One of the hardest biblical concepts to grasp is predestination. Of course, it doesn’t help much that the bible author who writes most about predestination is Paul who wrote in such a way that his recipe for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich could take four pages. Take a look:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. Romans 8:28-30
Those who read Paul’s letters were confused, and those who were confused were befuddled, and those who were befuddled were perplexed, and those who were perplexed were mystified. Sorry to make a little fun there, but you get the picture. Paul’s writings about predestination, when taken out of what little context we have, have lead to some pretty bad doctrines. I say “what little context we have” because Paul was writing in this case to the Church of God at Rome to address problems that congregation had. We don’t have the information Paul is responding to, so we are picking up a conversation in the middle, which seldom makes for accurate interpretation.
There has been much debate as to the scope of predestination over the centuries. On one extreme, predestination is used to say we have no free-will at all. On the other side, predestination isn’t even addressed and a works based salvation is espoused. Predestination and free-will are not mutually exclusive. The easiest way to explain it is that God, being the Alpha and the Omega, absolutely knows everything that will happen and has happened. You and I, however, are not eternal or omniscient. God knows what we’re going to do before we do it but we don’t. Those who have been called will be obedient. Why? Because we’re called. We weren’t called because of our obedience, mostly because we weren’t obedient when we were called (I’m starting to sound like Paul!).
There is a teaching floating around is that predestination is only on a large scale, like with nations instead of individuals. In this model, God is only nudging events in a general direction rather than working with individuals. There is a heavy emphasis toward earning salvation by works in this model as well. This surely can’t be the case because in order to work with nations, He has to work with individuals! One of the clearest examples of this is with Joseph.
Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. Genesis 50:18-20
The story of Joseph is the story of the beginning of the Hebrew people! God made Joseph special and blessed knowing it would make Joseph’s brothers angry enough to sell him into slavery. They were predestined to get mad so Joseph could be carried off to Egypt because Joseph was predestined to lead that country and deliver his family from the famine, thus allowing the Hebrew people to grow in strength. Then Moses comes along and who can deny his life was predestined?
There are other key instances of people being predestined to do great and even small things. In Elijah’s day, God preserved 7000 who would not bow a knee to Baal. God called out Cyrus by name about 150 years before he allowed the people to return to Jerusalem. And let’s not forget the train of individuals and events that had to line up for Yeshua to be crucified at exactly the right moment and the subsequent events surrounding His resurrection.
We can see predestination in our own lives. What else could explain how we are chosen to believe the way we do? It is very difficult to see God’s plan for us in the present, especially when going through trials, but when looking back it is easy to see. That’s where the free-will part comes into play. God knows what we are going to decide well before we even see the choice. God knew that His Son would be rejected by an angry mob. God knew how Herod and Pilate would react before those two were formed in their mothers’ wombs. But He also knew that when Peter confronted those who demanded Yeshua’s innocent death with their sin that they would be cut to the quick, responding by asking what they needed to do to get right with God. This is what is meant by:
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. John 3:14-18
God knew what had to happen. Look at the verb tense in the famous scripture above. Yeshua spoke “God gave His Son” in the past tense. This was before Yeshua died on the cross and was resurrected. It was fait accompli. It was predestined, so it had to happen.