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Question 58

Does God have a specific plan for our earthly lives or is everything which happens to us here on earth because of our choices or outside circumstances? 



Answer to Question 58


When God created Adam, He made him according to His image and likeness. We understand by this that the image is man’s spirit, the soul, which is endowed with intelligence, with thought, wisdom and prudence, so as to be able to discern good from evil. It is man’s sovereign state and free will to choose his own destination: to choose between knowing and having communion with God, or to separate himself from God. To be in the likeness of God is the ability to acquire the grace of God: to be deified by the Holy Spirit and become a god. In other words, to be united to God through our own free will by accepting God’s will and making it ours. We acquire this likeness through God’s help and by our own efforts. If we make proper use of our free will, we can reach the ultimate aim for which man was created, to be a god by grace. 


Thus free will is and always was the teaching of the Orthodox Church. God cannot force anyone to believe in him otherwise we would be like robots programmed in what to do and say. Christ said “If anyone would come after me, then let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me,” 


If we say that everything that happens to us is from God then we are in danger of falling into the beliefs of karma and predestination. If everything is predetermined by God then we have no need of free will. Someone who sins is not guilty because he was preordained to sin. Does God predetermine who will be saved and who will not be saved? Does he make one person to be a murderer and another to be a saint? The answer is not to be found by blaming God for how each person turns out, but in our free choices and by external factors like our social upbringing. If someone is born with a silver spoon in his mouth and brought up in palaces he will probably grow up thinking he is above the average man with a good education and having been accustomed to getting what he wants at the snap of his fingers. On the other hand someone born in the slums rarely receives a good education; he will grow up tough usually having to fight for his survival and because his environment is steeped in crime, he also will probably grow up with crime as a normal way of life. 


If our fate is already written for us then why would Christ say: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2); and again: “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth”. (Luke 15:7) 


Christ did not say: “Do not repent for I will not accept you,” while to others who were predestined: “But you, repent! because I knew you beforehand”? But he did say: “Come to Me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Come, He says, all you who are burdened with many sins, to the One Who takes away the sin of the world; come all who thirst to the fountain which flows and never dies. 


We cannot believe in predestination and at the same time believe that man has free will. The fact that the Kingdom of God is "taken by force" presupposes personal effort. God respects our own efforts but he also has foreknowledge which is something different from predestination. God knows all things past present and future, he knows beforehand who will accept him and who will deny him, but he doesn’t predetermine or compel anyone to act one way or the other. 


If someone is opposed to God then he follows a life of his choosing without God. On the other hand if someone chooses to place himself in God’s providence then his life becomes a synergy, a cooperation of two wills – God’s and man’s. This is essential for salvation because it is not only through our own efforts that we will find salvation; our efforts will produce nothing without divine grace, but neither will divine grace without our participation bring about what is sought; grace acts in us and for us through our efforts. Both combine in a person to bring progress and carry him to salvation. God's foreknowledge is unfathomable, but it does not infringe on man's freedom. God foresees how a man will freely act and makes dispositions accordingly.