Today in my systematic theology precept (small group class) we discussed divine Providence, which inevitably (at least from God's perspective--ha!) led to a discussion of predestination. So I've been thinking about predestination and wondering what the official Quaker view is on the matter.
Now, admittedly I haven't read Barclay's Apology all the way through, and I haven't even read the parts I've read for about 6 years, so I don't know for sure if Barclay addresses this issue, but I just found the Apology online and did a search for the world "predistination" and neither of the two places it showed up did it really outline his position, as far as I could tell. I'm not sure if there's a Quaker doctrine on predistination, although I think Quakers are generally not really excited about predestination.
So what's the big deal with predestination? The major question is, does God know ahead of time what everyone will do and what will happen in all of history? And there are tons of subsequent questions. If God knows what will happen, do humans have any free will to choose their actions, or is the fact that God knows the future limiting us to act in the way God foreknows? If not, then is God really omniscient and can God have everything under control, headed toward a specific goal, as the doctrine of Providence says God is doing? And even if we don't think about the doctrine of Providence, if God doesn't know what's going to happen, who's in control and where's the meaning in life? If God foreknows what will happen, is God causing that to happen, or just knowing, and is there a difference?
If God knows what will happen, why does God allow bad things to happen to innocent people, good things happen to people who are not so nice, and allow natural disasters? If God knows what will happen and uses it all for good, does that mean that when people do things that aren't good they are doing the will of God, and if so can they really be held accountable for it?
There are also questions of salvation through faith or works. If we assume a Christian pespective (which I'm sure not all Quakers will do comfortably but bear with me), does God offer salvation to all people? If so, whose fault is it that some accept it and some do not? Is it people's fault for not recognizing God in their lives? Or is it God's fault for not presenting God's self in a way they will accept, when God knows full well that they will not accept God from the experiences they're given? Does God create some people knowing they will not accept God? Why does God even create them in that case? And if God doesn't know who will end up choosing God or not, is God bound to time as we are, or is God able to hide things from God's self until the time comes to know fully, or what? And if we're all presented with the ability to be "saved," and we have to choose it, doesn't that mean that our faith--our own human action--is what saves us rather than the grace of God? (Most Protestants have a huge problem with this part.)
Put in Quaker words, if everyone has the Light of God within, a piece of themselves that can connect with God and others on a spiritual level, then why do some respond ot it and others try to stifle it? If everyone has the Light of God within but some are taught to pay attention to that and nurture it and others are taught the opposite, whose fault is it if someone doesn't respond to that God-spark? The individual's, because they have God's presence right there inside; the community who raised them, for not teaching them better; or God, for not making God's self known in an understandable way?
I don't have any answers for all this, except to say that somehow, I believe that God does have knowledge of what's going to happen, but this knowledge doesn't mean that God causes us to do things. Somehow we still have free will. Somehow God presents God's self to us in a way that each of us can understand if we choose to, and this choosing has to do with the Spirit guiding us to understand as well as our own willingness to be guided by the Spirit. So we do have to take action in accepting God's Light as our inner guide, but God also has freely extended that to us without our deserving it. God is moving the entire universe toward relationship with God, and we have the choice to participate in that or not. God's will will be done, however, whether we cooperate or not.
So that's my stab at this Quaker's doctrine of predestination, and I suppose I could come up with proof-texts from the Bible to support these views, but there has been enough of that in the history of the doctrine of predestination to make anyone sick, so I won't put you through that. Instead hopefully we can allow the Spirit to sift the truth and falsehood for us in each of our beliefs and help us understand this matter more clearly.
Or, more likely, this is just part of the beautiful, paradoxical mystery of our present God that we will never understand...but I think we are to die trying.