Caveat – Concepts explained – Freewill demonstrated in Biblical examples – the price of freewill – Reward and punishment, considered in the light of predestination – Biblical examples of predestination? – Foreknowledge, not foreordination – Questions for thinking predestinationists – Credo
This topic implies a conscious belief in the existence of God rather than of an impersonal force responsible for ordering or sorting the chaos of existence. Therefore, the starting point is stating the necessary (and perhaps the obvious): that God exists, not just as a being, but as the Supernal Creator responsible for life in the universe. It may be noted too that this topic, although relying heavily on logic and human reasoning, is actually a Scriptural topic and references will be made prodigiously to the Bible. Finally, it should be borne in mind that this is not an exegetic attempt to justify the ways of God to man; for although the writer is of the firm conviction that God is not an incomprehensible mystery, he does not think it his role to justify Him, or even to attempt to explain His reasons for doing things.
THE CONCEPTS EXPLAINED
Predestination is the doctrine that whatever is to happen has been UNALTERABLY FIXED by God from THE BEGINNING OF TIME, especially with regards to human salvation or damnation. The doctrine posits that God has foreordained EVERY event throughout eternity. The emphasis is that this predestining or foreordaining of things is the work of God, and he is therefore the centre of the predestination doctrine.
Superficially, this doctrine would seem not only rooted in the Bible but also a humble acceptance of God’s omnipotence, an acknowledgement of His immense and ineludible superiority. One may even, in defence to this doctrine, describe as heresy any assertion that God does not foreordain things, for the Scripture proclaims God to be the ‘One declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times the things that are yet done.’ – Isaiah 46:10.
The doctrine of predestination is premised on God’s prescience and omnipotence. The argument is that one who is able to foreknow absolutely – ‘for all things are open to him with whom we have an accounting’ – should be able to ordain or manipulate the happening of events or order them according to his supreme will. This is, as it stands, a correct assumption, and to preach otherwise is to undermine the concept of Godhood. One who believes in the authenticity of the Bible as God’s revelation will have no problem agreeing that God CAN order events. However the argument is not whether he CAN but whether he DOES order events at all times. But much about this later.
The opposite doctrine – FREEWILL – is the power of making choices unconstrained by external agencies, i.e. the power of self-determination. Stated simply, this doctrine is the belief that man is imbued with the freedom to choose his course of action, whether for good or for evil; that God does not set man on an undeviating path, but that while He might command and lay down principles, man may choose to obey or disobey them. This is the doctrine I believe in; this is the doctrine I believe resonates in the pages of the Bible. This is the doctrine whose truism I propose to establish, even though by the refutation of its opposite, predestination.
FREEWILL DEMONSTRATED IN BIBLICAL EXAMPLES
Adam provides an example of the operation of freewill rather than of foreordination. In planning the creation of man, God declared His intention to make him in His image. The image of God in which man was to be made is not His physical make-up; for while God is a spirit, intangible and of humanly unquantifiable and undefinable proportion, man is fleshly and tangible, and if God had willed for man to physically resemble Him, He had markedly failed in creating man flesh rather than spirit and the declaration that man was made perfect would have been a prevarication. Man’s semblance to God lies in man’s faculty, and just as one cannot conceive of God constrained in His choices, so did God purpose that man, the crowning glory of His earthly creation, should also be free to choose his course of action. In this light, God’s command to Adam to eat of every tree of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil would make sense. If God had foreordained Adam to eat of the fruit and subsequently commanded him not to eat of it, He would hardly be worthy of the attributes He claims and His standard would be lower than that of many men. Indeed, more than simply being a contradiction to His claimed attributes, Adam’s very ability to obey where he had been destined to disobey, or disobey where he had been destined to obey, begs the question as to the extent of God’s power in foreordaining things. Happily, that is far from the case as God’s illimitable power has been proved once and the repeated time; and the fact that Adam could choose obedience or disobedience testifies that God had not trammelled his choice. This ability to choose is not a personal gift to Adam but an inherent attribute of the human creation, part of what constitutes man the image of God.
The example of Cain provides another demonstration of the operation of freewill. Upon Cain’s indignation at God’s favour upon Abel’s sacrifice, God said to Cain: ‘Why are you so angry and dejected? If you turn to doing good, will you not be restored to favour? But if you do not turn to doing good, sin is crouching at the door and is craving to dominate you; BUT WILL YOU GET THE MASTERY OVER IT?’ (Genesis 4:6,7). Let it be imagined for a moment that God had foreordained Cain to murder Abel. Where would be the need, much less the wisdom, in God’s urging him to desist, to master his evil intention, to change his course? Even an imperfect man cannot hold such contradiction to be wisdom. God could only hold out the prospect of overcoming the lurking sin to Cain because he could make choices.
The history of the fleshly Israel is replete with instances of choice-making on a much grander scale. Through Moses, God at one time declared: ‘See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; in that I command thee this day to love the Lord thy God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments…THAT THOU MAYEST LIVE and multiply; and the Lord thy God bless thee in the land which thou goest to possess it. BUT IF THY HEART TURN AWAY, so that thou wilt not hear but shall be drawn away and worship other gods, and serve them, I denounce unto thee this day, that ye shall surely perish…I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore, choose life that thou and thy seed may live.’ – Deuteronomy 30:15-19.
Neither the wisdom nor the love of God consisted in imposing ‘good’ on the Israelites; rather, he set before them both choices, but lovingly urged them to choose the good. (Deuteronomy 11:26-28). Prior to covenanting with them, God had given them a choice. ‘If you will obey my voice indeed and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me…Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priest and holy nation.’ The people’s reply after Moses’ consultation: ‘All that Jehovah has spoken we will do.’ (Exodus 19:5-8) It was after hearing the people’s reply that God proceeded with the covenant; he did not impose the choice on them, despite that it was for their good.
The Israelites chose to obey God, to be his people; as a proof that the choice was a willing one, not an absolutist, undeviating one, the Israelites did for countless number of time break the covenant, to the extent that God was sorely vexed with them to the point of annihilation. He appealed several times to his rebellious people: ‘Come and let us reason together… Though your sins be as the scarlet, they shall be as white as the snow; though they be red as crimson, they shall be as wool. IF YE BE WILLING AND OBEDIENT, ye shall eat the good of the land. BUT IF YOU REFUSE AND REBEL, you shall be devoured with the sword.’ (Isaiah 1:18-20) It would be pointless of God to appeal to a people already destined for good or evil since they would not thereby deviate from their set path; and heartless of him to set them to the sword when he himself had set them to the track of rebellion. But this is manifestly not true of God’s dealings with Israelites, his special property, his eyeball, a people chosen for his name, his glory among the nations.
Thus we see in this, and in many other examples in the Scriptures, that both in individual and in collective cases, God had always left the choice open, and this is only meaningful if such people have the freedom and ability to choose, otherwise it would be merely giving with one hand and taking with the other.
THE PRICE OF FREEWILL
Freewill comes with a price: living with the consequence of one’s choice. Those who question the wisdom of God in suffering Adam to sin and thereby subjugating the human race to the thraldom of sin, insist that God would not have left Adam with the tree of knowledge of good and evil so that he would not have had to choose. This assertion is prompted by the enormous consequence of making the wrong choice. Perhaps they are right in that having no object of sin before him, Adam might not have sinned, and consequently the entire human race. But that would not be a reflection of God’s purpose for man. God is not a tyrannical exactor of obedience; the obedience he demands and values in his creations is willing obedience, one borne out of love, not out of inability to disobey. Only with choices open can man be said to be truly in the image of God, and only then can man’s choosing of right gladden God’s heart.
Allowing man to suffer the consequence of his choice, be it good or evil, is a demonstration of God’s justice and a reinforcement of His guiding attribute, love. For while he is full of mercy and ready to forgive, ‘he will by no means leave the guilty unpunished’. (Exodus 34:6,7). To leave unpunished those deserving of punishment, to subvert the result of an unwise course, would be not a show of love but an undermining of God’s constancy, the very foundation upon which believers hope for the fulfilment of God’s promises. The words that go out of his mouth will not return to him without results (Isaiah 55:11) and sooner would heaven and earth pass away than for his decreed purpose not be fulfilled. – Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 5:18; 1 Peter 1:25.
Indeed, if God had shielded Adam from the consequence of his disobedience, consider how this might have been a vindication, not of God, but of Satan. Satan had said to Eve: ‘Ye shall not surely die, for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil’ (Genesis 3:4,5). Note that this is the very opposite of God’s pronouncement – ‘in the day you eat from it, you shall surely die’ (Genesis 2:17). Not punishing the errant Adam with the foretold punishment, death, would have proved Satan true – that they would not die as said by God – and proved God a liar! But it was Satan who had lied and remains ‘the father of the lie.’
Consider also the immense implication of God’s command to Adam. ‘Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shall not eat of it, for in the day thou eatest thereof, thou shall die’ (Genesis 2:16,17). If God had predestined Adam to eat of the fruit, it would be gross injustice on God’s path to punish him for a course of action that he is powerless to change. On the other hand, if God had destined Adam not to eat of it and Adam had eaten of it, this would mean that, apart from undermining the whole concept of predestination, God had told a great lie when he proclaimed the created man ‘perfect’. For perfection consists of the ability of a thing to function flawlessly as purposed, and if God had purposed Adam not to eat the fruit and he had eaten of it, he would not have acted according to purpose. In free moral agents such as man was created to be, perfection does not consist of unerringness; rather, it is the full capability to choose to err or not to err. This ability to choose good or evil did not start with man but with the spirit sons of God, where Satan and other angels chose wrongly by rejecting God’s sovereignty and advocating others to do the same.
REWARD AND PUNISHMENT, CONSIDERED IN THE LIGHT OF PREDESTINATION
The foremost predestinationist, John Calvin, defined predestination as ‘the eternal decree of God, by which he determined what he wanted to do with each man. Not all are created in the same condition, but eternal life is foreordained for some and eternal damnation for others.’ Regarding Adam, he said: ‘God not only foresaw the fall of the first man, and in him the ruin of his posterity; but also at His own pleasure arranged it.’ While not many predestinationists will subscribe to this extreme view, the sum total of this doctrine amount to little else but this – foreordination of eternal salvation or damnation for people.
Even to a mind not attuned to the qualities of God, this is a callous thing to propose. If before the founding of the world God had determined those to be saved and those to be damned, wherefore suffer Christ to die as atonement? If the blood of Christ would not redeem the already damned, and the already saved would not be damned at any rate, it would be impaling Christ in vain. Again, consider that even predestinationists are earnest preachers of the gospel. They, like Jesus, spend time and efforts calling on men of all sorts to repentance. Yet they do not perceive the manifest contradiction: if men have been predestined for salvation or damnation, preaching to them is futility since they must inevitably, immutably commit to their destined course. Christ himself would have known this, and his gospel would have been pretension. But they, like Christ, hope and desire all to attain to repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9.
In fairness, some predestinationists hold that God does not order events from ‘the beginning of time’, but rather at birth or sometime thereafter. This might look like an appeasement from the God whom this doctrine has painted cruel and unwise, but really, what difference does it make if once one has chosen an evil path, he is incapable of turning around? Of course, even if he does turn around, it will amount to his having been preordained to turn around – in other words, he would have been destined for salvation without his volition!
A point at which predestinationists cavil in support of the doctrine is found in Revelation 17:8 – ‘The beast that thou sawest was and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition, and they that dwell on earth shall wonder WHOSE NAMES WERE NOT WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF LIFE FROM THE FOUNDING OF THE WORLD…’ Aside from the fact that the book of Revelation is full of symbols which are not always literal, let us inquire – ‘Is the book of life a book in which a name not written cannot be written and a name written cannot be blotted out?’ The testimony of the Scriptures shows otherwise.
In Psalm 69:28, the Psalmist prayed of his enemies: ‘Let them be blotted out of the book of the living.’ In a plea to God to preserve the Israelites, Moses said: ‘If thou will not forgive their sins…blot me, I pray, out of thy book which thou hast written.’ Jehovah’s reply: ‘Whoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book’ (Exodus 32:32,33). These scriptural passages show that a name already written can be obliterated if the person becomes unfaithful, sinful.
Note also that the permanence of one’s name in the book of life is contingent on one’s continued faithfulness to the end. ‘He that overcometh, I will not blot out his name from the book of life, but I will confess his name before my father’ (Revelation 3:5). The crown of life, the reward of faithfulness, is sure not at birth but at one’s death, if one proved faithful to the end (Revelation 2:10). Whatever may be the meaning or interpretation of ‘FROM THE FOUNDING OF THE WORLD’, the Scripture shows that name written in the book can be blotted out and that salvation is dependent not on a name having once been written, but in the continued faithfulness of the one whose name has been written. Moreover, the wicked whose name is not written may have his name written by turning around and repenting of his sins.
Ancillary to this is the doctrine of eternal salvation – ‘once saved, always saved’ – which doctrine purports that who has once been born in Christ, i.e. repented and is saved, is saved for all time. The proponents of this doctrine do not, like predestinationist, propose that those not saved will never be saved, only that those already saved are ‘forever saved’. However, without inquiring deep into the topic, it may be noted that this is a scripturally erroneous doctrine, for if once saved is always saved, the crown of life would be given – or at least sure – upon salvation, not upon the finish of the race of life in faithfulness. Unless if by salvation they mean faithfulness unto death, in which case no man is ever saved until death – the very negation of their belief that they are saved once they confess the Christ and surrender unto him. – 2 Peter 1:10.
BIBLICAL EXAMPLES OF PREDESTINATION?
One may point, perhaps not unreasonably, at some examples in the Bible which seem to prove that God does predestine people’s lives. A prominent example is that of Judas Iscariot. Some insist that God predestined him to betray the Christ, and unless he betrayed the Christ, things spoken of by God through the prophets would not come to pass. The argument is potent, but does it by any means prove that Judas was predestined to betray the Christ? The prophecy regarding Jesus’ betrayal is given in Psalm 41:9 – ‘Yea, mine own familiar friend in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his head against me.’
To say the obvious, this is one of the numerous instances of prophecies – demonstrations of God’s superior foreknowledge and foretelling of events. God foresaw how the Christ would be betrayed and foretold it. Let it be noted here that the almighty God whose power is illimitable, CAN manipulate events, which may be people’s lives, to suit his purpose. To say otherwise is to deny God’s omnipotence. However, his ability to do this – and despite that he MIGHT have done it in select circumstances – does not mean that he in fact orders the course of people’s lives. When the Bible states that nothing is impossible with God, it does not thereby state that God does all things. ‘Two immutable things in which it was IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD TO LIE’ (Hebrews 6:18) does not imply that it is physically impossible for God to lie; it is but an impossibility of principle, for lying is against the nature of God. It is therefore not the impossibility of ordering or destining things that keeps God from doing so; he is only being guided by his own immutable principles.
FOREKNOWLEDGE, NOT FOREORDINATION
It will be seen that on examination, the alleged instances of predestination are only demonstrations of God’s foreknowledge. Defined, foreknowledge is the ability to know in advance the outcome of an event, or series or events. The outcome foreknown must be in the future, and it does not matter how far in the future. But for foreknowledge to be meaningful in the context of this discussion, it has to be more than reasonable deduction. For instance, it will hardly be regarded as foreknowledge on the part of an adult who predicts fire when he sees a child taking naked flame toward a jar of petrol. Yet even in this crude, intuitive precognition, we may attempt to differentiate foreknowledge from foreordination. The adult knows, perhaps out of experience, that children are unreasonable and reckless and that with the child’s destination, the outcome is fire. Instead of taking the trouble to analyse how this child’s action would lead to fire outbreak, the adult could simply predict fire – and very likely, his elementary prediction would come to pass. But it does not thereby mean that the adult has set the child on the course of causing the fire. He could but he did not.
We may take a step further and be scientific. Users of smart devices like handsets often take for granted the complex processes that take place to provide them comfort and convenience. They look at the screen of their phones in the morning and ascertain at once whether it would rain or be sunny with incredible degree of accuracy. This is possible because of years of collection and analyses of data about weather which enable scientists to determine the outcome of the combination of given set of phenomena. Similar process is used in predicting volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and many other natural disasters. These scientific feats have acquired the appellation of forecasting, and while many will decline to regard their predictions in the religious sense, it will at least be acknowledged that they are a demonstration of effective use of knowledge to predict the future. But none will for a moment conceive of crediting the scientists with causing these disasters simply because they foreknew them.
Of course it will be absurd to say that God is ‘scientific’ in his predictions. I do not presume to know, neither is it necessary to inquire, how God arrives at his unerring knowledge of the future. But if man, by his limited knowledge, is able to do so much, consider what little effort it will take God to foretell the future, considering that he has been in existence for uncountable years, knows all things to their minutest details, searches the human heart and innermost thoughts. It will in fact be a marvel if such a One cannot foreknow the future. Understandably, God proclaims, ‘I am God, … declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times the things that are yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand and I will do all my pleasure’ (Isaiah 46:9,10). God could therefore challenge the gods of the nations to prove their godship by foretelling the future. – Isaiah 41:22-24.
This ability to know the outcome of any cause of action is what enables God to foretell events. He can foresee not just the outcome of an individual’s action but also that of a nation. He could also, if he chose, manipulate events. In Pharaoh’s case, for instance, God manipulated events by hardening the heart of Pharaoh so that his further refusal to let the Israelites go resulted in the manifestation of God’s power upon Egypt, to the glory of God on all the earth. But nowhere in the Bible is it suggested that God’s ability to manipulate events means that he in fact manipulates them all the time; he only does so in fulfilment of his set purpose.
QUESTIONS FOR THINKING PREDESTINATIONISTS
If God predestines man to eternal salvation or damnation, and this from the beginning of time, ‘before the founding of the world’, i.e. even before the entrance of sin into the world – what is the use of the ransom since assured salvation can never be revoked, neither assured damnation? Or could it be that Adam’s sin and the consequent need for the ransom had also been foreordained by God – and how can they not? Where is the justice in condemning Adam, and his offspring after him, for a course of life he is powerless to change – a course of life which, were he to even change it, would be undermining, indeed inimical to, the fulfilment of God’s immutable purpose? Wherein lies the truth in calling God a God of love if he condemns millions, nay billions, without their willing act, even before they are born, to an eternal damnation, which damnation some hold to be eternal torment in an ever-burning fire? What justice, even, in imposing salvation on an unwilling person? Even humans with an imperfect mind would not regard as infinitely wise and loving a God who could make such decree. Predestinationists may have to clear this smudge on God’s name and ‘justify his way to man’ – otherwise it will be seen that their doctrine has contributed in no small way to the derogation of God.
- I believe in an illimitably powerful, infinitely wise, absolutely just, immensely loving and all-merciful God whose thought for man is of good, not of evil.
- I believe that man is created in the image of God, imbued with His qualities and is fully capable, with His guidance, of choosing his own course of life and living with the consequence of his choice.
- I believe that God shows the right way but does not dictate that man follow it.
- I believe in a just God who rewards good deeds but does not refrain from punishing evil, and that such punishment is compatible with the character of God.
- I believe in a forgiving God who sees beyond the act, examines the heart and intentions and mercifully extends forgiveness where He thinks fit.
- Above all, I believe in a loving and wise God who knows us even more than we know ourselves.
© 2016 Joshua Omenga