Friday, October 06, 2006

Ice Cream and Videotapes

When my two sons were very young, my wife and I introduced them to chocolate ice cream. I suspected that they would like it the first time they tasted it, but I did not know for sure because I could not see into the future. My boys immediately liked it, and now they prefer it to every other flavor. Fortunately, chocolate ice cream was plentiful in South Korea during our years as missionaries there. (The boys are both university students in America these days.)

I have learned from my experience that when choosing ice cream at the grocery store, I should buy only chocolate ice cream. It is the one flavor that everyone in the family likes. I have also learned that under the right circumstances my two sons will always choose to eat chocolate ice cream when it is offered to them. They trust me to give them food that is not poisoned. If I wait until they are hungry, and if they are not sick, they will eat chocolate ice cream if I present it to them in clean bowls or in the form of a milk shake in a clean glass.

When I put the milk shakes or bowls of ice cream in front of my sons in those circumstances, I have in a sense predestined them to eat that ice cream, but I have not violated their free choice by doing so. They exercise their free choice, and they could choose to reject the ice cream and eat something else; but I know with great probability (but not absolute certainty) that they will choose to eat the ice cream because it has been their favorite food since they first tasted it.

There is only one way the average parent can watch his or her child make a free choice and know in advance with absolute certainty what that choice will be. If the parent has already videotaped the choice being made, then the parent can watch the choice being made again on videotape while already knowing the outcome. That is the only way for humans to have perfect “foreknowledge” of an event—the event must be in the past, and the person with knowledge of the past event is watching a replay of the event. You may wish that you could see videocassettes showing all future events before they actually occur, but only God has complete foreknowledge.

My imperfect but accurate assessment of what my sons will do with the ice cream is based on past experience. When the boys first tasted chocolate ice cream I assumed they would like it, but there was a possibility that they would not. They could have spit it out after tasting it for the first time.

There is only one way I could have known in advance that my sons would like the chocolate ice cream the first time they tasted it. God could have miraculously sent me a videocassette showing the actual event before it happened. With such foreknowledge I would truly be predestining them to swallow the ice cream when I set it in front of them for the first time, but I would not be forcing it on them. They would still be making a type of free choice.

If God, utilizing His counterfactual knowledge, had sent me a videocassette of an imagined, non-actual future event that showed my sons spitting out the ice cream when they tasted it for the first time under imagined circumstances, then I might not want to waste the money, time, and effort involved in giving them that first opportunity to taste chocolate ice cream under those particular circumstances. I might not want to force or manipulate them to taste it if I knew they would not like it. Another option, however, would be to ask God if there were any circumstances under which my sons would like the ice cream.

Suppose, for instance, that He sent me another videocassette that showed my sons not liking the ice cream at first but eventually liking it after it had been in their mouth for a while. In that case I would want to go to the trouble to prepare the ice cream and keep my hand over their mouth so they could not spit it out immediately.

Earlier in my life, I had acquired a taste for good coffee, but I must admit that I was not excited about it the first time I tried it. During our family’s first furlough in America I decided that our two sons were old enough to try it for the first time. So I took them to an expensive coffee shop inside a bookstore. I probably made a mistake by not putting sugar and cream in their first cups as neither of them liked the first sip. My younger son was willing to continue trying coffee and gradually developed a taste for it, but my older son has not yet developed a taste for it.

The analogy should be clear. Some elect people are ready to commit their lives to Jesus without experiencing many preparation events. An example of this type of person would be a teenager with loving Christian parents who have nurtured him in an environment largely devoid of hypocrisy. Other elect people, however, have issues that must be dealt with over a longer period of time. Many preparation events may be necessary before they are ready to taste Jesus, and while they taste Him they may procrastinate before they commit their lives to Him by swallowing Him. God knows exactly how much time and how many preparation events will be necessary for those elect tasters who will decide to swallow the living bread (John 6:51). He also knows that non-elect people will refuse to swallow Jesus under any circumstances. God is a loving God, and He will provide an opportunity for conversion to all those that He knows would indeed surrender their lives to Christ in repentance and faith.