Predestination Discussion

  • The following exchange of views was conducted via e-mail with PR, United Kingdom.

    Dear Jon, I’ve just come across your site and find it really interesting. I was looking through your response on Predestination, and wondered if you have considered the following:

    That “Pre-destined” (Rom 8:30) actually refers to the promise that those who believe will be transformed into the likeness of Christ, and it therefore does not relate to the choosing or otherwise by God of those who will be saved or not saved. Foreknowledge (in Rom 8:29) is about God knowing the outcome of his decision to send Jesus to die, namely that it would be possible for man to be reconciled to himself, but not necessarily that any would actually accept the salvation. Hence, God has put in place the possibility for all to be saved but not all will be, due to human free will.
    Would appreciate your thoughts…

    Response from Jon the freelance theologian:

    Thanks for your comments,

    As I said in the answer about predestination, the problem with basing any doctrinal stance about predestination solely on Scripture is that the Bible can be interpreted in many different ways and does often seem to say different things in different places. On that note, the danger is that we can try to explain away a difficult passage, like the one in Romans, looking for meanings that are not obvious. That does not mean your interpretation is incorrect, but like everybody who approaches this particular topic our interpretation of various ‘proof-texts’ depends on our personal opinion, rather than our belief following on from a natural reading and comprehending of the texts.

    Like most of Christian theology, predestination opens up a nice paradox – how can human free will co-exist with the Sovereign will of God? Especially as humans only exist in the first place because of God’s Sovereign will? And yet it is clear that we are beings who have been given the freedom to choose (the ‘terrible choice’ as some people call it).

    I like your summing up, but the big question with pursuing a doctrine that emphasises human free will is why did God take a risk that humans would reject him? This throws up two further questions. 1) Did God know (does God know) who would (will) reject him – and why does he not do more to prevent that rejection? And 2) Ultimately, if human free will is ‘given’ to us, then we do not have a choice not to have it, so is a forced choice really a free choice?

    To which PR replied:

    My thought about your response is that we are created in God’s image (personality), and since God has free will, we inherit it – it’s something that he “forced” himself to do through creating us and so takes a risk on us rejecting him.

    Obviously, if he forced us to love him that would be against free will and so he cannot do it, but he does give us the information or experiences to discover that love and then make a choice. Jesus was very clear about some people rejecting him, and therefore God. I think that he had a very real understanding of humankind’s ability to choose.

    One way that I use to try to understand Sovereign Will/Free Will, is in terms of parenting. My children had no choice in whether they were born or not – that was a decision that my wife and I took. However, now that they are alive they have a choice as to whether to love us or not. We love them, and with respect to our humanity, I hope we always will, but that is no guarantee that they will always love us. You only need to look at modern society to see the breakdown of relationship between parents and children.

    If they choose not to love us there is little that we might be able to do to change their minds, other than to provide a possible way back. It is still their choice, but hopefully our efforts would make it difficult to resist (but not impossible). Of course, this is where the analogy breaks down, since God does have many more possible back up plans than we could ever hope to have, and his grace is far more sufficient than you or I can imagine.

    One other question… if we are not to base our doctrinal stance solely on Scripture, what else might we use?

    The next response from Jon the freelance theologian:

    Hi PR

    I like the analogy. I am assuming, as I have never met you in person, that the main difference between you and your children and God and his creation, is that you are not eternal and able to see every outcome. No doubt your kids do things that continually surprise you – sometimes good things and sometimes not so good! Of course I might be wrong about your attributes and nature there – let me know if that is the case.

    However, God is eternal, omniscient, all–powerful and so on. The implication is that he knew that, in giving humans the potential to rebel against him, they actually would. Yes, he reveals himself in love to humanity, in direct revelation, through the Law, the prophets, Jesus Christ, the canon of scripture and the ongoing witness of the Church universal. But (and this is the main point), sometimes this revelation fails to convince people to turn to him.

    Now we can say that ‘failure’ is human free will, however, if God is all-powerful and all-knowing he knows what would be incontrovertible proof in each human situation to each human being and he would be able to offer that proof. Given that some people are still ‘free’ to choose yea or nay, we have to conclude that God has chosen not to reveal himself to the point where that person cannot turn him down. In fact, the Bible is full of references to God ‘hardening people’s hearts’ against him (see especially Romans 9 v18, a common passage quoted in this kind of debate).

    The key element that God is searching for is faith. Believing in God is not like believing in something easily seen and touched (like your computer screen). So that might be why God does not overwhelm human beings with proof. The point is, though, that he could and chooses not to. Human free will? Or God’s Sovereign choosing will?

    Jesus did indicate that humans have the capacity to choose to believe or not and, perhaps because he was aware of that need for faith, he urged people to believe. Jesus also said “Nobody can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6 v44), in a passage that is heavy on the idea that those who come to Jesus are selected by the Father. In Jesus’ words here and elsewhere we see this balancing act between God’s restrained impact on human beings somehow allowing human ‘free will’ and his desire for the entire world to be saved.

    Regarding your final question about Scripture as a basis for theology, personally I think all doctrinal statements should be rooted in all of Scripture. The problem with an issue like predestination is that people root it in their understanding of certain parts of Scripture and that’s where it all starts to fall apart. I think at some point we have to accept predestination is a paradox and work from there.

    Other things we can use as tools in theological inquiry include reason (quite legitimate as long as our minds are not conforming to the world – Romans 12 v2) and experience. Often an experience of the transcendent cannot be adequately expressed in words (Paul’s description of the third heaven in 2 Corinthians chapter 12 falls into that bracket), but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to express it.

    One of the reasons to believe that the Bible is essentially true is because it is hard to understand, does not offer quick fixes and seems to contradict itself. Which seems to make it perfect for this confusing world of ours!

    Thanks for the conversation, PR. If you would like to comment on this, or any other topic covered on freelance theology please email using the ‘contact me’ button.

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