In his usual evocative form, Pastor Rob Bell once raised a marker and told his audience to imagine what this 3D object would look like on a 2D plane. From a side perspective it would look like a line, but from another perspective it would look like a circle. And anyone who lived on that 2D plane would argue what it was based on their perspective. (Bell, Rob. Everything is Spiritual. DVD. Zondervan, 2007.)
“It’s a line!”
“No, you’re crazy! It’s obviously a circle!”
Now we on the 3D plane know that this is obviously a marker—a cylinder-shaped object that is circular from one 2D perspective, but linear from another. We would be right in claiming both the line and circle perspectives to be correct, even though the people on the 2D plane would not be able to see it or believe it themselves.
So is the case of those who fight over free will and predestination. One audience boldly claims the marker to be a circle while the other claims it to be a line, when in fact, both are right.
The Bible is secure in its understanding that we have free will as well as its understanding that God can predestine things. For example, God predestined Jeremiah to be a prophet in saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer 1:5). Likewise, salvation was predestined before the beginning of time, as was Jesus’ involvement in it (2 Tim 1:9; 1 Cor 2:7). And as we all know, the end times and the resurrection and the new heavens and new earth are predestined ahead of us.
God is wise enough to set in place the things He needs to happen. Likewise, He is wise enough to chart new courses to navigate around our free will when it clashes with His. For example, next time you read a gospel, pay attention to how many times Jesus has to leave a city because someone who was told to stay quiet about His miraculous powers went and blabbed it to everyone else, making it impossible for Jesus to stick around because of all the attention that was drawn to Him.
Was it God-in-flesh’s plan to have to leave those cities prematurely? I’d say no. But sometimes Jesus would run into hiccups in ministry and things wouldn’t go down exactly as He would have liked—like when He went to His hometown and could only heal a few sick people (Mk 6:5). Clearly if God had His way, He would have found more to heal.
Likewise, both Paul and Peter tell us that if God truly had His way, everyone would be saved (1 Tim 2:4), so the idea that God predestined everyone to either Heaven or Hell before time began is a misunderstanding, because God only wants people to go to Heaven. In fact, Peter said that God has been waiting to usher in the end times because He wants more people to be saved (2 Pe 3:9). In other words, there are still some out there who have yet to use their free will to give their lives over to God, and so He’s holding off on bringing about the final judgement so that they still have time to come to Him. They may be assigned to Hell at the moment, but God’s still holding out the hope that their free will decision will change. And if they’ll turn to Jesus, then they, too, will join the church in Paul’s exhortation:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.Ephesians 1:3-6 (ESV)
Recognize that Paul keeps referring to an “us” in this passage as he writes to the church at Ephesus about pre-destiny. Who is the us? It’s the church universal—all Christians. In other words, he’s not saying, “We individuals are the select few that were predestined to receive the blessings of Christ;” rather, he’s saying, “Christians are the select few that are predestined to receive the blessings of Christ.” In other words, if you join Christianity, you join the promises of predestination, including an inherited holiness and blamelessness. The Church is the predestined one, and all are welcome to join her.
If you join Christianity, you join the promises of predestination, including an inherited holiness and blamelessness. The Church is the predestined one, and all are welcome to join her.Tweet
In order to have free will, you don’t need to get rid of predestination. Your framework doesn’t have to crumble with the existence of both. You can have both the line and the circle that make the cylinder. We just need to understand what predestination means in its context. We also have to recognize that God has His own will that He can enact upon us and that His will being carried out is often what we call pre-destiny.