This morning I arrived home from chapel with the intention of writing a couple songs, fleshing out a book idea, and practicing my violin – all very quiet and relaxing things to do on my day off. But as I started to pull stuff out, I started thinking about a topic that’s been on my mind lately, and the thoughts and ideas wouldn’t leave me alone. So I spent three hours writing this blog post instead.
Predestination – a word that strikes fear and trepidation into the hearts of Sunday school teachers and bible study leaders everywhere, and it’s not hard to figure out why. It’s a highly debated point of Christianity in scholarly circles, so the majority of us who don’t speak Greek and Hebrew just prefer to avoid it all together. However, I’ve always found it to be a fascinating subject. I grew up as the daughter of a seminary graduate (but not pastor) who liked to say he was a four-and-a-half point Calvinist, and that missing half a point was on the tenant of Irresistible Grace – the belief that God chooses His elect, and when He extends His grace to us, we have no ability to say no. Being intrigued by predestination and the type of person who likes to analyze things to death, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and researching, and, though I don’t claim to be any sort of expert, I’d like to share my thoughts and discoveries.
The biggest complaint and objection I’ve heard to predestination from Christians and non-Christians alike is free will. If God chooses who will come to salvation, then we don’t have a choice, right? And if we don’t have a choice, then aren’t we just robots? I was stuck on this for some time, too, and for a while, the answer I settled on was that God doesn’t exactly choose us, we still have a decision in the matter, it’s just that He knows beforehand who will come because He’s God, and that can look like predestination. But I have to say now that I think that was just a cop out. There’s way more to it than that.
So let’s look at free will. What is it? My mom used to tell me that God gave us free will to choose Him or not choose Him because He didn’t just want robots to worship Him. The worship of robots doesn’t mean anything because they’re not invested, they have no emotions; the words are empty. I’ve heard a lot of people say that free will is just the ability to make choices, but that’s really only the surface of it. Does a person who is in boot camp, where nearly every area of your life is dictated by someone else, have no free will? It may look like it from the outside, but a person’s free will doesn’t just go away when they’re put in a situation like that. There is still the desire to make choices (and often the anger and rebellion when you can’t!) even if the opportunity is unavailable.
Okay, so let’s define free will as the desire and ability to differentiate between options and pick one based on reason and emotion. The objection to predestination we’re talking about is that if God chooses us, we don’t have free will. I would beg to differ. I don’t think we had free will before. See, before we become Christians, the Bible is pretty clear about our condition. We are “dead in our trespasses and sins,” as Ephesians 2 says (and many other places as well). I don’t know about you, but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that dead people cannot come alive again by themselves. Before Christ, we are spiritually dead. And this isn’t like in Princess Bride where we’re only mostly dead; we’re all dead. Unfortunately, there will be no loose change searching, because our souls don’t have pockets. But while our souls are dead, our bodies are alive; we are, in fact, the Walking Dead. (Ah! Zombies are real!) But I’m getting off track. So if we are spiritually dead, and Christ is life, and we have no ability to bring ourselves back to life, we have no choice. On our own, we are stuck being dead, and what’s more, we don’t even have the desire to have a choice. Based on the previous definition, we have no free will.
Then Christ comes and begins to work in our dead soul, and we understand that we are dead. I think it’s at this point that we get hung up on the other side of the free will issue. Did we have the ability to say no to Christ when He called us? I have my opinions, but I think it’s really beside the point. If you’re about to fall off a cliff and someone saves you, does it matter if you had no choice about being rescued? What if you had wanted to fall to your death? As far as I can see, whether you had the choice or not, if you realize you’re about to die and there’s nothing you can do, it’s not much of a choice. You want to be rescued, so choice or not, you’re saved either way.
The final reason I think people cling to the free will argument against predestination is that we like to think that we chose Christ of our own volition. I have definitely fallen into this category before. We as humans are very prideful, and we will take the credit for everything we can. But God knew this, and he inspired Paul to write in Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are saved by grace through faith and not of ourselves so we can’t boast. We are sinners like the rest of humanity, and we’re not better than anyone else because we found Christ, since it’s He who found us. So to sum up, the argument people most use against predestination is really an argument for predestination.
I’ve heard a lot of people say that it’s not fair that God would choose some people to be Christians and not others. Well, you’re right, to be fair, He shouldn’t have chosen anyone. To be fair, He should have just not sent Christ and let everyone die in their sins like they deserve. We need to remember that He’s not obligated to save anyone. But He did. Because He had a perfectly unfair plan, a plan that would bring much glory to His name and give us a beautiful love story. It all started before Christ ever came. God chose a righteous man, his name was Abraham. God told Abraham that He would make a great nation out of his children. At that point, God knew all the things Israel would do. He knew they would rebel against Him time and time again. He knew they would curse Him, bow down to idols, and disobey constantly. But he didn’t chose some other nation that might have behaved better. He chose them. Why? Because they are a picture.
As an author and avid reader, I love being able to look back as I’m reading and see how things that seemed inconsequential, strange, or out of place now make sense because of what’s happened in the story. I’ve come to understand that God is the Master Storyteller. And He’s so good at foreshadowing. God’s choice of Israel before She existed, knowing her sins, is a perfect foreshadowing of God’s choosing of us as believers. He chose us. We didn’t want it. There’s nothing we did to earn it. There’s no way we can ever pay it back. There’s nothing we can do to lose it. We’re His.
“Just as He chose us before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself… to the praise of the glory of His grace.” – Ephesians 1:4-6