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Predestination is a topic that can end a pleasant conversation among otherwise sociable Christians in a nanosecond. I see it, put wryly, as our Enemy’s favorite antidote to Christ’s love.
There are a couple of ways to address predestination—the “P” word. One is combative: to set up opposed creedal havens. A second—one with lots of momentum today—is denial: a tacit agreement to act as if “P” isn’t in the Bible. But both approaches are wrong-headed.
Let’s consider some Bible realities that call us back to conversation on the subject.
First we need to talk about freedom. We are all free, biblically, and not “determined” by an imposed necessity—as if God presses his will on our will. Yet the realm of our moral freedom is often misread. The Bible locates moral freedom in our hearts. That is, our greatest love always guides us for good or for ill.
This view of the heart dismisses the most common alternative view: that our morality is based on a self-moved-will as Aristotle, Zeno, and Seneca all taught; and many Christians today affirm. This Greek portrayal presumes human autonomy—that is, a native independence from God. It also happens to be what the serpent proposed in Eden. We may want to avoid it!
The Bible teaches instead that we live as lovers, bonded by love either to God or to another master (Matthew 6:24).
This critical Christian insight—that the soul operates by love—sets out a heart-based version of life and faith. Somehow we begin to hear and respond to God’s love as he woos us. And we then realize there are just two ultimate options: God or self. The former love is what we were made for and what all humans are invited to enjoy. The latter is what Satan offered Adam and what has ruled the world ever since.
With this insight we can grasp the biblical portrayal of freedom: that God’s love is always freely offered but never forced on us. Love, instead, is our response to his attractiveness and not a duty we need to fulfill. As God’s created ones, made for love, the Spirit draws us to see him as attractive beyond all other options.
We gain another insight once the heart is treated as the base of morality: the problem we have with sin is not a disability—as in moral weakness, or poor education, or even an incapacity of the will. The problem, instead, is our disaffection: in our sin we simply don’t want God as he really exists. So we love what Satan offers: a vision for us to be “like God”. Sin in this context destroys our desire for the true God; and in his place a set of self-affirming ambitions or idols emerge.
Who falls for Satan’s deceit? Everyone. In Romans Paul tells us that all have loved self rather than God. He also tells us in Ephesians 2 that Satan manages his sin-captured hearts by stirring desires that lead away from God.
What can overcome such disaffection—given that by the very nature of desire we don’t “unwant” what we want in a given moment? God alone does it by calling all to himself; yet, despite his innate attractiveness, he only draws and captures some (see Matthew 22 here).
So who responds? Mainly those whom the world treats as unlovely: the poor, the weak, the blind, the lame, the shamed. And it is clear that God’s choosing is personal, not arbitrary; nor is it based on our moral efforts.
With all this in view let me restate the invitation for more conversation about “P”.
If God in his love has chosen some to himself—yet never forces us to respond—where do we find this in the Bible? In Abram? In Jacob? In David? In Isaiah? In Jeremiah? In Ruth? In Joseph and Mary? In the calling of the Apostles? In the Samaritan woman at the well? In Zachaeus? In Paul? In me?
Yes to all, and to many more. In each case these were “chosen”—and never forced—by God’s wonderful calling, promises, and captivating care. Do we notice how? By his winning our hearts in love.