The subject of predestination can only be in reference to the supernatural; it is foreign to atheism, except in terms of imagined space aliens, which drums up even more nonsense than religionists do. In reference to Christian theology, words such as predestination, Divine foreknowledge, and foreordination must be seen in perspective to the Divine, sovereign character and ability of the triune Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, three separate and distinct Persons, yet only one God operating in three capacities while remaining the composite whole of oneness. This truth is how the Scriptures throughout presents God to us, knowing that we finite creatures of His image cannot possibly comprehend it without becoming equal to Him in his Divine attribute of omniscience (all-knowing). That was exactly the Serpent’s temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, “Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). We creatures of God’s creative hand must therefore always reason from a position of utter humility rather than the prideful vanity of our own intellectual prowess. This is true especially in handling such Divine expressions as the words in question.
Also vital to the understanding of such expressions is the truth that God’s triunity is expressed very early in Genesis in direct reference to the creation of Adam, and thereby the entire human race, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). Note most carefully the “US” and “OUR.” The balance of all Scripture reveals their identity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is so very vital to note that in perfect unison they decided to create by Divine fiat a finite creature patterned after their own triune image of authority, fore-planning, and personal freedom to live and move and have individual being (Acts 17:28), all of this with the specific Divine purpose of having another person, though finite, with whom God could share His fellowship outside His Holy Self. And so it happened exactly that way, and Adam and Eve walked in perfect fellowship with God in the Garden of Paradise. Until, that is, they exercised their image of individual freedom to disobey God’s clear directives against God’s perfect will in what He had planned for them.
Contrary to much erroneous doctrine, that disobedience did not annul man’s created image of authority, fore-planning, and individual freedom to live, move, and have being.
That image, dear Christian, IS us! It is who we are, and will always be, for what God created us to be lasts eternally one way or another. That truth is as certain as God’s image in us. Frankly, if we ever cease to possess that identifying Image, we will simply cease to be at all! But let’s be clear: That eternal Image in us is the very thing that will make for us Heaven Heaven or Hell Hell. We will either eternally realize the perfect use of that Image in Heaven or else suffer eternally the never-ending agony of being denied it to escape the flames of the judgment of God’s eternal wrath against His enemies. It is our choice. The image of freedom He put in us guarantees it. Hell without it would be like a lifeless granite statue under water that could never drown.
One aspect of this Image in us bears directly on our interpretation of what the words in question mean. You see, instinctively humanity, designed to enjoy eternal happiness with our Creator, quite naturally enjoys hearing the Heaven part of our eternal image, but just as naturally we want to turn a deaf ear to the bad news of Hell. As a result, we have a natural corrupt bent, knowingly or unknowingly, to construct doctrinal sidesteps, loopholes, and deflections against God’s fiery missiles of warnings against ungodliness, so as to persuade us to flee from the wrath to come. Such doctrines of convenient escape from bad-news warnings seem always to aim not at ditching worldliness and the cleaning up of our risqué indulgence and the practice of holy living, but are rather constructed to soften the bad news of possibly winding up in Hell. Always, the convenient slant is to the false notion that God is more tolerant of sin than we seem to think. That notion aims at allowing us to engage in worldliness but still enjoy the prospects of going to Heaven instead of Hell. It envisions God as throwing wide open His big, compassionate, merciful arms to a wide range of saints and deviants alike, allowing us to have Heaven’s cake and eating it too. Such convenience doctrines have taken many and varied forms down through the ages of history, such as Purgatory, the sale of indulgences, the notion that there is no Hell at all, or that Hell is temporary, after which we all go to Heaven. Of course, atheism gets rid of Hell by getting rid of God altogether!
However, some doctrines of convenience are far more subtle and extremely complex. Such was and is the sophisticated notions of the famous John Calvin. His definition of absolute predestination had (and has) God decreeing before creation to build two categories of humans, one to go to Heaven, no matter what, and the other created to go to Hell, no matter what. Despite Calvin’s explanation that the Heaven-bound should nevertheless live holy lives, in actual practice they are prone to live loosely simply because one cannot help being saved anyhow. A modern splinter of that aspect of Calvinism, operating in the mode of the Perseverance of the Saints, opts instead for what they call “Free Grace” in which holy living is not even a necessity. Modern teachers of the Free Grace idea are championed by such popular preachers as Dr. Charles Stanley.
Other theologians concluded that pure Calvinism was too severe, so they softened it to mean salvation is provided for all fallen humanity. However, those who opt to receive salvation believe the last half of Calvin’s notion kicks in: Meaning, once one does make the choice for salvation, it is Divinely decreed that it must remain that way forever, no matter what, including our free choice to back out of it. And, of course, this opens the black door of convenience into imagined Divine toleration, by which we can be saved, live as though we are going to Hell, but at last quietly do a flip-flop into Heaven. How convenient! In truth, though, any Christian who turns to sin, lives in sin, and dies by sin will find no mercy at the throne of our absolutely Holy God who judges us in light of what we do with his beloved Son. To excuse such travesty by saying that if they died in sin, then they were simply not saved to start with, is like plugging a gaping shell hole in a concrete bunker with cheese cloth and claiming it’s fixed. It flies in the face of common sense.
No one can deny that the great John Calvin was one of the most intellectual giants of the church age. Next to Martin Luther, he was perhaps the most influential as well. When studying the theological strains of this man we should carefully consider that he lived during the arrival years of the Renaissance, the era of the rebirth of the old Greco/Roman culture of intellectual humanistic thought. Calvin’s wealthy contacts allowed his father to send his young son to the best, most up to date, schools of his time. At a very early age young Calvin was meticulously taught the humanist culture until it was who, what, and how the patterns were to be in his gray matter all of his life. It became the powerful tools he employed to form and argue his later theological points of view of the Scriptures. In fact, his conversion to Christianity by all accounts was simply an intellectual decision, void of any fanfare or emotion. So much so that, of all his writings, he makes only one passing reference to it in his Introduction to the Book of Psalms. Even so, it still leaves intellectual heads scratching as to whether or not that was even what he had reference to, or if he was simply referring to his turning away from the Catholic Church. Whatever it was, from that moment he began formulating his rigid, logical, philosophical system of theology, which he described with the acronym, T.U.L.I.P., the meaning of which we will not go into here. Once formed, his formidable intellectual prowess challenged and won every debate by the sheer science and art of his mastery of debate, whether he was right or wrong in his theology.
However, Calvin, together with all who approach the Gospel through the power and pride of their intellect, run aground in truth by the sheer brute force of their own law of intellect. Inadvertently, he brazenly imposed himself into God’s own forbidden mysteries, and pressed on until he had a “perfectly” logical answer for Divine secrets which even Paul himself said was impossible for a man to utter (2 Corinth. 12:4). Paul also mentions the thing formed saying to it’s Creator, “Why hast thou made me thus?” (Rom. 9:20). Scriptural inference there says we can just as well ask, “WHEN (Divine Decrees) did you form me?” Or, more intrusively, “HOW LONG was it between your idea (foreknowledge) to create me and when you actually did it?” Further, “WHAT WAS YOUR REASONING behind making a decision (ordaining, predestinating) in the infinite past to create a batch of saved humans and another identical lost bunch for…come to think of it, when did you come up with the awful notion of Hell, anyhow?” Paul’s grand point of making his observation was the utter futility of even engaging in such useless intrusions into the Divine mind, the answer to which we in our fallen state cannot possibly comprehend now nor perhaps never will. In fact, the entire exercise in even attempting it can only be an indulgence of intellectual pride of one’s own mental powers. The intrusion amounts to the proverbial bull in the china closet horning around among precious things, which a bull’s nature knows nothing about. The same still applies today.
It must also be pointed out that Calvinism in any degree must in some degree hang its hat on the old Westminster Confession of Faith, which states unequivocally, “God did from all eternity, by the most just and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.”
But whether the Calvinistic theology be Absolute, Modified, Reformed, Presbyterian, Neo-Calvinist, Congregationalist, Particular Baptist, Reformed Baptist, Strict Baptist, Free Grace Baptist, Southern Baptist, Neo-Orthodoxy, Church of England, Church of Scotland, or even modified, rectified, qualified, certified or dignified, and whether the Divine Decrees were Sub-lapsarian, Anselmic Sub-lapsarian, Infra-lapsarian, Supra-lapsarian, or any other lapsarians, when all of that intellectual collection of theological ramifications of cranial speculation falls out to the man in the streets, he finds it overwhelming and meaningless to his own perceived reality of everyday living. All he knows for certain is that riding atop his shoulders is a sphere with the ability to decide for himself what he jolly well pleases, no matter if he is an atheist, serious Christian, an agnostic, or a nothing. He just knows for certain (what theologians call a Rational Intuition), that something is mysteriously missing in his soul, and he knows for certain when he hears some good news that will correct it. He knows for certain that he can accept it now and, if he wants to, can change his mind later and toss it out; he also knows he can reject it now and change his mind and accept it later. He is just naturally NOT confused at all about that part of his humanity. Why? Because it is something he does all the time, day in and day out, and that anything else is purely a figment of the imagination. How simple can THAT be? Any old John or Jane Doe seems to know those things about themselves by sheer instinct, and believes and behaves as if anyone who disagrees with that common sense has been standing too close to freeway fumes!
Such words as Divine predestination, foreordination, foreknowledge, decree, and others, although legitimate words of Scripture, have been pounced on by spoiled human intellect as a reflex to escape God’s long, holy, accusing finger at our guilt for disobedience. We have tried many dodging maneuvers in the past, but finally centered on a sophisticated system whereby we blame God by extolling His sovereignty over even our own free wills. It is unique in that while we laud and honor His greatness, we think we found lodging once for all, and warts and all, from further guilt by disappearing our finite wills inside His sovereign will where we can always excuse ourselves with “God is in control.”
It won’t work. Cover to cover, from Eden to the New Jerusalem, Scripture is a flashing billboard along life’s freeway telling every soul who ever lived that God longs to restore fellowship with every soul He breathes life into, none excluded. Each one is a very personal thing between that one soul and God Himself for the express purpose of intimate closeness and fellowship. It is a Divine love and longing strong enough that He would give His own Divine Son to make it possible. Lost people get saved, not because of Calvinist theology, but in spite of it. Once joined, the Infinite God is not there to be intellectually analyzed, but to be accepted at face value and worshipped as one’s Creator and Lord. The joining of Almighty God and a finite creature always leaves a Divine vapor trail of utter mystery, and He is shortchanged when we run behind Him to fix on the vapor trail instead of simply falling at His feet in worship and personal fellowship. If that is not what we do when we encounter Him, we have deceived ourselves in a false encounter. God created us as emotional creatures to emotionally react to Himself first of all. If we get emotional listening to The Grand Ol’ Opry, rock concerts, football games, soap operas, and comedy shows, but show up in God’s presence with dead-pan faces with starched shirts, and a two-by-four down our collars, then we missed our first purpose by a country mile!
It behooves us to reexamine the words in question as they appear in Scripture, and reinterpret them in light of literal and Scriptural reality of who God made us to be, instead of an intellectual construct of debated positional statements and humanist hatched ecclesiastical checkerboards of mathematical vanity. Ancient Israel tried it, but their faith became legalism and wound up crucifying the very Thing their entire system was supposed to be about. Paul, speaking prophetically to the Roman Christians in regard to God cutting off the Jews (the branches of the olive tree) and turning to the Gentiles (who had been grafted in), put it this way, “You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.’ Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off” (Rom. 11:19-22 NKJV). It behooves us to remember that the Jews’ rejection of their roots crucified their Messiah, for which God discarded their branches; Paul’s solemn warning against our failing to continue in His goodness is the identical reverse: we also crucify our Messiah if we fail to stand by faith. We fool ourselves if we think He will not also break off our branches, leaving only the roots available for His further consideration. As we serve our gracious God and Creator, let us fear Him as we adore Him.