About this series
Of all the main theological doctrines in the Bible predestination is perhaps the most difficult to come to terms with. There is something innately disturbing about this whole concept – that there is a God who is so great that all that ever happens is dictated by him! It’s the idea that we do not control our destinies as we thought we did that sometimes rattles us. Human nature, in its current state, finds it difficult, if not impossible, to submit to this idea. We want to assert our independence and freedom of choice andbe rulers of our own destiny.
In reality, the doctrine of predestination, when rightly understood, is one of the most comforting and encouraging doctrines the Christian has in his spiritual arsenal to support him through life. To realise that God controls absolutely everything and that nothing takes place or can take place without his say so is incredibly reassuring. When the apostle Paul declares that ‘All things work together for good to them that love God’, he gives the reason as ‘to those who are called according to His purpose’ (Rom. 8:28).The underlying principle is that there is a divine programme behind everything.
What is the alternative to predestination?
We are suddenly thrown upon and left with the belief in a fatalistic world that all the billions of random choices made by people throughout the world at any given point are all chance events. If there was no master mind or plan behind these choices it would leave us in a far scarierworld than believing in a benevolent God who controls everything.
What exactly is Predestination? It could be defined as God predetermining or pre-ordaining all events before they actually happen. All choices made, all actions taken, are under his direct supervision.
God acting in this way reveals his sovereignty.Again, this is something people baulk at because they think it infringes on their free will. They think it means we are merely human robots wired and programmed to do exactlywhat God has determined.If this is so, we have been robbed of our freedom by an autocratic and despotic God!Consequently, they view God as the puppet master pulling all the strings.
Has man got any choice in what he does?
How man remains a free agent and yet under the pre-determining willof God is a profound mystery. Where the intersection of these two wills meet is shrouded in darkness.If we could square this, we would be as God. What needs to be remembered is that God is no mere spectator of men’s actions, as if his omniscience allows him to see what will be and hesimply acquiesces in it. God is always actively involved in the intentions and actions of men.His involvement is not only in the major events of this world but also the minor events. As Jesus said, ‘The very hairs of your head are numbered’ (Matt. 10:29f).
God’s activityin the world
How can God work in a sinful world with sinful people and yet keep his hands clean? That God does this is a matter of fact. The Judge of all the world always does right! It is not in the nature of God to do or condone sinful behaviour. God always remains impeccably holy!
There are many clearbiblicalexamples of this principle. The greatest of these is seenin the crucifixion of Jesus. Was this in the plan of God or was it simply the actions of evil men? The answer is both. Peter is quite explicit in his sermon on the day of Pentecost. ‘Him [Jesus], being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified and put to death’(Acts 2:23). It was God who determined it yet their actions that performed it. Even though God ordained it he was not complicit in it. They were and remain the sole guilty parties.
God’s activity in the church
When Paul wrote to the Philippian church he encouraged them to, ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling’ (2:12). There were choices to be made on how they would conduct themselves. Their choices were in their own hands yet the determining of those choices lay with God. ‘For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure’(2:13). He works in our sub-conscious to move the will to action.
How many Christians are perturbed by decision making?In all our decisions, we should be diligent to find out as much information as we possibly can.Wemay still not be sure whether it is for the best. We simply hope and pray that we’ve made the right decision and that it’s in accord with God’s will.
Assuming our actions are not sinful (i.e. outside the revealed will of God, the Bible) we do not need to beat ourselves up over our decisions. We cannot make a decision outside of God’s will. Whether it’s a good or bad decision on our part is immaterial. Ultimately, a sovereign hand has taken control and the final decision is in the plan of God.
The implication in denying predestination
If we were to deny predestination, we would also have to deny God’s providence.
A God who acts not according to a preconceived plan but on whims of men has already lost control. His acts are not in forging events but simply following them. B.B. Warfield gives an excellent definition of the connection between these two things:
Providence and Predestination are ideas which run into each one another. Providence is but Predestination in its execution; Predestination is but Providence in its intention.
Selected Shorter Writings, Vol. 1 p.106
Predestination is the eternal plan of God. Providence is its revelation. He planned from eternity past everything that happens.If any major or minor event could take place outside of God’s eternal plan he would cease to be God. A God who is not sovereign in everything cannot be God. For him to lose control of anythingis to lose his sovereignty.
The divine cycle for his people is clear. What began in eternity will end in eternity. But between those two points (time) God gathers together in his providencea beloved people. These, his elect, he brings to glory (see Rom. 8:29,30). This is and ever remains the basis of all our hopes. Let God be God in whose hands we are for there are no safer hands to be in!
Next in this series: Regeneration »