Tuesday, December 30, 2008

C. S. Lewis on Calvinism and Free Will

Reading in Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C. S. Lewis, a selection from among his many letters, I came across a couple of interesting takes on Calvinism and the question of free will:
On Calvinism. Both the statement that our final destination is already settled and the view that it still may be either Heaven or Hell, seem to me to imply the ultimate reality of Time, which I don't believe in. The controversy is one I can’t join on either side for I think that in the real (Timeless) world it is meaningless. (pp. 117-8)

All that Calvinist question — Free-Will and Predestination, is to my mind undiscussable, insoluble. Of course (say us) if a man repents God will accept him. Ah yes, (say they) but the fact of his repenting shows that God has already moved him to do so. This at any rate leaves us with the fact that in any concrete case the question never arrives as a practical one. But I suspect it is really a meaningless question. The difference between Freedom and Necessity is fairly clear on the bodily level: we know the difference between making our teeth chatter on purpose and just finding them chattering with cold. It begins to be less clear when we talk of human love (leaving out the erotic kind). ‘Do I like him because I choose or because I must?’ — there are cases where this has an answer, but others where it seems to me to mean nothing. When we carry it up to relations between God and Man, has the distinction perhaps become nonsensical? After all, when we are most free, it is only with a freedom God has given us: and when our will is most influenced by Grace, it is still our will. And if what our will does is not ‘voluntary’, and if ‘voluntary’ does not mean ‘free’, what are we talking about? I’d leave it all alone. (p. 186)
That pretty well says where I am on the matter. I wore Calvinism for about 25 years, from a couple of years out of Bible college until a few years back when I hung it back up on the rack because it didn’t fit. It just doesn’t seem to be relevant to anything real. The whole point-counterpoint between Calvinism and Arminianism seems to be trying to answer questions that the Bible does not ask or means to answer.

The discussion often proceeds as if God is bound by time, as we are. But He is the creator of time and as such is not constrained by it. We speak of foreknowledge, as if it is prior knowledge from God’s point of view, as it is from ours. But for God, it is simply knowledge with no “before” or “after” about it. He can know something as it happens — and it all happens for Him in one moment — without that knowledge being the cause of it happening. Knowledge does not equal causality. For example, if you and I were sitting together and you turned to me and said something, I would know what you were saying as you were saying it. But my knowledge of you saying it would not be the cause of you saying it. You would be free to say it or not. Likewise, God’s “foreknowledge” (which to Him is simply knowledge) of what we do, say, think or believe does not require that He be the cause of it.

In His sovereignty God has, for whatever reason, chosen to give us free will. That is a grace. And if He has chosen to influence our will by a further grace to turn to Him, it is still, as Lewis says, our will that does so. If we treat the will as anything other than voluntary and free to do or not do otherwise, then we are really not talking about will but determinism.

After years of batting the question around I have found no significance to it. With Lewis, I suspect it really is a meaningless question, and agree that perhaps the distinction it makes really is nonsensical after all.

Blessings to all my Calvinist friends, as well as my non-Calvinist ones.

Greetings to our friends in Dubai and Singapore.

Happy New Year to all.


  1. Thank you for your commentary here. After some debate on the subject recently your view resonates. The question is absurd, I believe that. If each person has free will and God desires none to perish then it seems logical to me that each man and woman has, during their lifetime, a chance to chose Jesus and the one true God, whether thru preaching, vision, dream, or whatever other method the God of the universe decides to use. We should not try to put God in a box with our understanding. Who are we to determine to God how he decides to communicate with His creation whom He loves dearly?

  2. AMEN!!!! ALL of mankind was "predestined" to have relationship with God. ALL of mankind was "predestined" to partake in the grace and atonement of Jesus. ALL of mankind was "predestined" to have a free will to choose otherwise.

  3. Anonymous10:52 PM

    Well i think C.S. Lewis was to philosophical in determining his answer. Scripture must be used in dealing with this issue, and God has given us light on this topic. "For it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy." Romans 9:16

  4. You are out of context Mr. Anonymous.

  5. Anonymous5:51 PM

    "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened. "
    — C.S. Lewis (The Great Divorce)

    Pretty much sums it up without ambiguity

  6. This was fascinating! I've always wondered what C.S. Lewis' thoughts on Calvinism were.