Predestination — Does The Bible Really Teach It?

Title: Predestination – Does the Bible Really Teach It?

Text: Romans 9:10-13, 14-15, 16-18

Time: September 22nd, 2012

 

Last time I taught about predestination and asked the question, “Is It True?” Today, I’d like to follow-up on that message by raising another question, “Predestination – Does the Bible Teach It?” I gave an example last time from the Book of Romans, a passage that describes the doctrine of predestination as taught by the Apostle Paul. I didn’t have time enough to go into a full-blown explanation of the verse because I used it only as one example in one point of the whole message. But today, I’d like to take a little longer in dealing with a few passages contained in Romans 9 and unpack Paul’s teaching on predestination. There are still a lot of Christians who think that the Bible never teaches anything about predestination, or that the doctrine is a man-made teaching. Whether they know it or not, they are the ones holding to a man-made teaching, that is, they hold to the philosophy of free will without qualification, or absolute autonomy of the soul. But where is that taught in the Bible? It isn’t. What the Bible teaches is human free will and divine predestination, both together. So whatever the Bible is teaching about man’s free will, it isn’t teaching absolute free will, or else the doctrine of predestination makes no sense. Neither is it teaching absolute predestination, or else the doctrine of free will makes no sense. In other words, both human free will and divine predestination are taught in the Bible, and both are compatible with each other. What that means is that it is incorrect for Christians to hold only the doctrine of absolute human free will, just as it would be wrong for Christians to hold only the doctrine of absolute divine predestination. It isn’t enough to say “free will” or “predestination” alone. One must be taught next to the other in order for the truth to result. If we merely talk about human free will, then we misrepresent the biblical teaching. But also, if we merely talk about divine predestination, then we also misrepresent the Bible’s teaching as well. So we need to qualify one with the other in order to arrive at the truth from God. That’s what the Bible does from beginning to end. But in our day and age, the biggest error is not in neglecting the doctrine of free human will, rather, it is in neglecting the doctrine of predestination. As humans, we don’t have to wonder why this imbalance is tipped towards the human component – that’s what man’s biggest problem is, overrating himself and underrating God. It’s called sin. It’s why Christ came to die for us on the cross, to deal with sin, so that we might live. We normally and naturally, in our fallen state, want to think of ourselves as capable of being in total or absolute control. Free will fits nicely with the fallen, sinful nature of man.  It feeds our natural sinful human pride. Predestination, on the other hands, offends our ego because it tells us that we are not in total or absolute control, even of our own destiny. So we naturally favor free will over predestination. But, like I said before, this is an imbalance that as Christians we need to correct. A first step in correcting this over-emphasis on human free will is examining the biblical teaching of divine predestination, so that at least we understand that it is taught in God’s Word. Then we can begin to assimilate the teaching into our Christian life, as it ought to be. So let me look again at the Apostle Paul’s teaching on predestination from Romans 9.

 

First, God knows who will be saved before anyone is even born. Romans 9:10-13, “Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand; not by works but by him who calls – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’” What the Apostle Paul is trying to say here is that God knew and God had determined that Esau would serve Jacob before either was even born, before either had displayed any characteristics good or bad. In other words, God didn’t need to determine how the children would turn out before he knew which should lead, which he should favor, or which would fulfill his special purposes. He already knew everything about both Jacob and Esau before they were born. He already had a plan based on his knowledge of them before they were born. That’s predestination, but it doesn’t mean that they didn’t have human free will, as some Christians think. Because God knew that Jacob would follow him, because God knew that Esau would not follow him doesn’t mean that they didn’t have free will. It just shows that God has a will as well and that God is ultimately in control of what does or doesn’t happen, all the while respecting the free will of his created children. The mystery of predestination is, “Why would God create some people, like Esau, who he knew wouldn’t follow him, who he knew would reject him, who he knew would ultimately disobey?” That is the question we really don’t have any answer for, at least, we don’t have any answer so far, in this lifetime. Why create free creatures that choose to reject or disobey God, who will ultimately perish for eternity? Would it be better, wouldn’t it be more merciful to never create any free creatures that would ultimately perish?” That’s what our human thinking asks, because that’s what we as humans might do. But then again, we aren’t God, we don’t have his perspective, and therefore we are in no position to judge God. That’s what Paul says a little later in the passage – we shouldn’t judge God because we aren’t God. As humans, as limited, created creatures, we can’t see the big picture, because we can only see our little finite view from earth. God is in a position to see from eternity past to eternity future, and from an infinite viewpoint. According to the Bible, there is no tension, there is no conflict or contradiction between human free will and divine predestination. But from our limited, finite human perspective it doesn’t make complete sense. Well, we’ll just have to get used to it not making complete sense, because according to God and God’s Word it’s the way it is, period.

 

Second, God’s divine predestination is not unjust? Romans 9:14-15, “What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’” Here the Apostle Paul deals a little bit with an obvious objection to any teaching on divine predestination. The objection is that God is not fair, or that he’s unjust in determining ahead of time who is accepted and who isn’t accepted. In the illustration already given, it could be argued that God isn’t being fair or just to Esau, because it says that God had already determined that Esau wouldn’t be accepted, while it was already determined by God before birth that Jacob would be accepted. Is God being unjust or unfair? From the limited human perspective, from our partial and incomplete knowledge of things, yes, it does seem unfair that Esau was already marked as a troublemaker even before he was born. But we need to remember that, according to predestination, as I understand it, Esau’s free will was never violated. The Bible teaches from beginning to end that we are all given free will. That means Esau was given the free will to choose go or bad, to do right or wrong, to put faith in God or reject him. Esau chose to go his own way; he chose the path he took. The only difference with divine predestination is that God knew before Esau was born what direction he would take and used that direction to fit into his overall plan for people on the planet earth. Esau was given the same free will as Jacob, he was given the ability to chose. God knew how it would turn out, and using that end-game knowledge worked even Esau’s rebellion into his overall will and plan. And God used Jacob’s free will and choices into the plan as well. He does the same with good and bad choices on earth in our own time. For example, God knew that Adolf Hitler would choose to do evil, that he’d rise to power, that he would lead Germany against the Jews. God used the evil will of Adolf Hitler to work out a divine plan. What was the plan? We don’t know the whole plan of God, but we do know that as it turned out the Jews got their homeland, the Promised Land, back after thousands of years of wandering from it. The nation of Israel is a testimony as to how God works even evil into his good plan. The sinful will of man doesn’t frustrate the will of God. How could it? God already knows what will take place before it takes place. He has his will worked out to prevail ultimately. What is still a mystery to us is why God allows for evil choices, or worse, why God allows people, why he permits people who make ultimately damning decisions to even be permitted to make those choices. Wouldn’t it be better to withhold existence from those who would ultimately perish in hell? Evidentially, according to God, it’s better to give a person free will, even to choose bad, than to deny them existence at all. That’s hard to understand, but it seems to be God’s mode of operation.

 

Third, God alone, ultimately, predetermines who will go to heaven or hell. Romans 9:16-18, “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” What the Apostle Paul is teaching here is very plain – we do not ultimately determine our own destiny, either heaven or hell. God ultimately determines, predetermines, our destiny. We might be inclined to believe and follow God, therefore, go to heaven. But we must remember that there are probably plenty of potential people in the mind of God who also would have believed if given the chance and thus go to heaven as a result. But only those potential people whom God permits to be born and exist on earth and who are given the opportunity to make the free choice go to heaven. So then, we really can’t brag about anything. We can’t say, “I determined that I would go to heaven.” No, that is incorrect. God ultimately decided that you would have the opportunity to go to heaven by giving you life on earth. He chose you from among the infinite number of potential people he could have selected, the infinite number of possibilities that exist in his divine mind, and you were given life and breath and asked to choose. So God chose you first, and only then did you choose him. But again, the big mystery is, “Why does God choose to populate hell?” It must be – and this is pure speculation – it must be impossible to get a true community of people who love God and seek his will without also generating the opposite, that is, a community of people who reject God and refuse to submit to his will. In other words, it must be impossible for God to generate true children without generating rebellious children who refuse to love and obey him. It may be impossible to populate heaven without also populating a hell also. It must be so, because I can’t imagine God creating a hell just for the sake of creating a hell, where souls suffer endlessly forever, if there were any other way out of it. I’ve got to believe that he brings souls into existence, some souls, knowing that they will freely reject him, only because that is necessary in order to bring souls into existence who freely love him. Again, we don’t have all the answers now, perhaps someday we will. God raised Pharaoh, as it turns out, to freely play the part of bad guy in the Exodus event. Yet Pharaoh freely chose to react that way to the events around him and play that role, so there was no violating free will. If we go back to Exodus in the Old Testament, we’ll even see passages that describe Pharaoh as “hardening his own heart,” while other passages, such as in Romans, that describe God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. Again, it’s both/and, not either/or. Human free will and divine predestination.

 

I hope we can begin to see that the Bible does teach divine predestination, but that it doesn’t teach that God violates our free human will. God works within human free will. That may be hard for us to comprehend as finite human beings, but it’s what the Bible teaches, so we must believe it. The ultimate thing we can say from all of this is that God truly is in control. But isn’t that what we really want to know anyway? Don’t we want God to be in control? Think about the consequences of God not being in ultimate control. If God isn’t in ultimate control, then perhaps, things could get out of control at some point and even God couldn’t bring them back into control. If God isn’t ultimately in control, if all things that happen don’t ultimately happen under his control, then perhaps evil does in the end win. We wouldn’t know for sure. We would always wonder or question, “Will truth ultimately win? Will the good prevail?” There are some Christians, in order to preserve some absolute form of free will even go as far as to say that God doesn’t know all things that will happen in the future, or that God purposefully and deliberately doesn’t know how free creatures will decide, so that he doesn’t predetermine anything for them. But if that were the case, what assurances do we have that our free will, or the free will of supernatural fallen evil angels, for example, couldn’t overturn or overthrow God’s authority in the end? We wouldn’t have any assurance, if God isn’t ultimately and utterly in control of things. No, it comforts me to know that things can’t get out of control, or that things ultimately will be under the control of a loving and good God. I don’t want human will ultimately in control. That’s a scary thought, as far as I’m concerned. Under that scenario, who is to say that some super evil human will, another Hitler, doesn’t rise up and destroy all life in the process. If God isn’t ultimately in total control, that could happen. No, there’s a good reason why the Bible balances human freedom and divine predestination. On the one hand, God wants us to take responsibility for our lives by making good choices. He will hold us accountable for our choices. But that doesn’t take away from his sovereign control of all things. Through his vast wisdom and power he has worked it out that we can have our free will and he can have his divine predestination. The two work perfectly together in harmony, it’s just that from our limited human perspective we don’t understand it all now. Now we have to trust and obey by faith. But then again, that’s what God wants of us anyway, in all things. Let us pray.

Advertisements

%d bloggers like this: