Anonymous Reader of my blog:
I hope you do not mind me contacting you with questions of faith. I admit that I have only read two of the posts on your blog. I have some deep spiritual questions that the posts I read (“Do Southern Baptists Believe in Predestination?” and “Faith is Key”) seem to begin to address. I grew up Methodist-ish. Meaning that when my family attended church, we went to a nearby Methodist church. I was in college before I even heard the phrase “getting saved” or entertained the idea that there was such a thing as having a personal relationship with Christ. As an adult, my husband and I started attending a large Southern Baptist church. I have only recently been truly exposed to the idea of predestination (beyond a basic high school history level understanding that the Calvinists believed in predestination), and I have since been trying to learn more about the doctrine. I have to admit that, at first glance, the idea of the doctrine of predestination makes me feel very depressed. The idea that God decided before the creation of the world that some people would go to Heaven and others would go to Hell just sounds so cruel. I believe that without Grace, we all deserve to go to Hell, but the idea that God actually wants some people to go to Hell just makes my head spin and my stomach turn. I was always taught that God knows what decision we will make, but that His desire is that all will come to saving faith in Christ. I have always (since I came to Christ) believed that salvation comes by Faith and not by works, but I was taught that He gave us the free will to accept or reject Him because a Faith that is coerced is no Faith at all, and He wanted our love freely given. I have to admit that that idea of God just “feels” better. That is a God that I want to believe in. But I also know that just because I want it to be true and it “feels good” does not make it true, and I want to know the Truth. I believe that God is God, and His ways are not our ways, and that, if predestination as I have come to understand it is true, then it is because it is right, even if I do not understand it or like it. If you are willing to take the time, I would like to gain a better understanding of the doctrine. Does God really want some people to go to Hell? If so, is there any real way of knowing whether I am one of “the elect”? Does the fact that I have faith in Christ mean that I am one of the elect? Does the fact that I sometimes have fears and doubts and confusions mean that I am not one of the elect? If God is in control of all of our choices, does that mean that He wanted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, or is the election of some and the rejection of others a response to our ancestors’ decision to defy Him? If predestination is a response to the Fall, then why did they get to choose whether to accept God or reject Him while we have no choice? If the Fall was part of God’s original plan, then that seems even more callous. (Again, I understand that just because I don’t understand it does not mean it is wrong, untrue, or bad.) Where does evangelism come into all of this? If some are predestined to be saved and some are predestined to be damned, why even bother telling people about Christ if God will save them or damn them no matter what happens to them in their lives, why does it matter if people hear the Truth of Christ, and isn’t it just cruel to share the gospel to those destined for damnation, if nothing can save them from their fate? I don’t mean to be heretical or to question God. I am simply at the point right now of trying to learn the Truth. I have always believed that it is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of the truth of the Gospel, so I suppose that if that is true, then the Holy Spirit makes the decision to convict some and not others. Is that what predestination means? The last paragraph of your “Faith is the Key” post seemed to me to contradict what has been my understanding of predestination and what I believed you were saying in your post about predestination and Southern Baptists. The part about God giving us the eternal reward up front as a token of faith when we admit that we are depraved beings and cannot live the life He wants us to live without His intervention sounds much more like what I have been taught and believed and less like some of the new ideas I have seen about predestination. I am very confused and feeling a little depressed and afraid with all of these doubts. I have been in study and prayer, and will continue to do both, but I am looking for some insight from someone who has more knowledge about these issues than I do. I am sorry to send you such a long message with so many questions, but when I came to my husband with my confusion, he said that we need to seek the counsel of people more knowledgeable that us, and I agree, so I was hoping you could offer me some insight. Thank you.
My hopefully spirit guided response:
Thanks so much for emailing me and I am thankful that you are seeking answers and want to ensure that your relationship with God is as good as possible. I would be happy to answer any questions that I can, but let me first start by saying that this subject is very complex and I have a lot of questions about it myself that I can’t wait to ask God someday. It is always OK to not be sure and pray for guidance. I myself have grown a lot since I wrote those blog posts, but for the most part I still agree with what I wrote. I believe that Adam and Eve were given the free choice to choose good or evil. In that freedom they chose to disobey God and follow the serpents temptations. At that point, sin entered the world and life as they knew it in the Garden without sin would never be the same. The Bible says that we are “Children of Wrath”, which means that when given the freedom to choose good or evil, we choose evil because of our sinful nature. This means that since the fall of Adam and Eve, we are incapable of being “saved” or being viewed “righteous” by God on our own. We are completely reliant upon God’s grace and his spirit to change us. 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). We also read verses in Timothy that state that God wants all men to be saved, and so there in lies the confusion. However, some believe that the original translation would better read that God wants all manner of men (all types) to be saved. I myself, am not smart enough to know for sure. What I can tell you is that I am a “compatibalist”. What that means is that I believe that we have free choice and that God is sovereign, all knowing, and predestines. Many will say that they both cannot be true, however I believe that anything is possible with an amazing creator. I sometimes use this example to explain my beliefs.
Have you ever read the book Harry Potter or watched the movie? Does Harry have free choice? It sure seems that in the movies he has to make decisions and suffer the consequences/benefits of his decisions. If we could step into the Creation (the book/movie) and ask Harry if he had free choice, he would likely say “Yes”. He obviously has to make decisions and is free to do so. However, if we stepped outside the Creation (the book/movie) and asked the Author (Creator) of Harry Potter if Harry had free choice, the Creator would likely say that they simply wrote the story. It is the work of their creation. So “free will” is the perspective of the created and “predestination” is the perspective of the creator. They are both compatible.
I hope my babbling hasn’t further confused you. Please feel free to ask questions and I would be happy to help anyway that I can. I will continue to pray that God gives you a peace about your beliefs. At the end of the day, we are meant to glorify God and share the gospel. Anyone that takes predestination to far (hyper-Calvinist) and does not evangelize because “God has already made up his mind”, is completely missing the point and not being obedient to the commands of the Bible. God has chosen to use us in his creation and that is an amazing privilege. Keep reading God’s word. Keep trying to learn more. Most of all, let God use you to reach the lost people around you.