Sunday Message for 11 July 2021: “Decide your Destiny”

Today’s message reveals Paul’s belief in how people have been chosen by God “before the foundation of the world”(Ephesians 1:4b). Paul then makes the bold claim that God has “destined us for adoption as his children . . .” (Ephesians 1:5a).

Paul’s declaration that God knows peoples’ lives in advance is known as predestination. The emotions on both sides of the predestination controversy are explosive. As with many such issues, a process of truth-seeking can reveal pros and cons. Through it all, it’s best to keep an open mind.

The argument for predestination has always caused problems. Consider billions of people making choices each millisecond, with the options for the future constantly changing as almost infinite decisions accumulate to shape the future. Can God control or know all of this or does God instead focus on the result of peoples’ decisions? There are few helpful answers about how all this works.

Defenders of predestination claim that people can’t understand why and how God knows things but human ignorance doesn’t mean God is any less powerful. They argue that the ability to control events before they happen does not make sense but is still valid because God does it (some critics highlight the circular reasoning here).

Humans experience time by having some knowledge about the past but not of the future. Even spiritually awakened individuals who master the joys of living in the moment fail to know their future. God presumably can do all this behind-the-scenes plotting and planning of your future without your knowledge or consent.

Whereas human perception separates time into past, present and future, heaven’s clock may not work in this linear fashion. Paul and his followers suggest that God not only knows in advance what will happen but also that God controls everything. Critics rightly argue that such God talk must be carefully managed because declaring that God can do anything makes God accountable. Defining God as a both all-powerful and all-knowing suggests God can change reality at any moment. If this is true, then it follows that God could also be responsible for what happens (after all, with great power comes great responsibility).

Those who question predestination suggest that if God magically controls everything then God is logically and morally obligated to manage the universe compassionately. Otherwise, God becomes a heinous monster, one who has ultimate power but who chooses to voyeuristically observe rapes, genocides and countless atrocities while refusing to do much about it.

Believers in predestination claim that whatever Paul wrote must be accepted and that all other considerations are void. This view suggests that whatever is in the Bible is the greatest truth forever, including the opinions of mostly anonymous authors who wrote poetry, history, and philosophical commentaries about their beliefs.

Critics of predestination claim that Paul’s writings, though inspired, are not necessarily absolute moral truth. They argue that no mere mortal’s writings should have such power to override logic and love. Compared to receiving and sharing God’s compassion, predestination pales in comparison and serves more as a distracting parlor game.

What about free will, the basic human ability to make choices? The classic view is that individuals are responsible for their choices and can be punished by God and others accordingly. Yet as history demonstrates, people are also often blamed for things for which they are not guilty and oftentimes circumstances shape peoples’ decisions in interesting ways.

Paul’s point is that people must trust God to take care of everything behind life’s façade. Paul argued that God holds people accountable but that humans don’t have a right to hold God accountable. Despite being deeply complex and theologically confused, personal choice and responsibility are much of what makes humans human.

The mutually contradictory existence of free will and predestination is frustrating. Psychology has done a superb job revealing that peoples’ choices are not simple. What appears on the surface as basic choices masks hidden forces affecting and influencing peoples’ decisions. It is helpful to realize that, whoever is making decisions, the process of deciding isn’t as easy or straightforward as some people want it to be.

How can humans claim total free will while admitting that God controls everything? Human freedom is constrained because reality is influenced and shaped by diverse forces in the physical, biological, and cultural environments. This suggests that to believe God has either damned or saved people before they’ve been born is cruel and absurd since it robs humanity of freedom and renders peoples’ lives less meaningful.

To end on a positive note, consider the assurance that human life can be a beautiful journey despite not knowing how it will unfold. Perhaps more important than predestination is the issue of people as God’s faith children. We are redeemed and forgiven, recipients of redemptive power originating from God’s spirit. Celebrate the life you are creating for yourself every moment and choose wisely.

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