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Re-Thinking Predestination

In Ephesians, we read that God predestined that there would be a church. It reads:

“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:11-12).

Some have argued that if God did not predestine specific people to accept his invitation for salvation, then God could not be certain that his plan would be accomplished. They argue that God’s goal for world history could fail and that Satan could win after all. There are two points to consider.

First, while humans have free will, God still set the parameters for human freedom. God knows humans exhaustively, which means that he knows all of humanity infinitely better than we could ever know. With enough information about a group of people, advertisers and insurance companies, for instance, can accurately predict the behavior of large groups of people under certain conditions. However, they cannot predict the behavior of any particular individual. If this is the case, how much more should we assume that God is able to predict the behavior of a large group of people over a long period of time?

With God’s infinite knowledge of humanity, he knew from the begin that human rebellion was a possibility, even inevitable. The Lord knew that if a fall were to occur, a certain percentage of people might reject his offer of salvation. But the Lord also foreknew that a certain percentage range of people would accept it. God was able to do this without predetermining which individuals would and would not belong to the church. This could not be known as a reality until the agents themselves respond to the offer of salvation.

Second, the Lord could know from the start that he would have a church on the basis of his perfect knowledge of his own character and ability. Even if it were possible for entire generations to rebel in totality, the Lord knew before he began the plan that he was willing to do whatever it took and to work for however long it might take to see his creation bear the fruit he was seeking.

We see this throughout Scripture. The flood story (Gen 6), after the exodus from Egypt, with Israel as king after king rebelled leading to exile, and many other cases. God refused to give up. He was not going to abandon his plan of having a people who share in his triune love and administrate his loving lordship on the earth.

Therefore, God can “predestine” by having complete assurance that his overall goals will be accomplished, even while being uncertain as to who will and will not submit to these goals. God is determined—he has predestined—that there will be a church, and he will not give up until this goal is achieved.

—Adapted from Satan and the Problem of Evil, pages 155-158


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