On Grace, Free Will, and Temporal Mechanics

12th DoctorMy wife and I are finally catching up on the most recent season of Dr. Who featuring Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor. The 12th Doctor breaks some ground by being older than the 10th and 11th Doctor, has a Scottish accent, and very angry looking eyebrows. The Doctor travels in time and space, sometimes alone (when he does, he gets more grouchy and cranky) and other times with a companion or two. The companion is usually a person from Earth from the time period in which that particular season is airing. The companion sees time travel from the viewers perspective and helps us learn and see time travel itself.

After watching tons of sci-fi over the years, one thing I’ve learned is that temporal mechanics is so freakin’ annoying. What causes what? What about consistency in the time line itself? Can the past be changed or did the interference of the Doctor in that situation cause what happened in the past in the first place? And how would we know?

The 10th Doctor defined it best this way in the episode Blink

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause and effect, but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly…timey-wimey…stuff.” 

One thing about temporal mechanics that I’ve learned from Dr. Who is that there are fixed events in time that cannot be changed. They cannot be moved. They must happen. Other things are in flux, but they can’t be in flux without having those fixed points in time that allow them to be in flux (confused yet? I am). Even when the Doctor tries to change a fix point in time, it still becomes that fixed point.

This makes me wonder, how much of life truly is free will and how much is a fixed point in time. How much is predetermined and how much is by our own choosing. Now, I look at the Bible, spirituality, and theology from what is called a Reformed perspective or accent. In the Reformed tradition, we look at God’s moving in the life of people as His grace. His grace is freely given, and by His grace through the Holy Spirit, He calls us. But the question becomes, how much is our own free will and how much is directed by God through His grace. What can we change? Can we change? What decisions can we make? Do we truly make them? This is just as confusing sometimes as trying to figure out temporal mechanics.

It can be confusing and at times it seems like even the Bible doesn’t fully know what’s going on.

In one place in Romans we read:

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…And those he predestined, he also called.” Romans 8:28-29

Tardis-in-Space-tardis-6289809-1600-1131Yet just a little bit later Paul writes:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised [Jesus] from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith that you are saved.” Romans 10:9-10

We read:

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election.” 2 Peter 1:10

And we also read:

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” Philippians 2:12-13

Even Jesus seems to confuse us at times. He says that he has chosen us and appointed us to Himself (John 16), yet at the same time Jesus gives the option to Levi the tax collector to follow Him and even says that He has come to call the sinners to repentance (Luke 5:27-32). Jesus tells people the cost of following Him and some people choose to and others walk away (Matthew 8:18-22, Luke 9:57-62, John 6:60-71). What’s going on here? Is it God’s grace given freely or is it a free will?

It seems that this too is a bit wibbley-wobbley timey-wime type of thing.

With Dr. Who, there are fixed points in time in which all of time and space pivots on. The Doctor has learned to leave it alone. In doing so, he allows those involved to make the decision that needs to be made in this fixed point in time which makes it a fixed point in time (still a bit confusing, I know).

Yet God’s grace isn’t that way. God doesn’t stand back and make it a lassez faire spirituality. God sends out His Spirit into our lives and in doing so, sends out messengers of the Joy of the Gospel message to work in the lives of people to come to know and understand God’s grace and freely come to Him.

12th Doctor mathUnlike temporal mechanics where things are not linear but always in flux, God’s grace is steady and constant. He moves in our lives. By His Spirit, He works in our lives helping us and guiding us to a deeper understanding of Him. At the same time, He doesn’t force us. As He speaks to us, the more we ignore Him, the more we walk away from Him, the more God pursues us, yet he still allows us to ignore Him if we so choose.

God’s grace and our free will are the different sides of the same coin. They are connected. They work together in a divine/human partnership that boggles the mind more than temporal mechanics does.

In the end, it is God who calls us out of darkness into His glorious light (1 Peter 2:9) and we answer this call by allowing Him to work in our lives knowing that nothing will separate us from His love for us in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:37-39).

The Doctor flits in and out of time and space, meddling here, stepping back there. You don’t know when you’ll hear that woosh woosh sound the TARDIS makes. In God, through Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God is always a constant. He is constantly with us. He is constantly for us. He is constantly giving us His grace calling us to freely receive His grace and live it.

So what will you do?

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