Posted by: mr.verite | 12 February, 2008

An aside on predestination…

Don’t feel like you have to read this… It’s just that I’m aware that my position is a bit shocking, but I really believe that it’s a biblical perspective on God, and His sovereignty. So just to explain and give biblical backing for those who want to go deeper…

First of all, the passage concerning luck is Proverbs 16.33: “The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is wholly from the Lord” So this is biblical basis to say that nothing is down to sheer luck, and I think that we’re all agreed on this one.

Secondly, I believe that God ordained that everything be just as it is for His own Glory. God makes everything come to pass for the sake of His glory. Does this make God an egotistic narcisistic, sinful being? Well God is egotistic in the sense that He is radically God-centered. Simply because nothing is more worthy than being God-centered. We have this vague notion that God is all about going out of His way just to please His humble servants. Well there is a bit of that (a lot of it, in fact, through incarnation and crucifixion), but these were means by which God was working towards the glorifying of His name.

We all agree with the Westminster cathechism, I think, which states that “the ultimate goal of man is to glorify God and enjoy (or “by enjoying” if you’re a “Piperite”) Him forever”. And in light of this, we can say that “the ultimate goal of God is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. If this shocks any of us, it’s because we’ve made bad use of our ultimate calling. Our calling to glorify God isn’t based on selflesness, but on the worth of God. Which leads us to say that virtue isn’t in selflesness, but in God-centerdness. And the same is true for God. God’s virtue and goodness isn’t based on his selflesness, but rather on His God-centredness. Otherwise, how can we maintain that God is good, when he makes statements like these: “For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath; for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you, so as not to cut you off. See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.” (Isaiah 48.9-11) So God is radically God-centered, and His actions are based on this. That is basis for a correct understanding of God.

Thirdly, everything happens for a reason, and that reason is God. I would agree with Wayne Grudem, who says that “God cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do”. This involves

– inanimate creation: “clouds turn round and round by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world”. So far, I think that we don’t struggle too much with that. Then again, perhaps some of us see the implications of such an affirmation: God didn’t just create the world with it’s natural forces, and then let them be, leaving God to be helpless in front of his creation. God masters and directs all inanimate things.

– animals: “not one sparrow will fall to the ground without your father’s will”. Birds won’t fall out of nests, or animals die unless God lets it happen.

– Big picture, general history (the affairs of nations): God “makes nations great, and he destroys them: he enlarges nations, and leads them away” If this weren’t true, how could prayer for peace ever be answered, if everything rested on scientific, sociological causes? Of course, one can almost always explain world events sociologically, but that’s because God works within creation, and within the laws that he has himself created, except in rare exceptions, called miracles. And how could prophecies in the Old Testament about destructions of nation as an expression of God’s wrath be sure to come true if God didn’t have control over everything?!

– Every aspect of our lives: this is where it becomes really tricky to 21st century man, because we start tampering with our will! But Scripture makes more affirmations about this than about any of the previous cases! The Bible is clear: “In Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them (Ps. 139.16). This should be enough to satisfy us. But God doesn’t stop there: Job 14.5: man’s days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his bounds that he cannot pass. Proverbes 21.1 is massive: “The King’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord, he turns it wherever he will”. God changes the will of rulers: he hardened Pharaoh heart in Exodus, he “turned the heart of the King of Assyria”, and “stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia”. The same is also true for every quidam on this planet, not just kings: “from his dwelling place he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all”.

What Wayne Grudem says at this point is important: Here also, as with the lower creation, God’s providential direction as an unseen, behind-the-scenes, “primary cause”, should not lead us to deny the reality of our choices and actions. Again and again, Scripture affirms that we really do cause events to happen. We are significant and we are responsible. We do have choices, and these are real choices that bring about real results. So this is true, but the number of passages in Scripture saying that God makes them happen is so great and compelling that we have to affirm that both are true. How to articulate them is very complex, almost as much so as the question of evil.

– evil: which leads me on to my next point: God ordains that evil be. In the book of Job, he did not refrain Satan, but rather let him destroy Job’s life and even kill some of the members of his family. But nowhere does Scripture ever show God as directly doing something evil, but rather bringing about evil actions through the willing actions of moral creatures. And Scripture never blames God for evil or shows God as taking pleasure in evil. God ordains that evil be for his ultimate plan to be more glorious: look at the story of Joseph: all sorts of terrible things happen to him, and yet he says: “God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive”. Some have given this analogy of God as an architect drawing a house, representing your life. But then through your evil actions, the house becomes impossible to make, so you force God to rub out his initial plan and start again, creating something different from the initial plan, but good all the same. But where does Scripture picture us a God with a rubber in His hand? Is he human that he should make mistakes in His initial plan and have to start over? Is he man that he should be affected by the flucuations of man’s heart? I don’t think so!

There are plenty of other passages in Scripture which say that God let evil happen, or ordained that evil come to pass. Why? I don’t know? How? I don’t know, but I’m man, and he’s God, and I’ll ponder on it, and wrestle with it to my dying day, but I won’t impose my answer on Him. I’d rather let my words be few.

– Salvation: now this is the crunch. It’s the most horrifying and the most glorious of all the thoughts and reflexions up ’till now. W. Grudem defines election as follows: “election is an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any forseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure”. The first text to quote in defense of this is the one that I read last night: “In everything, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those whom he forknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren”. You can’t get more clear than that… You can try and say: “yes, predestined to be in the likeness of Jesus”, but what is that except from “predestined to be saved”? It’s the same truth with different words. Ephesians 1.4-6 says the same: “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him”. And so if God elects some, then that means that the others are reproved, pre-ordained for destruction… It sounds horrible, and awful. But it’s biblical (“Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad, in order that God’s purpose in election might continue, not because of works but because of his call, she was told, “the elder shall serve the younger’. As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”” – Romans 9.11-13). And it’s really only fairness. Because although God pre-ordained all things, we saw above that you can’t just explain things through God’s providence: all things have rational explanations as well that can’t be denied. And sinful people get what they deserve: separation from God. It shouldn’t be about complaining about those that go to hell: it’s only fair. Our attitude should be one of rejoicing because God has graciously chosen to save us, by coming to do something crazy for us: die to open a way to the Father, and calling so that we turn from our sinfulness and blindness into the light of Faith.

The crunch is this: God ordained to save us through grace, in order that he may have a people to be in communion with, and at the same time have all the glory. If God didn’t care about his Glory, he would have made us with an incapacity for evil, so that by our own strength, we may save ourselves. But for God to have the glory, and so that we may not boast, it’s God who gave us our righteousness and not us that earned it. But then there’s still a problem: if we can’t boast about our works, at least maybe could we boast about our faith. UNLESS the faith that we have does not come from our superior will and godliness, but ONLY through God’s grace, who was good enough to give us saving faith as well, something which is impossible by our own human strength!

That is what I believe the Bible teaches, in my opinion, no matter how crazy it may sound to 21st century, post-nlightenment, post-rationalism, post-modernism, post-Descartes, Voltaire, Kant, Nietzsche, Sartre, post-liberal protestantism human beings. Our philosophies will change, and we’re heading into a profoundly spiritual and really pluralist age, but I’d rather base my doctrine on what the Bible teaches, because that won’t change.

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Responses

  1. I knew this blog would turn into a Piper-inspired rant by Nathan at some stage 😉

  2. Well it’s more Wayne Grudem and Nicolas Thebault who planted these grains in me. John Piper has been one of the many to have watered it since.


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