An article I was reading recently, in a periodical from another church, sought to grapple with the Biblical teaching about election. The author was honest enough to state at the outset his problem with predestination: “If God, through sovereign decisions, predestines some to salvation and some to damnation, then surely He is the ultimate source of sin and suffering.”
The writer then focused particularly on the text in Romans 8 – that those whom God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son (v.29). His view on this verse was that Paul is merely speaking about God’s plan and intent. He argues that the verb “to predestine” was used primarily by Greek parents making plans for their children. He gives an example: a couple want their son to become a doctor. They send him to the best schools and in many other ways guide and lead him so as to predestine him to become a doctor. The problem is that they have no guarantees. He may choose to become a football player or a plumber instead. So the “predestining” of the parents highlights intention and not results. It’s like you intending to travel to Bali for a holiday. You may plan all you like to get to Bali for your next holiday. You may even set out on an aircraft to go there – but that is no guarantee that you will actually arrive there. In the same way God’s intention is to save all those whom He foreknew but the reality is that human refusal to believe messes up God’s intention.
I have huge problems with this kind of dismissal of Romans 8:29. There is a world of difference between “intending” to travel to Bali and God “intending” to save those whom He has foreknown. The reality is that the doctrine of election is woven into the very fabric of Scripture so that one comes across it in the most unexpected places.
That struck me some time ago when Pastor Andrew was preaching from John 17. In verse 2 Jesus prays, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,” and then He adds, “since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” That verse clearly implies that there are some whom the Father has given to the Son to receive eternal life and that there are others who the Father has not given to the Son to receive eternal life. We may not particularly like that kind of teaching in our Bible but the fact is that we cannot get away from it. And when we’ve explained away one such troublesome verse there’s another half a dozen that pop up in their place.
The fact is that Paul wants to encourage Christians because salvation is all God’s doing from “go” to “whoa”. Paul has just assured believers that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him. The reason why Paul and we can be sure of that is because we have a God who is totally sovereign in salvation and who finishes what He begins. That’s why Paul immediately follows that encouraging verse about all things working out okay by telling us about God’s eternal plan for us that begins with our election and ends in our glorification.
If we think that this makes God the author of sin and misery then we haven’t read our Bibles very well. Scripture has no difficulty telling us that God sets our final destiny (predestines) and yet telling us at the same time that we humans are fully accountable for our decisions and actions. We need to accept both of those teachings, holding them in tension. The reality is that God judges sin and rebellion but if God didn’t choose out of sinful and rebellious humanity an elect remnant and bring them to salvation then no human being would ever believe the good news of the gospel.