Very few in history have been assured of their final destiny in heaven. These words spoken by Jesus to his 72 commissioned disciples (which can be found in the Gospel of Luke) are such an assurance. St. Paul reflected on this in his letter to the Romans…
We know that all things work for good for those who love God,* who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified. [Romans 8:28-30]
St. Paul clearly spoke of those who were, as he put it, "predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son", a powerful indication of assurance of final entry into heaven. We would be remiss, however, if we misinterpreted the prior clause, "those he foreknew". How we interpret this gives us the key to answering the question of whether our destinies are predetermined or whether they are subject to our free will (in the sense of our being free to choose good over evil).
Now, it must be admitted that there is a major complication to this discussion.. Someone who is "hooked" on drugs, sex, gambling, violence, or any other major addiction, often experience a sense of powerlessness over these inducements. Indeed, the so-called "twelve step process" (first adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and then shared by its sister organization, Al-Anon, as well as Narcotics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, and so forth) begins with an admission: "Admitted we were powerless over [the addictive agent] and that our lives had become unmanageable." This is, however, a neuro-psychological issue at least as much as it is a philosophical or theological one.
A trained priest will recognize the possibility of this issue in the question of whether the sin being confessed by a penitent was committed with full knowledge and full consent of the will, or whether the penitent was ignorant of the moral nature and consequences of the act or his or her will was impaired by habit or addiction. The answer to this question could mean the difference between a mortal sin and a venial sin. [Such a condition, however, is usually occasioned by a free act of the will to "try something" to see if it will lead to happiness. Anything that is inherently intoxicating has a potential to impair free will, particularly while we are under its immediate influence. See the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Part III, covers many aspects of this connection between free will, sin and habitual behavior.]
The primary issue being considered here, however, is the philosophical and theological underpinning of free will versus determinism.
In particular, how should we interpret "those he foreknew" when we look at the question of predestination?
There are essentially two ways God, who is infinite in intellect and will as well as in the power to create and destroy, might know our future. They are;
- In the absence of free will, God can predict how things will turn out. We might call this the Calvinist interpretation.
- Even with free will, God can see the future just as easily as he can see the present and the past. God's life is "eternally present" in, for us (because we live in time), a paradoxical sense. This is the Catholic interpretation. See, for example, ¶ 600 of the Catechism.
But, you will argue, #1 can't be true because quantum uncertainty enables only statistical assessment, not definitive prediction. [See, for instance, Schrödinger's cat.] Thus, it would seem that the power to predict by mere calculation is seriously limited. John Calvin, of course, could not possibly have known that. God could, however, determine the outcome even of such quantum randomness. Note that quantum randomness is an essential underpinning of the field of statistical mechanics and, in particular, of the second law of thermodynamics - known as the law of entropy. God's intervention in quantum randomness is essential to explain the burning bush of Exodus 3, for example. Nevertheless, without God intervening in all quantum events, such predictions are, at least theoretically, impossible.
This leaves interpretation #2. Note, even the Schrödinger cat experiment involves an intervention, in the form of looking into the box to see whether the cat is alive or dead. In quantum theory [according to the Copenhagen interpretation], all observation is a kind of intervention. Although other interpretations attempt to get around this point, they present insuperable difficulties in making any coherent sense out of the fact of human consciousness.