I’ve been exploring what Muslims believe about free will and predestination. There is some disagreement among Muslims on this issue, it seems. There is also widespread disagreement among Christians about the extent to which we have free will.
I find it interesting that in both Islam and Christianity we find the idea that God writes books. At times, both in the Bible and the Qur’an, Scripture seems to indicate that God wrote a book containing all the deeds of every human being before the foundation of the world. This belief leaves no room for free will.
A belief prominent in Islam is that our deeds are recorded in a clear record as we do them, and this record will be shown to us on judgement day. However, if this is the case, there would seem to be no necessity for God having written a book with all our deeds before He created the universe. If He wrote all our deeds in a book before the beginning of time, why would there be the need to record them again, in another book, as our lives unfold?
There is another view in Islam (found in the Hadith literature, I believe) that the details of our lives are decided around the time of our conception, when such things as the span of our lifetime, the degree of ‘sustenance’ (wealth?) we will receive, and our ultimate destiny are decided. It’s unclear to me how this view relates to the idea of God laying out our deeds in a book at the beginning of creation.
In Christianity we find the idea that in theory our names can be ‘blotted out’ of the lamb’s book of life if we do wrong, so if this is the case it makes these written records less certain than one might imagine.
Taking all of these considerations on board, I am at present finding the whole subject quite confusing.
I have prayed to God to help me to understand these books that are written about in Scripture, and how they relate to the idea of predestination in Christianity and Islam, and what the truth is about them. I will have to see whether God reveals anything in this regard. One thing I am certain about is that we do not have free will, so I find it feasible that God could have predestined every event in our lives. My inclination, however, is to believe that God is more spontaneous, at least in the way He unfolds the details of our lives.
Was every word of this article (including all the typos I made and corrected!) written before the foundation of the universe? Or is it more believable that God makes certain long-term plans, but also improvises in the way He unfolds the details of our lives? I find the latter view easier to fathom, but I must not underestimate the awesome omniscience of God — I do believe He is powerful and wise enough to decree every detail of all our lives very far in advance, if His ability to do so were ever in question.
If you have any insights related to the idea that God keeps books, feel free to leave a comment below with your thoughts. Thank you for reading.
3 responses to “Are All my Deeds Recorded by God in a Book?”
This is only the second of your posts that I’ve read, but I really appreciate your writing and perspective. I am curious, however, as to why you excluded Judaism from this particular inquiry? After all the High Holidays is centered around the belief that God keeps books.
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Hi Myra. I know less about Judaism than I know about Christianity and Islam. I’m glad you commented. Tell us some more, if you’d like to.
Hi, Steven! Where to begin?
I’m being a little cheeky with that question because the Hebrew calendar begins in the Spring (with the month associated with Passover), but the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) is during the ninth month of the calendar (so, in the Autumn/Fall). Rosh Hashanah (the “head of the year”) is the beginning of the High Holidays, also known as the Ten Days of Awe and/or Ten Days of Atonement, which conclude with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). While these 10 days are a period of preparation, the very devout may spend weeks preparing for what some consider the “holiest” days.
As I’ve mentioned on my blog: “The liturgical poem “Unetaneh Tokef” (“Let Us Speak of the Awesomeness”) begins with the belief that on Rosh Hashanah G-d writes people’s names and fates in the “Book of Life” and that book is sealed on Yom Kippur. Then there is a litany of fates. Some people will go to services specifically to hear the poem, some will avoid it (as parts are explicit and can be triggering). Many of the fates are included in a beautifully haunting song by a young Leonard Cohen – which will stick with you! However, outside of the tradition, people don’t really focus on the end of the poem, which highlights the fact that (in theory) we have 10 days to ensure our name and fate are sealed favorably. The end of the poem outlines three key elements to the observation of this holiest of times. These three key elements can also be described as key elements to living a good life: ‘teshuvah and tefillah and tzedakah [return and prayer and righteous acts].’”
My apologies for the long comment; this is my jam, which is why I loved discovering your blog!
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