Over the last few months I’ve been writing about what I’ve learned concerning both long-standing and relatively new Christian views on predestination, election and foreknowledge. I became curious about what Bible scholars had to say about those topics years ago and acquired an array of literature that provided me a rudimentary education on the wide variety of ideas that are out there to consider. That journey turned out to be a wild trip down the rabbit hole. To be honest, that initial investigation freaked me out so much I decided to stay away from the subject for a spell and concentrate instead on knowing God’s Word better before diving into the deep end like that again. In hindsight that was a smart move on my part because now I’m convinced that the only way to see the Bible’s “big picture” (and avoid getting hung up on particular verses that can easily be taken out of context) is by sticking one’s head into it diligently day after day. So when several weeks ago I was looking for a theme to blog about I felt led (and a lot more prepared) to re-examine predestination, election and foreknowledge and to share what I’d found out with those who, likewise, find those doctrines fascinating. How successful I’ve been is up to the reader but I feel confident that I presented the five major schools of thought that postulate what God’s up to in terms that the average Jane and Joe can savvy without consulting a dictionary. Plus I’m not so freaked out this time. Thank the Lord.
First of all I want to express that I consider all five camps to be populated by upstanding, worthwhile and dedicated truth-seekers who’ve given this whole area of our religion a great deal of thought over the centuries and, through hard work and prayer, feel qualified to label their theory as the real McCoy. In other words, I don’t believe those involved were out to hoodwink anybody into falling for a blatantly false concept just because they had a modicum of clout to wield. By the same token they can’t all be correct. Truly, when all is said and done they could all be dead wrong! Without the great I AM coming down and miraculously designating one of them the straight dope to the exclusion of the others we can only speculate and debate the matter till the cows come home. Nothing sinful about that. Healthy discussion only promotes knowledge and communication. I purchased an intriguing book in which various respected spokesmen for the five positions on these complex issues not only put forth Biblical evidence that supports their views but were given an opportunity to rebut and counter each other’s postulations. I’m not even going to try to criticize any of their beliefs because, frankly, I’m not that wise or clever. I’ve never been to seminary school or know a solitary word of the ancient Greek or Hebrew language. I speak only as a layman who’s enamored with the Bible and have formulated certain notions about what it has to say to me personally that stem from repeated readings. So here goes.
I truly believe that everything contained in the Holy Word is God-breathed with the same breath the Creator employed to animate Adam. Therefore the Bible is full of life. So it’s our duty to study the scriptures and let the Holy Spirit inform and infuse into each one of us what the Heavenly Father deems we’re entitled to know about His master plan. As long as a person can back up their belief with relevant verses that bolster their position who am I to disagree with their conclusions? To be humble is to be willing to say “I don’t know” and I’m fine with that. In my younger years when I was infected with the immature and annoying “know-it-all” virus I was quite the outspoken skeptic. Since I hadn’t seen a ghost, those who claimed they had were delusional. Since I hadn’t sighted a UFO, those who insisted they had were woefully mistaken. You get the gist. But when I became a born again Christian it occurred to me that I had no right whatsoever to doubt what others have experienced. I accepted that there are things in this world and in this universe that are beyond my ability to explain and for me to downplay what folks have encountered in their lives was the epitome of arrogant presumption and intellectual snobbery. Fact is, things have happened to me that most would dismiss as coincidence or serendipity but I know in my heart of hearts that God intervened on more than one occasion to give me a sign or to save my skin. Thus, I have no cause or authority to discard another’s testimony out of hand. With God, anything is possible.
So let me begin to spell out my own hypothesis on how God has masterminded the unfolding of His glorious creation. In order to do that I must first present my overriding view that what we human beings think and do on this tiny planet has little (if any) effect on the rest of the universe. I’m not saying that as children of God Almighty we’re of no significance because the Bible says that the Father loved us so much that “…He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) We’re very important to Him. What I’m saying is this – we’re situated so far from anything else in the cosmos that we could blow ourselves to smithereens and annihilate all life on the earth in the process and it would instigate nary a ripple across our solar system, much less our local galaxy. I can imagine that if that tragic, unthinkable day were to arrive when nuclear missiles rain down on our continents like hailstones there could be a couple of Martians looking up in the night sky and they’d barely notice. One might say to the other, “What was that little blip of light?” His pal responds, “What blip? I didn’t see anything. What are you talking about?” The observer squints and then shrugs. “Oh, I guess it was nothing. Never mind. Hey, let’s go play with that weird go-cart that has USA written on its side.” What I’m saying is that perhaps God has given us all unrestricted free will to do as we please, knowing full well that whatever evil we conjure up can’t spread to other parts of the universe because we’re so thoroughly quarantined by sheer distance. That puts the blame for whatever atrocities and ugliness we propagate amongst ourselves squarely upon our own shoulders. We don’t like that, though. We’d rather hold God accountable for what we let happen and demand that He do something drastic about it pronto.
So what about predestination and/or foreknowledge? I confess that I have a very difficult time accepting that God orchestrated every thought and every action that every person would have and do from Adam and Eve on down. I’m well into my 60s and nothing I’ve observed in all my years has made me think that people are robots walking around with their sense of having a free will being nothing more than an illusion. Being a leader in the Celebrate Recovery ministry, I’ve heard hundreds of stories from people who’ve made disastrous and often ridiculously illogical mistakes in their lives. They’ve made decisions so awful that it’s hard to imagine a sensible deity would condemn them to commit such atrocities just because it suits His fancy. So it’s fair to say the Supralapsarian approach to Calvinism’s doctrine of unconditional election doesn’t seem right to me. Could God do that? Of course He could! He’s God and I’m not. But when I read His Word I don’t get the impression anywhere that we’re merely puppets dancing on the ends of His strings. One of the earliest passages one comes across in the Bible is Genesis 6:5-6. It reads, “But the Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind had become great on the earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of their minds was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made humankind on the earth, and he was highly offended.” Common sense tells me that God couldn’t have regrets if He knew beforehand that people would become so incorrigible that he’d be tempted to exterminate them en masse. What I gather from those verses is that God had intended for the human race to turn out a lot better than it did. To me the fact that we messed things up so royally indicates He didn’t prearrange everything to evolve in a particular way like some playwright would in developing a stage production. I refuse to put God in a box like that. I think that if He reacts to what we choose to do on our own, collectively or individually, it doesn’t diminish His omniscience one iota. I find it somewhat uppity for us to restrict the great I AM to stay within the bounds of our own definition of what sovereignty is.
On the other hand I consider it inconceivable that the God of the universe who exists independent of time and space doesn’t know where His far-flung creation is going or how it will end up. I’ve always been intrigued by what Jesus told his disciples when they asked Him about when the last days will arrive. In Mark 13:32 He informed them, “But as for that day or hour no one knows it – neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son – except the father.” Christ was incapable of telling a lie so I have to assume He honestly didn’t know the exact calendar date when the tribulation would begin. Yet He claimed to be God so how can that be? That leads me to ponder the relationships within the Holy Trinity. If the Godhead is three-in-one then I figure it’s possible that there’s a separation of functionality amongst them. In other words, the Father can know everything down to the minutest detail (re: what’ll happen from the alpha to the omega) without it being necessary for the Son and the Spirit to have that information. Maybe their capacity as a part of the Trinity doesn’t include knowing everything there is to know. Therefore, Jesus knows the apocalypse is certain but He doesn’t know precisely when it’ll start because it’s not vital to His divine duties as an aspect of the singular, indivisible God. I realize this might be labeled as crazy speculation on my part but, again, I will not put limits on God’s awesome majesty and presence.
Another thing that causes me to doubt that God is a cosmic micromanager is the fact that throughout history He has given people options. If you offer someone a choice when they don’t actually have one then you’re basically yanking their chain and toying with them. I don’t see God stooping to do that in any book of the Bible. If you have a legitimate choice as to what direction your next step goes in then there’s a certain amount of power implied. By endowing you with free will the Lord has relinquished an imperceptible amount of His own power and given it to you without condition. It’s never going to be enough power to allow you to prevent His ultimate plan from coming to fruition but it’s yours all the same. The next time you read your Bible cover to cover take note of how many times God says the word “if” as in the covenantal “if you do this for Me, I’ll do that for you.” If everything is already set in stone then why tell anyone they have options? I figure that the great I AM has no inclination to play games and that would be a cruel one, at that.
One of the first ifs comes in the 18th chapter of Genesis when the Lord told Abraham that He was about to wipe Sodom and Gomorrah off the map. Abraham, knowing his nephew Lot resided there, pleaded for mercy. In verse 26 it says, “So the Lord replied, ‘If I find in the city of Sodom fifty godly people, I will spare the whole place for their sake.’” Wouldn’t the Lord have already known how many godly people were in that city? Regarding the covenant God made with Israel, He told the people that if they held up their end of the bargain and keep His law He would send a mighty angel to lead them on their journey to Canaan and take care of them. Exodus 23:22 says, “But if you diligently obey him and do all that I command, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and I will be an adversary to your adversaries.” It seems to me that if God had already predestined them to default He wouldn’t have gone to such lengths to spell out the terms of the covenant to them. They were given the choice to be obedient and prosper or do their own thing and face the consequences.
Many learned scholars and Bible experts out there may be scoffing at my naïve musings, opining that I’m only proving I’m way out of my league by putting forth suppositions like that. I’m sure any respectable Calvinist or Arminian could dissect and discard my hypotheticals in a matter of minutes. Probably so. But I know what I’ve read in God’s Holy Word and what it’s taught me raises what I consider to be valid questions. For example, the Bible is full of tales about divine intervention. From the parting of the Red Sea to Daniel in the lions’ den to Jonah and the big fish there’s plenty of instances to ponder. Why would God step in and miraculously alter a person’s or a nation’s timeline if it wasn’t a case of Him reacting to a certain turn of events? I envision God as being actively involved in His creation, not sitting back to watch it run down like a spinning top. And what about angels? If the great I AM set everything up to occur like clockwork before He even created the planet why would the personnel in the heavenly host be needed at all? It also makes me wonder why we’re encouraged to petition God through prayer if the script is already written. Why would Jesus urge us to ask the Father for His blessings and announce in John 14:13-14, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” While what Christ meant by that weighty statement is another involved discussion in and of itself, He was nonetheless implying that He’ll always hear and respond to the supplications of those who believe in Him. If I’m desperate for guidance in a certain situation and I turn to God for help, whereupon He delivers in dramatic fashion, isn’t that a change in His original plan for me, however miniscule it may be in the larger scheme of things?
I guess my perspective has at least a few fragments of Calvinism, Arminianism, Universalism and Open Theism floating it its soup. Like the Calvinists I believe that God has a master plan that cannot fail. Like the Arminians I believe that Christ died on the cross for all mankind, not just some. Like the Universalists I believe that God’s grace is available to all who’ll surrender their hearts and minds to Christ’s care and control. And, like the Open Theists, I believe that the “elect” are those who deliberately choose to be born again, thereby becoming a member of the everlasting body of Christ. But in the end it’s Jesus who has and is the final word. John 1:1-5 reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it.” In the second part of this essay I’ll expand on my conviction that we can toss around ideas about predestination, election and foreknowledge till we drop but the one constant we can rely on to be the way, the truth and the life for all of us is Jesus Christ. He is the answer to all our questions about why we’re here and where we’re headed.