ONLY I hadn't let them go on that trip alone...
IF ONLY I had warned them about that...
IF ONLY we had found another treatment option...
IF ONLY we'd gotten a third opinion...

If knowing that nothing they could have done would have changed the timeline of their loved one's life, maybe then, they could spare themselves from some of the blame and guilt.

Like I titled this post, I do not have any answers to these questions... just musings from an ordinary girl trying to eat from the Tree of Knowledge (and we all know where that got Eve!)... When I get to Heaven, I want to take all of the classes:
  • The REAL Missing Link: Reconciling Creation and Evolution
  • Cloud-Building 101,
  • the Why Do Children Have to Suffer Anything elective,
  • the Unicorns Never Made It Onto The Ark: Fact or Fiction class
  • The Purpose of Mosquitos
I want to eat from the Tree of Knowledge until I am stuffed full... packed with all of the answers to the earthly questions that eluded me. I'm hoping that once we're in Heaven, that tree is part of the Heavenly Buffet!

Until then, I'm going to hope that my life is long, and full, and happy - and do my best to make it the best while I'm here. Thanks for reading this - and if you have any answers, PLEASE click on "post a comment" and leave me a note!


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Hummie said...

Here is what I posted on my website (in part) back during 911 I hope it helps.

Heather S. said...

Very deep, thought-provoking questions, Maggie. The time that I thought about these things the most was when Paul and I were dating and I was praying to know if he was the "right one" for me. I had heard somewhere once that there is no one right person for you (soul mate) and that any two righteous people could be compatible if they were dedicated and worked at it enough. I was able to accept that to a point, but then I came to the conclusion that if God knows what is going to happen and who I am going to marry then really there is one right person. I went round and round on that one for a while, but finally came to the conclusion that my "finite mind was futilely trying to comprehend omniscience" (Neal A. Maxwell). So even though I didn't understand how it all works, I prayed about my decision, felt good about it, and married Paul.

As far as your questions go, I put down a few of my thoughts and then supplemented them with portions of a talk that can be found here. The thoughts that weren’t mine, I tried to put in italics or quotes.

#1 If God already knows what we will be doing, how can we have the free will to choose it?

We lived with God as His spirit children before we came to live on Earth. He knows each one of us very well. Better than we know ourselves, I would say. (And He loves us anyway !) Just like I know my children’s likes and dislikes and individual personalities, He knows ours. I know if I offered McKenna a green beans or carrots, she would choose green beans every time. Does that take away her agency to choose carrots? No. I just know what she will choose because she likes beans better.
“Our Heavenly Father has a full knowledge of the nature and disposition of each of His children, a knowledge gained by long observation and experience in the past eternity of our primeval childhood; a knowledge compared with which that gained by earthly parents through mortal experience with their children is infinitesimally small. By reason of that surpassing knowledge, God reads the future of child and children, of men individually and of men collectively as communities and nations; He knows what each will do under given conditions, and sees the end from the beginning. His foreknowledge is based on intelligence and reason. He foresees the future as a state which naturally and surely will be; not as one which must be because He has arbitrarily willed that it shall be.” (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977, p. 29.)

Maybe God does know how things will turn out but we are here to prove to ourselves how faithful we will be in the face of adversity?

Because we do not know the future (in the perfect way that God knows it), we are still completely free to choose it.
"There have been those who have failed or who have been treasonous to their trust, such as David, Solomon, and Judas. God foresaw the fall of David, but was not the cause of it. It was David who saw Bathsheba from the balcony and sent for her. But neither was God surprised by such a sad development.
It should not surprise us that the Lord, who notices the fall of each sparrow and the hair from every head, would know centuries before how much money Judas would receive—thirty pieces of silver—at the time he betrayed the Savior. (See Matt. 26:15, Matt. 27:3, Zech. 11:12.)"

#2 Is it possible that our life span has been pre-determined from the moment of our conception?

I don’t know whether or not our days are literally numbered and we won’t live more or less than a certain amount. Perhaps we have certain things to do and when they are done, our time is up?

I think, to some extent at least, we agreed before we were born to do certain things and to have certain life circumstances.

"If, indeed, the things allotted to each of us have been divinely customized according to our ability and capacity, then for us to seek to wrench ourselves free of our schooling circumstances could be to tear ourselves away from carefully matched opportunities. To rant and to rail could be to go against divine wisdom, wisdom in which we may once have concurred before we came here. God knew beforehand each of our coefficients for coping and contributing. (By the way, the things “allotted” do not include a bad temper or deficiencies of a developmental variety).
When, in situations of stress, we wonder if there is any more in us to give, we can be comforted to know that God, who knows our capacities perfectly, placed us here to succeed. No one was foreordained to fail or to be wicked.
When we have been weighed and found wanting, let us remember that we were measured before and were found equal to our tasks; and therefore, let us continue but with a more determined discipleship.
When we feel overwhelmed, let us recall the assurance that God will not overprogram us; he will not press upon us more than we can bear (see D&C 50:40)."

Heather S. said...

K. I am obviously not a computer genius, and neither my hyperlink nor my italics worked. Let me know if you would like more information on the resource I used.