Anonymous reader of my blog:
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I am very confused, and have been trying to study and pray, but I still have so many questions. The first and most important is, how should this new information affect my relationship with God? My husband seems to think that the issue of foreknowledge vs. predestination is not something that is vital for us to understand and that it should not ultimately affect our relationship with God in any way. I have to admit, however, that the little I have learned about predestination makes me feel like I have lost the loving Father I have come to know and love and instead replaced Him with an arbitrary Disciplinarian Who plays favorites. I know intellectually that God is Good, and therefore anything about Him is Good, but I am having trouble getting that through to my emotions.
Also, do you think knowledge of predestination is vital to salvation? Or perhaps a sign of salvation? I have seen people who write that, if God predestined some, then He would also have revealed the truth of predestination to them. I have always believed that faith in Christ is sufficient for salvation, even if one does not understand all the particulars. If someone does not understand or believe in predestination, does that mean that they do not truly know God, and are therefore not truly saved?
Does the fact that I have given my life to Christ and that I and my husband and my children have a hunger and a thirst for Christ still mean that we are saved (just through predestination, rather than choice) regardless of our understanding of predestination? What about those who answer the altar call and give their lives to Christ? Is it just that the Holy Spirit has predestined them to answer the call at that time, and they are truly saved even though they may believe that it is they who are making a choice for Christ?
How should this information affect how I talk to people (especially my young children) about God? Can I still tell people that God loves them and wants to have a personal relationship with them? If predestination is true, I cannot know who is predestined, so if someone is not predestined, does God still love them and desire a personal relationship with them? And how does evangelism play into personal salvation? Does God simply ensure that those He has predestined will encounter someone who can tell them about God so that they can come to saving knowledge of Christ in God’s perfect timing?
In your e-mail, you said, “I am very uncomfortable saying that ‘God sends people to hell’ but instead believe that God sometimes chooses not to intervene (or chooses to quit trying to intervene when we deny him) and thus we are always responsible for our damnation. Now we read instances in the Bible where God hardens people’s heart, however it seems that it usually follows after that person continues to deny God and has already hardened their own heart (ex. Pharaoh).” Does that mean that we can deny Him when he has been trying to intervene? And does this mean that God gives everyone a chance to soften their heart so that the Holy Spirit can bring them to saving Faith, and only hardens someone’s heart after they have hardened their own heart for too long? And if so, how is that different than Arminiasm? I have always believed that God will harden some people’s heart when they have rejected Him for too long, but that there must therefore be some sort of softening of the heart of believers to allow the Holy Spirit to bring them to Christ. I suppose (now that I think it through) that I always believed that it was a softening of the heart enough to allow the Holy Spirit to act, not an actual acceptance of Christ through your own power without the influence of the Holy Spirit, that allowed a believer to come to Christ. And then that God will only harden an individual’s heart when the individual has already hardened their own heart for too long. Hence, as I have so often heard, “You never know when will be your last chance to accept Christ,” refers not only to the fact that only God knows the hour of your death, but also to the fact that there may come a time when you have rejected Christ for too long and God will harden your heart against Him. I guess if that is true, then God has predestined whose heart he will harden when, but I still thought there was a choice for the individual on some level, and that God would only harden the hearts of those who have hardened their own hearts for too long. What about Revelation 3:20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Does that not imply on some level a voluntary response on our part to His call?
Also, if God irrevocably calls some, and that call cannot be refused, then why is it that believers continue to sin? Is it that before we become believers, we can only choose to reject Him, but after we accept Christ, we then have the power through the Spirit to obey but also the bent through the flesh to disobey Him? And if He won’t allow us to reject his call to Christ, then why will He allow us to continue in disobedience after He has forced belief in Christ upon us? (I know “forced” is probably the wrong word because it makes acceptance of Christ sound like a bad thing when it is the most precious gift He could ever give us, but if He causes us to believe in Christ without regard to our feelings, beliefs, or actions, my current understanding does not provide me with a better word than “forced.”) What about the parable of the prodigal son? If people cannot resist the call of God, then how are prodigals possible?
What about prayer? If God has determined before the creation of the world everything that will happen, then what is the purpose of petitioning Him in prayer. I was always taught that He foreknew what our prayers would be just as He foreknew everything else, and took them into account in His plan, but if He predestined everything without regard to human actions or feelings, then does He really answer our prayers, and how does that fit into predestination? What about prayers for the lost? If He has already determined who will be saved and who will be lost, then do our prayers have any effect on the lost? I have always prayed that God will break through whatever barriers lost family and friends have put up to a relationship with Him and help them to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior, and I have always prayed that my children will accept Christ as their Savior early in life. Are those legitimate prayers if God has predestined everything from before the world began? And if so, then what is the effect of my prayers?
I look at my eight-month-old daughter and think that there are some sweet babies out there just like her who are destined to go to Hell, but then I remember that unless you believe that everyone goes to Heaven, which I have not since I became a Christian, then that is true regardless of whether it is because of free will or predestination. I am just still at a point where the idea of predestination makes my stomach churn a little. The world does not seem like as happy and good a place with the viewpoint of predestination, and I tend to feel more fear of God. I love Him still, and I am eternally grateful for His saving grace, but I feel as if I don’t like my understanding of Him in light of predestination as much as I like my understanding of Him in light of foreknowledge. That sounds blasphemous, and I don’t really mean it the way it sounds, and I know that I have no right to question God, I just don’t know what to do or what to think. Please help me understand how I can believe in predestination and still see the world as a good place and God as a loving Father.
I know these are complex questions, and I am sorry to take up so much of your time, but I appreciate any insight you could give me.
Thank you for taking the time to respond to me and help me grow in Christ.
My hopefully spirit guided response:
You did a good job of explaining the paradox or what most people believe is a huge contradiction/competing forces when thinking about the attributes of God. However, as I said. I am a “compatibilist” so I believe that God can give man free will and predestine, even though our human mind wants us to pick a side, anything is possible with God. We read evidence in scripture that seems to state that God truly predestines. It often says that he chose someone for a particular duty before the foundation of the world. However, there are other scriptures like John 3:16 and the verses in Timothy that seem to state that God desires that all men be saved or that “whosoever believes” will be saved. Now we can try to explain our way around these verses for the sake of picking a side, however I believe that we should teach what the scriptures says with the understanding that what may seem like a contradiction in our simple minds, does not have to be a contradiction with God. We just can’t put Him in a nice neat box that we design.
What I believe your struggles will eventually produce is a genuine respect and fear for God. Which by the way, the Bible says we should have. I know, because I went through everything you are going through in regard to this topic for 3 to 4 years. Many people focus so much on the warm fuzzy stuff that they do not have the proper respect and fear. We all deserve to go to hell. That is what we deserve. How God saves us by grace through Christ is amazing and undeserved. Grace is “undeserved love and favor” by definition. So we are in no position to decide what is fair and logical in that realm because we only deserve hell. We are at his mercy and have always been historically at his Mercy.
Now don’t think for a minute that the Devil can’t use something like this to distract/depress you and remove your desire to be Evangelistic. We must share the Gospel and we are commanded (not asked) to do so in scriptures. As far as you wondering whether or not understanding predestination/free will is key to salvation, I would simply say this. When Christ told Peter that he would deny him thrice, how did Peter respond? He said that he wouldn’t do that and yet later, to his own surprise, he did. So he did not understand completely the sovereign attributes of God or he would have known that he would in fact deny Christ, and yet he was a chosen apostle and a major Christian leader. So my opinion is that it is something that you will inevitably battle with as part of Christian maturity. You also uncomfortably used words like “forced” or “able to resist”. Instead of me telling you whether God forces or whether or not we have the power to resist, why don’t you find examples of these situations in the Bible and come to a conclusion based on what we are told/shown. Don’t be surprised if you see both. Can you accept that both exist and that with God it is compatible? If not, then your only choice is to reason out of it or say that the holy scriptures are in contradiction.
People have struggled with this for years. I will leave you with some very old and wise words that I believe summarize my feelings perfectly.
“Now God knows who the elect are. I don’t. Someone came to Spurgeon one time and said, “Mr Spurgeon, if I believed as you do, I would not preach like you do. You say you believe that there are the elect, and yet you preach as if everybody can be saved.” Spurgeon’s answer was, “They can all be saved. If God had put a yellow streak up and down the backs of the elect, I’d go up and down the streets lifting up shirt tails to find out who had the yellow streak up and down his back. Then I’d give that person the gospel. But God didn’t do that. He told me to preach the gospel to every creature and that whosoever will may come.” That is our marching order, and as far as I am concerned, until God gives me the roll call of the elect, I am going to preach the “whosoever will” gospel. That is the gospel we are to preach today.”
Thru The Bible with J. Vernon McGee.