You may not like it, but the word “predestination” is in the Bible. In fact, reading the book of Ephesians can make even the most conservative Christians crumble in confusion, let us not even mention Romans 9, 1 Thessalonians 1, or 1 Peter. The debate between Christians over what is predestined and what is by choice has caused much divide in the Church since the 5th century, when Augustine debated Palegius over how grace works in salvation. However, none of us can deny that there are times in our lives where we’ve made decisions, and somehow these choices led to things coming together in a way no one could have predicted and would not have existed otherwise. Although I could jump right in and state a couple of Christian confessions to state my view, I’d rather explain things through Scripture and daily life. Take two things in my life for example:
1. A couple months ago I was playing football with people from my church at a local high school; there was nothing out of the ordinary, just a sunny day outside playing in the fake grass. Some guys who we hadn’t met before decided to join us, and that’s when the game got interesting. As I was getting ready to rush one of my Pastor’s, another guy from the other team was heading in my direction. The moment I began to rush, he was already running towards me without knowing it; our skulls collided against each other, and we hit the ground hard.
Three weeks later, he shows up at our weekly study for Singles/College students, and we begin to talk. Turns out, he works right down the street by my house, and lives down the street from me. This week I rode with him to Catalyst and had a great time of fellowship; we would not have known each other this way otherwise; it took a hit to the head hard enough to be a concussion to have met each other. These things don’t add up by random choices, God was at work here. Here’s the problem: people will say, “I believe God ordains things, but I believe in free will”, yet you ask them how they work together and nobody has an answer, and they shouldn’t. The problem here is what do we mean by “free” and what do we mean by “predestination”. Most of the time these words are used as opposites, but never as something that works together in harmony.
Here’s a second story to further my point: To preface this, let me point out that according to my Theological positions (some call it Ca******* , to give you a clue), most people opposed to my position state that John 3:16 doesn’t work if God sovereignly chooses people for salvation. They say it elimates someone choosing God for salvation, now here’s where things get mysterious.
2. Last month several of us from the Church went to a Dallas Stars game to watch the Toranto Maple Leafs play the Stars. How I even made it to the game is a bizzare story; to leave out the confusing details, I ended up riding with our worship leader because I couldn’t catch the Church van in time. I barely caught him in time to get a ride, and I’m glad I did. So we make it all the way to Dallas just after the game starts; what happened next is where it gets odd. We go up the flight of stairs where we see Devon, who is also the Senior Pastor’s son, standing to give us the information about our seats. Somehow there was a mix up and me, Devon, and Ryan are split up from the rest of the group. They get to sit in section “319” while the three of us sit in section “316”. Coincidence? I think not. Why? Because me and Devon had a little conversation about predestination a week prior to this; how can our conversation and this seat-swapping have happened so close with me and him sitting next to each other?
Now I have a question for you: How did God “predestine” this if in fact His hand was in it? Did He jump into the computer and mix it up, did He “override” the person at the computer and make her type the wrong keys, as that would be considered an “implication” of predestination? Tell me, are choosing and predestining seperate in this instance, or working together? Precisely. We shouldn’t seperate the two.
The Biblical evidence: Acts 4:23-28 (ESV)
When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,
“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—
for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod andPontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
Don’t you consider this a bit odd? Why on earth would early Christians claim that God was behind every detail of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the greatest injustice in the history of mankind? Did God make the people sin? Of course not. God has no pleasure in sin and there is no sin in Him (1 John 3:5), but as Nebuchnezzar said in Daniel 4:34-35:
At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,
for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”
Clearly, we don’t know every specific about how predestination works, but we clearly know that God does not wait to see what we’re going to do, or acts once He foresees what’s going to happen because He’s clearly at work in our daily lives presently, He doesn’t wait to intervene, He’s always available to help us. The plan all along was for Jesus to die, the plan was always set in motion even from before the “foundation of the world” (Genesis 3 lays this out very clearly).
Therefore, if the most gruesome, evil thing that has ever happened was foreordained by God for the good of believers, how should we respond when it seems like our lives are filled with nothing but despair? Remember He’s at work, but there’s a reason why He’s God and we’re not: He’s Lord and King of our lives, we’re living as those who serve Him, the Master gives us tasks but not always the specifics for how He uses our tasks. That’s the point: we do things because Scripture commands us to do it; we should obey God and not try and figure out things that He has not revealed to us.
English Standard Version (ESV)
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
On human responsibility: many people say it’s one or the other. If God predestines then man is not responsible, we’re simply “robots” who have no ability to make decisions. Here’s the problem with that: we’ve already seen that predestination exists, but yet the implication that we’re all robots does not hold up. Do you see robots at your work? Do you see yourself as a robot? People worship God because He is worthy of it and they desire to declare that He is worthy.
Here’s how you can prevent getting a headache from thinking about this: Don’t think about the tensions, live within them. As John MacArthur once said in a sermon, “if you no longer see the tensions, you’ve gone too far”. Predestination should point us to Jesus, to worship Jesus, to tell others about Him, and love Him because He “first loved us” and “predestined us according to the purpose of Him”. Human responsibility should point us to Jesus to worship Him because our hearts desire it; to worship freely out of hearts willing to praise Him.
One last Scripture and then I am done:
Exodus 17:8-12 (all emphasis mine)
Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Mosesheld up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.
The point to draw out of this passage is that although Israel was fighing willingly on the field, only when Moses raised his hand as God had determined would they prevail. Two things working in harmony, not against each other. Remember that; worship God because He has freed you to and has all along planned it for your joy and good, and His glory.
Until next time, take it easy and know He’s in control!