Summary: Predestination vs. Free Will...which is it?

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:3 - 14 (NRSVA)

God loves YOU! That is the message of Paul in this passage. Me? He loves me? Yes, and He has done so much for us that we don’t deserve or even know about. It is His will, His nature.

Now, another big question is HOW; how does God love us? Having created everything, does God just sit back and watch us, hoping for the best? Or did God plan out everything that will happen to us, and everything we will do in our lives? In theological language those are somewhat competing doctrines. One is called free will, where everything is up to us in this life. The other is the doctrine of predestination, where God is controlling everything.

A popular dictionary defines predestination this way:

…the doctrine that God, a deity, or fate has established in advance everything that is going to happen and that nothing can change this. [1]

Now that may be consistent with our human rationale that a sovereign God can (and does) do what He wants. However, I think it is too incomplete to just leave it there; there are other issues to consider.

My grandson is about four. We were arriving back at the house after a walk around the block. He ran up the driveway, touched the garage door and proclaimed, “I won”! My thought was, “Nobody was racing except you, boy!” My grandson “won” his race based upon an incomplete understanding. In order for there to be a race, there must be more than one participant.

We tend to think that way about God; we assume that our understanding must be right, because it works for us. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, had strong thoughts about predestination. But even with very strong conviction on the topic, Wesley treaded very lightly in his doctrinal sermon, calling this what the Apostle Peter mused about Paul’s writings….some things are really hard to understand. [2]

What Wesley pointed out was that we sometimes throw terms around without really applying them correctly. The prefix “pre” in predestination indicates some action or event in point of time. This is not relevant when you refer to God, as He is outside/above time and space. For God, a thousand years is as one day. Does He know our future? Of course; God sees all time at once, experiences all time as present, past and future. As Creator it is impossible for him to be less than what He created; He is not hemmed-in by time as we are.

The “other side” of predestination is “free will”. The equally popular train of thought here is that my relationship to God, and all my actions, thoughts and experiences are all up to me.

The author Isaac Bashevis Singer was once asked whether he believed in free will or predestination. “We have to believe in free will,” he replied. “We’ve got no choice.” [3]

The Debate

The debate is obvious…if God predestined everything, down to the indigestion you had when you added anchovies to that pizza, then nothing will change – it will all happen as He planned, and we are insignificant.

On the other hand, if there is free will, we are everything, and God is only a spectator.

The Dangers

Just as the debate is obvious, there are dangers in getting too far on one side or the other. (Everyone has an opinion…just how far you track to one side can have far-reaching consequences.)

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