Predestination is undoubtedly one of the most difficult doctrines in the Bible. It’s a concept that, at first glance, usually makes many of us squirm in discomfort and question in disbelief. But predestination is nevertheless a clear, biblical concept. In fact, it’s explicitly referred to almost 20 different times in Scripture.
In the following post, I don’t want to discuss the ins-and-outs of predestination as a topic as much as I want to respond to common objections against it. This is certainly not an exhaustive list of objections or responses, but I hope it will serve to address some of the main ones.
Here we go:
“I don’t like the notion of predestination because I have an unbelieving family member or friend. What am I supposed to say to them? That God just didn’t choose them?”
This is a fair objection. The notion of predestination is not immediately palatable to those who have close, unbelieving loved ones because it seems to imply that they might be out of luck. As a result, it can be easy to prefer a ‘free will’ salvation instead—not predestination—because that at least gives people the ability to choose God. Because predestination doesn’t allow people the ability to choose God, their salvation can seem more hopeless.
As such, we tend to believe that if we had the freedom to choose God, then we would have a better shot at salvation than if we were predestined, i.e., if we had no choice at all. But the question is, is that a correct assumption?
This train of thought may be natural, but it’s built on two unbiblical assumptions: 1) that we have the ability to choose God; 2) if we did have that ability to choose God, then we would choose God.
The Bible, unfortunately, has a much more skeptical viewpoint of human morality than we do. It says apart from Christ, we are dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1). And dead people simply cannot choose life. They’ve lost the capacity to choose. This idea is formally recognized as total depravity: we are totally helpless in our salvation. If the Bible described our spiritual state as ‘sick’, then we could certainly choose to either take the medicine of salvation or not to take medicine of salvation. But the Bible communicates that we are dead, not sick—totally helpless to choose—and that God must make us alive by his grace (Eph. 2:4-6).
A ‘free will’ salvation, at first glance, seems like there’s a better chance of salvation for everyone. But that’s assuming a more moral belief of human tendency than the Bible permits. If we operate from a context of spiritual death, then a ‘free will’ salvation is actually the more hopeless alternative. Even if we could choose God, we would not choose Him 10 times out of 10. That’s why we need to be saved—not just from our sin, but also from our inability to not sin and our constant tendency to reject God.
Predestination, therefore, becomes really good news. Salvation is completely in God’s hands. And if we’re honest, it’s always better that salvation is in God’s hands and not in our hands, i.e., our fickle ability to choose Him.
So, if your close family member or friend is not a Christian, praise God that their eternity is in His hands and not in theirs or yours. If their salvation was in their hands, you should utterly despair. If their salvation was in your hands, you should constantly fret. But if their salvation is in God’s hands, you should have peace.
Truly, one reason why predestination seems unpalatable at first is because usually people wrongly assume a darker picture of God and a brighter picture of us. People assume that we want others to be saved more than God wants others to be saved; that we have a bigger evangelistic and compassionate heart for others than God does. But that’s certainly not true. We all affirm that truth in our mind; we just need to reaffirm that truth in our heart.
“It doesn’t seem fair that some people get chosen and others do not. It doesn’t seem fair that some have a chance to accept Christ and others do not even get a chance.”
This is a usual objection as well. Predestination does not seem fair because some are chosen and others are not. Some people get the chance to accept Christ, and others do not even get that chance. On the surface, that doesn’t seem fair at all.
However, the notion of fairness runs much deeper than we think at first. If we’re seeking the truest sense of fairness, we would need to reevaluate our definition. Here’s why.
What’s not fair is not because some people have a chance to be saved and others do not. What’s not fair is that there’s a chance to be saved at all. If we’re talking ‘fairness’, it’s most fair if no one gets saved. Because of our sin, if God chose to save no one, He would be acting in complete fairness. What’s unfair is the fact that God chooses to save any.
If we’re quick to write off predestination as ‘unfair’, it might be because we’re operating from a subtle premise of entitlement: namely, that God owes every person an equal chance. But the sober truth is that God doesn’t owe us anything. The fact that we get anything but damnation is grace.
Predestination is unfair not because it is partial, but because it is gracious.
“God’s will is for all people to be saved.”
Most people will bring up verses like 1 Tim. 2:4 in their objections against predestination. The verse reads, “…God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Let’s break this verse up into 2 parts:
1) God’s desire/will
2) All people
First, when we talk about ‘God’s desire/will’ it’s important to note that there are two sides to God’s will, what theologians coin as God’s sovereign will and God’s moral will. His sovereign will involves all the things that He decrees to take place. And his moral will involves all the things that He desires to take place. This is important distinction—just because God desires something does not mean He will decree it.
There are many evidences of this throughout the Bible. One, for example, is when the Israelites wrestled with God about wanting a king (1 Sam. 8). God desired that He be their king. But the Israelites were relentless in their request for a human king, so God decreed there to be a king, appointing Saul for the role. In this instance, God’s sovereign will and moral will seemed at odds circumstantially in the moment, but they fit together holistically in His greater plan.
Another (more important) example is the cross of Christ. God never desires that people sin; however, He decreed the crucifixion, which involved the blaspheming, mocking, and murdering of the Son of God. Judas. Pontius Pilate. The Roman guards. The Jewish crowds. These people acted against God’s moral will, however, they acted in total accordance with God’s sovereign will (Acts 4:28). God’s desire and decree seemed at odds circumstantially in the moment, but they couldn’t have fit together more perfectly in His greater, holistic plan of redemption.
When it comes to salvation, God may likewise desire that all be saved, but He may only decree that so many people be saved according to His sovereign plan.
Second, when we talk about ‘all people’, it’s important to take these verses in context as well. ‘All people’ might not actually mean ‘all’ in its truest sense. That sounds absurd, so what could I possibly mean?
We used 1 Tim 2:4 as our example text. Well, if you read the first three verses before it, Paul encourages us to pray for ‘all people.’ Now, I don’t know about you, but I can’t pray for ‘all people.’ And neither can you. It’s simply impossible to pray for 7.4 billion people. So… if you do not literally pray for ‘all people,’ are you in sin? No, of course not. The context is clear: Paul is referring to all types of people, here. And that fits the general salvific theme of the Bible, too—that God will save all types of people. He will save people from every nation, tribe, tongue, background, economic status, etc. He’s in the business of saving every type of person, but not every single person.
Truly, if God’s will was for all people to be saved, then we must admit, maybe God isn’t performing as well as He could be doing at his own job. But that’s certainly not the case. In verses like these, we need to remember that God has two different wills just like we have two different wills. Just because we desire something to happen does not mean we will always accomplish it, even if we have the power to do so. But that doesn’t make God any less able or any less good.
“If God chooses to save some people, then does that mean He chooses to damn others?”
This objection is a bit darker than the rest, and it’s a logical progression of predestination. A response to this objection, however, might be something you would only hear about in seminary. There are two different camps of predestination when it comes to God’s saving and damning.
The traditional understanding of predestination assumes what scholars call ‘single predestination’, which essentially means that God chooses some for salvation and does not choose others. Those who are saved are saved because of God’s grace, and those who are damned are damned because of their rejection of God. In other words, God actively saves some, and others are damned passively by virtue of their sin.
The second understanding of predestination, however, is what scholars call ‘double predestination’, which essentially means that God saves some and damns others. Those who are saved are saved because of God’s grace, and those who are damned are damned because of God’s damnation. According to this viewpoint, not only does God actively save some, but He also actively damns others.
Single predestination is the more popularly held than double predestination; however, that’s simply to say that there are two different kinds of beliefs regarding God’s role in predestination.
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Predestination can be likened to coffee to one’s theological palate. The first taste is usually bitter, but if consumed more frequently, it can become more tasteful to one’s understanding of grace.
Nevertheless, if you struggle with the doctrine of predestination, just know that you are not alone. It’s an uncomfortable topic; it often rubs us the wrong way; and it often leaves us with more questions than answers. It’s a subject that will be mined and never fully excavated. And it’s a concept that can only be fully understood from the vantage point of God. He’s revealed just enough to us so that we can make sense of it, but not enough so that we can understand it all. This topic, therefore, demands humility more than intellectual precision, and grace more than intellectual correctness.
For More Resources:
Two Wills of God: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/are-there-two-wills-in-god