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Predestination



Predestination is a widely taught and believed doctrine in the church world today. Basically, what it teaches is that from the beginning of Time, God has pre-determined (or predestined) who will be good and who will be bad. Free will is a figment of our imagination. Some of us have been "chosen" to be saved, and some have been "chosen" to be damned. There is absolutely nothing on earth that we can do to change it.

Stated quite simply like that, the doctrine is, to the average mind, ludicrous. Whether or not I actually have the freedom to misspell the next word I type, or to change it altogether to a different word (or delete this whole paragraph, etc.), all of my experience tells me that I *do* have such freedom. Just saying that I don't have freedom to choose does not take away my overwhelming conviction that I do.

But more than that, the very people who teach predestination continue to act as though they can change fate (theirs and the fate of others) merely by teaching the doctine. They continue to call on people to say a little prayer or do some other ritual that will supposedly alter their destiny. Why on earth would they bother to do this if they really believed in predestination?

Obviously, regardless of whether we have been chosen to be damned or chosen to be saved, what each of us really wants to know is whether we belong to the first group or to the latter. But the very moment that you offer some criteria for determining that, people discover that they are able to choose either to accept those criteria or to reject them, and the whole focus of salvation goes to those criteria.

So obviously, the criteria for salvation (or damnation) is far more important than any theory about whether we are actually acting as God's robots when we imagine ourselves to be choosing to accept or reject them.

For us, as Jesus Christians, the criteria is whether or not we will choose to obey the teachings of Jesus. If you are obeying them and teaching others to do the same, then it must (according to the predestination theory and according to our criteria) be because you were predestinated to be saved. If you are not obeying them, as is the case amongst virtually all of the predestinationalists, then it must be because you were predestinated to be damned. And if knowing this causes you to change from one camp to the other, then maybe it is because that, too, was part of your destiny.

You see, the "destiny" part is absolutely meaningless in the dimensions where most of us live. If I choose to have orange juice for breakfast, one could say that it was predestined by God. And if I change my mind and have tomato juice instead, then one could just as easily say that that too was predestined by God. On the human level, our destiny can only be known after the fact. Any claim about what we are predestined to do before we actually do it, can almost always be met with a change of plans, which would immediately disprove the predestination theory.

So how did such a theory become so popular?

First, because it is so "convenient". (See our article Convenient Doctrines) People want to be reassured that all is right between them and God, and that they will be taken care of after this life. Religions all over the world seek to provide formulas that will give people the feeling of being eternally "safe". And to tell them that they are so safe that even their own will is not able to undo their salvation is the ultimate offer. They can do virtually anything they like, and they will still be saved.

I say "virtually" anything they like, because in reality, the predestinationalists never quite say that. They always have some guidelines "just in case", or, as I said above, some criteria which help to reassure people that they have, in fact, been predestinated to be saved. (Note: The only way that one could drop the criteria would be to teach universalism, i.e. that we are ALL going to be saved, regardless of our behaviour. But that takes away another universal appeal of religion, which is the feeling that you have something that others do not have!)

So the predestinationalists bring in ritual prayers, church attendance, Bible readings, etc. They do a kind of verbal sleight of hand with these things, however, stating on the one hand that they do not buy you salvation; but adding that, without some evidence that you are doing them, there may be reason to believe that you are one of those who was predestinated to be damned. Much like I just did with the teachings of Jesus as the criteria.

There are churches over-flowing with people who believe that they are going to be saved purely and simply because they said a ritual prayer, that their salvation was predestined even before they said the ritual prayer, and that their on-going church attendance, saying of prayers, reading of scriptures, etc. continues to be the "evidence" that they really are one of the chosen ones.

Never mind whether that conforms with anything that Jesus taught. After all, the teachings of Jesus, to them, are a bit of a heresy in themselves, because from beginning to end Jesus talks as though salvation is something that is at least slightly related to whether or not one accepts those teachings. They (the predestinationalists) continue to use the name of Jesus, and to make occasional reference to the Bible (though notice that they very rarely turn to the actual teachings of Jesus, choosing rather to steer you away and onto more impractical theological topics).

There are, it must be admitted, a small handful of verses (including a couple in the teachings of Jesus) which use terminology that, if taken entirely on their own, would appear to support the predestination teaching. Problems only arise when you try to fit them into the overall context of the passage, or the teachings of Jesus and the rest of the Bible in general.

Take this one, for example: "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you that you should go and bring forth fruit." (John 15:16) A good verse to support predestinationalism.

We have no argument with that. But we also have no argument with someone taking this one to mean that water should be coming out of the stomachs of those who have been predestinated: "He that believes on me, as the scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." (John 7:38)

Except... the fact that both of these verses appear to be saying something more subtle than a strictly literal reading would indicate. Rivers of living water flowing out of a person's stomach? Or an overwhelming satisfaction to the thirstings of the soul?

And so, isn't it reasonable to think that Jesus was saying that the initiative for our salvation has all come from him? The same disciple who recorded these two statements from Jesus also said, "Here is love: Not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and gave his Son to be the payment for our sins." Nobody teaches that we should not love God because of the love that he showed for us, on the basis of this verse.

In a couple of epistles, the word "predestinate" (at least in the King James version) actually appears. In Romans 8:28-30 we are told that those whom God "foreknew" he "predestinated" to be conformed to the image of his Son. So is it possible that God can see the future and "foreknow" who is going to choose him and who isn't? And would it not be his will that such people should be conformed to the image of his Son? In fact, the whole chain reaction starts with verse 28 saying these things about "those that love God". As John has already told us, we must be careful about thinking that we invented this whole business of love and forgiveness and salvation. But Paul appears to slip up and suggest that our free will decision to "love God" somehow fits into the overall cycle.

It's a bit like Jesus including in his prayer formula the words: "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Are we really the ones who initiate our own forgiveness? Yes and no. It all depends on which verses you decide to quote.

In the other predestination passage (Ephesians 1:4-13) Paul says that, even before the foundation of the world, God predestinated us to be adopted into his family and to be "holy and without blame" before him. Of course, the passage finishes with a reminder that part of this predestination is that we should trust/believe Jesus, after hearing his teachings, which themselves are called the "good news of our salvation". (verses 12-13)

If you can get people to make these passages their cornerstone (and keep them away from verses 12 and 13 of Ephesians 1), then yes, maybe the teaching that some people were destined to be good and others destined to be bad could be substantiated. But from where I stand, looking at everything that Jesus said, it appears that what God "predestines" does not take away anyone's free will. It is, in fact, what he has DESIRED since before the world was made, and that is that we should ALL come to believe the good news that Jesus taught.

It kind of goes along with the verse that says, "Many are called, but few are chosen." Calling and choosing sound so very similar, but it seems that the "chosen" people only differ from the many who are called in that they are those who have RESPONDED to the call. That involves a choice on our part. You cannot get around that. The predestinationalists teach that too. They encourage people to choose to say the ritual prayer that they have given as the formula for salvation.

It is just that we prefer to get people to respond directly to the Jesus of the Bible, by accepting his teachings... "Being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who works all things after the counsel of his own will, that we, who first TRUSTED in Christ after we had heard the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation, should be to the praise of his glory."

So let us praise and glorify God for having revealed his will through the teachings of Jesus. Let us trust those teachings and the One who spoke them as the means of our salvation. And let us recognise that this whole process was part of his plan long before the world existed.

For ever and ever, Amen
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