In Star Wars Episode III, The Revenge of the Sith, Jedi Master Mace Windu and Sith Lord Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious) are engaged in battle when Anakin Skywalker enters the room. As Anakin watches on, Palpatine fires force lightning, which Windu deflects with his light saber. Locked in this struggle, the Sith looks at Anakin and cries out that he must choose whom he will help.
The young Jedi is faced with a decision:
- Help Mace Windu defeat Palpatine.
- Help Palpatine defeat Mace Windu.
In choosing to help Mace Windu, Anakin can reject the Dark Side and fulfill the prophecy that, as the Chosen One, he would bring balance to the Force. However, Anakin is fearful of losing Padme and wants Palpatine’s help. In helping the Sith Lord, Anakin would be completing his journey to the Dark Side and becoming Darth Vader.
It appears that Anakin has an important choice to make. Or does he?
In his essay, Predestination in the NT, which appears in the book, Grace for All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation (see post here), I. Howard Marshall compares the meticulous view of God’s sovereignty (aka divine determinism) to an author writing a script. In this post we will flush that idea out using the Star Wars movies.
Meticulous Sovereignty affirms that before the foundation of the world, all that would happen was established by the decree and will of God. Here is how Calvin put it in the Institutes III.21.5 (see also Institutes I.16.8 and this post):
By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man.
God in eternity past decided what would occur in the creation that He would make. We could see why Marshall would compare this idea to an author writing out a script for a movie. If God wrote out the decrees, they would be analogous to a movie script.
Meticulous sovereignty also rejects that the decrees are influenced or based on future actions that are foreknown. It stresses that all foreknowledge of future actions is based on the decrees that preceded them.
Decree → Foreknowledge → Future Actions
Continuing with the analogy, we can know in advance what is going to happen in the movie because we can pick up the script and read it, knowing that what we are about to watch is going to follow along with what was written prior to the film being made. When God says, “Let there be light,” that is the beginning of creation and the decreed story begins. This is very similar to the director yelling, “Lights, camera, action!” The story comes alive, but all that occurs has been predetermined by what is written in the script.
So as Anakin stares at the two warriors locked in battle, and contemplates his decision, we look to the script and see that the script denies Anakin an actual contingent choice. Anakin cannot choose #1, because the script is written so that he will choose #2.
The Script → Future Actions
It is at this point in a discussion on meticulous sovereignty that proponents start to deflect from this analogy. The discussion usually moves into debates about compatibilistic choices, which are still rooted in the choice being fully determined ahead of time, moral responsibility and whether foreknowledge allows contingent choice (see this post for details). After all, proponents of meticulous sovereignty will argue, we all knew before we saw Episode III that Anakin would become Darth Vader. Therefore, Anakin never had a contingent choice even if there was no script and nothing was decreed ahead of time. He had to choose to help Palpatine.
How did we know this? Because we saw the original trilogy (Episodes IV – VI). Our knowledge seems to limit Anakin’s choice. But take a moment to consider something. When you watched Episodes IV-VI did you cause Anakin to become Darth Vader? Of course not. We knew what Anakin would choose in Episode III, but foreknowing an action that will occur in the future is not causative. The actions cause the foreknowledge.
Foreknowledge ← Future Actions
Moving back to an examination of divine determinism, through the analogy of the Star Wars script, there are several important questions:
- Did the creator of Star Wars “permit” the slaughter of Jedi Younglings when he wrote that into the script? Or did he “author” it?
- Is Anakin Skywalker “choosing” to join the Dark Side when he plays out his part in the script?
- Is Anakin Skywalker “morally responsible” for killing the Jedi Younglings as he plays out his part in the script?
- What part, if any, did Anakin Skywalker play in the repentance of his evil actions in Return of the Jedi, which allowed him to exist as a Force Ghost after he died?
- Did the creator of Star Wars “bypass” Palpatine when he wrote into the script that he would remain wicked and perish? Or did he “choose” to create him with the intent of perishing?
- Did Palpatine “deserve” to be thrown into a reactor shaft for his wicked actions as he was only playing out his part in the script?
These are important questions to wrestle with. But it is not until we understand meticulous sovereignty and have a clear picture of what that looks like that we can move on to examine them. Whether you are a proponent or opponent of meticulous sovereignty, do you think Marshall’s analogy is accurate? If you don’t think this is a reasonable illustration of meticulous sovereignty, what analogy would you use to explain this view?