What is Predestination?

Asked by Kathryn

Could you please explain, as simply as possible, the Doctrine of predestination? Which teachings of the Bible is it based on? What are the arguments against this doctrine, and where is their basis in Scripture?


Hi Kathryn,

Predestination is about God being in control of all that happens through history, including his choice of saving some people for himself, while allowing others to go their own way along the path of sin. It is a concept tightly linked to God’s ‘sovereignty’, which is a word used to describe the complete and intimate control God has over his creation.

There are many examples in the bible describing God’s sovereignty, but particular examples related to predestination include Ephesians 1:4-6, 1:11-12 and Matthew 22:14. There are no sound biblical arguments against predestination.

Where the trouble lies is that standing side-by-side with the truth of God’s sovereignty and predestination is the truth of God’s relational nature, human choice and individual responsibility. Examples in the bible include 2Timothy 2:4, Matthew 7:7-8, John 3:18, Romans 1:20 and Romans 2:6-8. This is what many people attribute as our “free choice”.

Somehow in and amongst God’s sovereignty, we are not subject to determinism where we have no ability to make choices (we are not puppets); but somehow in and amongst our ability to make choices, God is not prevented from continuing in his plans for his creation. God may change his mind because of the repentance of people, but still remain completely sovereign.

These two truths appear contradictory to us and we find it difficult, if not impossible, to harmonize them. It’s helpful to realize that while God’s revelation of his character (good, perfect, loving, merciful, just, etc.) is reasonably easy to understand, his ‘being’ is far more difficult to comprehend. That is knowing God is one thing but completely understanding him is far more difficult (that is impossible). We need to learn to be humble and acknowledge that God is greater than we like to imagine. There will be things about God that we don’t understand but this doesn’t mean we are asked to give up all capacity for reason.

This type of difficulty can also be seen in science and psychology. Consider the question of whether we are the product of a bunch of chemical reactions, genetic predispositions and environmental influences, or whether we are free thinking agents who make choices about our lives. Our experience shows us that we are both, as contradictory as they seem. So it is with predestination and human choice and responsibility.

There are two books, available in Christian book stores, you might find helpful and more thorough than is possible to be here. In chapter 11 of Don Carson’s book, ‘How Long, O Lord’, he discusses the combined truths of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility as ‘compatibilism’. He works through many Bible passages and draws out where the tensions lie and where it is reasonable to allow for mystery. In chapter 2 of J.I. Packer’s book, ‘Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God’, he likewise discusses these truths and how they seem to be in tension for us and yet how they can work together.

I hope you find this helpful.
Leigh

Answers are kindly provided by our friends at Christianity.net.au

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