Should "Predestination vs. Free-Will" Matter To Christians?
Should it matter to us Christians whether God caused us to become Christians or whether we chose it ourselves? I mean, how we got to be Christians doesn’t change the responsibility that we have in living out our faith, does it? Should we bother with trying to figure out this confusing, controversial topic, or should we just let it rest? And if we should be concerned about it, how should we approach it?
Some Christians are not bothered at all by the “Is it predestination or free-will?” debate. To some, this issue is insignificant. They believe that, as Christians, it shouldn’t really affect us or make a difference in our walk, in how we live faithfully and obediently before the Lord. And to a degree, this is true.
But I can’t seem to take this issue lightly. For me, as I have heard speakers pushing it harder and harder (and quite condescendingly towards those who disagree), I have been driven more and more to find the biblical truth. I don’t think this issue is an insignificant, fluffy topic. I think it deeply affects our view of God, our faith, our view of what’s our responsibility and what’s God’s responsibility in life, and our understanding of how prayer works, how the Holy Spirit works, how faith works, etc.
(And to be clear, yes, predestination is a biblical concept, but not as in "God predestines whether we go to heaven or hell." I believe when the Bible talks about predestination, it has to do with God predestining mankind in general to know Him and love Him (but it's up to us to choose to follow Him in this), predestining Israel for a certain role, predestining that He would have a family of believers with Him in heaven (but we choose to be part of that family), predestining the path to salvation (Jesus's death), predestining that believers would grow in Christ and glorify God more, etc. All of the predestination verses can be read in ways other than "predestined to go to heaven or hell with no choice." And these other ways uphold the rest of the Bible and God's revealed character, whereas Calvinism's idea of predestination contradicts and destroys it all.)
And while it might not matter much for those of us who already believe, you can bet-your-bottom-dollar that it matters to unbelievers and to seekers, to those who are wondering what kind of God we believe in and if they have any real chance at salvation.
Is God really as loving and willing to forgive as we say He is, if He has pre-decided that certain people will go to hell? Is forgiveness really available to all? Did Jesus’ death cover everyone’s sins? Is there really a need to evangelize and to make a decision about Him if we don’t even really have the right to decide or make a choice? Does God cause us to sin and then punish us for it?
This is why this issue has been so important to me to figure out. What we believe about this issue places God, His love, His forgiveness, His grace, His justice, Jesus’ sacrificial death, our personal responsibility, etc. in very different lights. It affects how we live out our faith. And we cannot have real answers for the doubters and the seeker’s questions if we aren’t even sure what we believe about it.
When I was younger, I used to be more Calvinistic. I thought that God always did whatever God wanted to do. That He chose who to save and who not to save. That we had no ability to do anything on our own and that He controlled every action and move.
And I think that my fellow “Calvinist” friends and I wore that title like it was a badge of honor. We were hard-core Christians.
After all, unlike those who believed that mankind had some sort of power or control, we were more glorifying to God because we acknowledged His supreme power and submitted ourselves to it. We were more humble because we admitted that we had no power or control or influence of our own and that we had to accept this confusing “predestination teaching” by faith because God’s ways couldn’t be understood by us lowly humans. We were more committed and devoted because we believed in God despite the mysterious, difficult, and “demeaning” teaching that we humans had no will of our own, whereas those who believed in free-will were too prideful to see their error and would probably never be humble enough to embrace such a difficult and “distasteful” teaching. But we did embrace it, making us hard-core, ultra-humble, selflessly-committed, God-glorifying Christians!
But as I got older and began to think more deeply about things, I realized that this view left me with too many questions that I couldn’t answer. Too many things that didn’t make sense - too many things to be able to just “accept it in faith.” And it presented a confusing view of God to me - one that didn’t match up with the loving, forgiving God of the Bible, the One who wants all people to be saved and who sent Jesus to die for all sins.
Such as . . .
If (as those who believe in predestination say) God always does His Will and everything that happens is because He willed it, then why does Jesus tell us in Matthew 6:10 to pray that the Father’s Will gets done? Why have to pray for it if it’s the only thing that ever happens? In fact, why pray at all?
And if God always does His Will and everything that happens is His Will (if He causes us to do what we do for His purposes), how do you explain what happened in the Garden of Eden?
In the Garden, God commanded Adam and Eve to not eat from the tree . . . but they ate anyway. So which thing was His Will – the thing He commanded them (to not eat the fruit) or the opposite thing that actually happened (they ate the fruit)?
If you say that He willed and caused the Fall, then you would have to say that the command He gave them wasn’t His Will. Does this mean that God commands people to do things that are opposite His Will for them? (Just so He can . . . what? . . . trap them into sinning to get the consequences He wants and so that He can punish them?) And can it really be considered “sin” if Adam and Eve were really just doing what God wanted them to do all along by eating the fruit? Isn’t sin not doing what God wants you to do? Talk about confusing and misleading! How could you trust anything He says then? Why listen to any command He gives us if His Will might actually be the opposite thing?
Besides, wouldn’t a God who always did whatever He wanted make sure that no one ever sinned? If He didn’t want anyone to perish (like He says in the Bible) then why make sin possible in the first place? And why make sin possible in the first place if you aren’t even going to give people the choice of obeying or disobeying anyway? Just so you can have someone to send to hell!?! What is “sin” then? Or “obedience” or “forgiveness”? Why tell us in the Bible how important obedience is if we don’t even have a choice about obeying or disobeying?
And if you say that He caused the Fall because it was His Will, then you would have to say that He wanted sin and actively caused sin (as opposed to just allowing sin). Does that sound even remotely right!?! That God is the reason we sin? What kind of God would cause people to sin and then turn around and punish them for it? Why even bother making people if you are just going to create a majority of them for eternal damnation? Wouldn’t it have been more merciful and loving to never make people in the first place then? Or to only make those who are going to heaven? Or to make it impossible to sin?
And why would He desire to make people specifically for hell and then say that He really desires that all people be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4) and that no one perishes (2 Peter 3:9)? How is that kind and good and loving and merciful and gracious? How is that honest - saying that you don’t want people to perish but then pre-making people for hell, with no chance of salvation? How could you trust a God like that? And what does it even matter if we trust Him or not if trust is something we don’t have control over anyway?
None of this makes any sense. And it doesn’t match up with the kind of God I read about in the Bible!
Yet the response given by predestination-pushers to these kinds of questions and doubts is “Well, this is what the Bible teaches and we don’t have to really understand it. God cannot be really understood by our limited thinking anyway. And so we just have to accept it as truth because that’s how it is.”
[There are some issues where this is the only ultimate answer we can give, but I don’t think this is one of them. And this "We can't always understand God" thing is sometimes just an attempt to get us to stop questioning and debating, making us feel "unhumble" for searching for answers and disagreeing with the person. In my case, with the pastor.]
But what if this view is wrong all along? And yet here we are, preventing people from digging deeper and from disagreeing, telling them that they just have to “accept it as truth.”
As I have gotten older, I have kept digging and searching for a view that makes more sense and that fits with the Bible as a whole and with the kind of God the Bible says He is. And I have now found answers that make sense and that don’t leave me scratching my head in confusion.
We need to remember that Calvinism (the reigning "extreme predestination" belief system) is based on John Calvin’s views of what the Bible says. We should never take someone else’s view as “Bible truth,” without running it through Scripture to see if it holds up. We should never view any man as “infallible,” as though they are above making mistakes or are speaking for God Himself.
[It seems that, with Calvin’s approval and help, one man who vocally and forcefully disagreed with Calvin’s view on predestination (and who held various heretical views) was burned to death at Geneva. Whether or not Calvin had much influence over this, he did support the death penalty for this man and there was a lot of animosity between them over predestination. Look up “Michael Servetus” on-line and see what you think. (Or click here, and look up some of the links I provided under the heading of "What Others Say About Calvinism.")
And Calvin supported the idea of legalism, maintaining strong (and sometimes forceful and violent) control over people’s lives and forcing them to be the way he thought Christians should be, punishing them if they fell out of line.
And from what I can tell, he believed in baptizing the infant children of the “elect,” as a sign of their salvation and a way to gain entrance into the church and, therefore, obtain their salvation, which is passed down from the “elected” parent to the child. And even though they are too young to know about repentance (which many Christians, myself included, believe has to precede salvation and baptism), baptizing them as infants is a sign of their future repentance and future faith. It seems that Calvin believes that the children of the “elect” are already saved because they are the children of the “elect,” people of the covenant, whereas the children of the non-elect are already damned. (This is different than believing that God’s grace covers the sins of infants and young children who die – whether or not they are baptized - before they reach the age of accountability, the age when they are old enough to know right from wrong.)
And I understand that Martin Luther, who greatly influenced Calvin, believed that baptism is necessary for salvation, that through it we obtain salvation and forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
Look all of this up for yourself to see what history says. What do you think about this and what do you think the Bible says about this?]
Never adhere to any one man’s teachings on the Bible, as though he is speaking for God and is infallible. We are all human and capable of mistakes and have our own biases. Run what they say through Scripture. (Run what I say through Scripture!)
And the more I have done this with “predestination,” the more discrepancies and problems I have found with it. And the more answers I have found in Scripture. And it makes sense.
Maybe there’s a reason why “predestination” is so hard to grasp and understand? Maybe it's because it doesn't match up with Scripture. And so to make it match up, we have to do an awful lot of twisting and contorting to make it fit.
And when that fails, we simply say, “It’s what the Bible says and you don’t have to understand it. You just have to accept it!”
And that’s another thing . . . As I have heard speakers speak on this topic, I have noticed some subtle (and not-so-subtle) manipulation techniques, meant to “bully” people into falling in line with his view, such as the “It’s just what the Bible says and you have to accept it” thing. And I will look at those in the next post.
But for now, let me end with this: This is an incredibly confusing, controversial topic. But it is one worth studying for ourselves. Because it really does make a difference in how we view faith and how we walk as Christians and how we present God to non-believers. But we should approach this issue humbly and discuss it humbly. I don’t think any of us can act like we have “the answers” and like those who disagree are ignorant or “less Christian.” So let’s be respectful of others, while still digging deeply into Scripture for the truth.
Previous post in this series: "Predestination vs. Free Will" Overview
Next post in the series: Predestination Manipulation