Predestination and Choice

David Brandt Berg

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For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called. (Romans 8:29–30).

The Bible teaches that we are foreordained, and uses the words foreordination, predestination, etc. But if you take that to the extreme, you wind up with fatalism or that there’s no choice; you can’t change it.

You are born with certain strengths and weaknesses and possible patterns for your life, but the choice of how you react and how you use it and the responses and decisions you make can change the course of things. So I believe in both predestination and choice.

It’s sort of like an automobile. An automobile is built along a pre-set pattern. There’s a difference between models of cars, like people. There are fast cars, slow cars, big cars, little cars, maneuverable cars and cumbersome cars, safe cars and dangerous cars, cars that run on gasoline, cars that run on diesel, cars that run on chicken dung, alcohol or electricity.

There’s that much variation, but a vehicle is a vehicle nevertheless. In other words, the way the vehicle’s originally made is a pretty set pattern, just like your personality pattern is set from birth. Then a lot depends on how the vehicle is cared for, just like how your body, mind, and spirit are cared for. The way you take care of that vehicle has a lot to do with how it operates or doesn’t operate and how long it lasts. That is dependent on the choice of the owner, the driver.

Also, a certain set vehicle, like your car, has its limitations: how fast it can go, how slow it can go, how powerful it is climbing hills. But where it goes is pretty much up to the driver, your personal choice. You can’t change the vehicle itself much or how it operates, but you can steer it where you want it to go.

If it’s a certain type of vehicle, there are certain conditions under which it cannot possibly operate. It can’t climb over boulders, or start putting out through the water; it’s not built to do that. Likewise, you know you can’t do some things, so you shouldn’t try to do things you’re not built for.

But knowing how you’re made and your own personality, your possibilities and your limitations, your weaknesses and your strengths, you should try to gear yourself pretty much according to your capabilities and your limitations within this range of highs and lows and how far right you can go, how far left you go, how small a circle you can turn around in, and a few other things.

It’s similar to the difference between little European cars and big American trucks. They can turn those little cars around on a dime. But the big trucks are like the song of the trucker in America: “Give me 40 acres and I’ll turn this rig around!” You have to know what kind of rig you’ve got and whether you can turn around on a dime or in 40 acres. It may take you 40 acres to get it headed the other direction. Some people can change quickly, but other people take years to change. So within your limitations and your capabilities, you have a certain range where you can operate.

It’s like the symbolism of the snake in the tunnel for the European monetary system. Here’s a snake crawling through a tunnel, and it can wiggle back and forth this way, but it can only go so far side to side and only so far up and down. In other words, they put it within certain limitations so that it can only go so high and so low, and so far in either direction within the tunnel. Within the tunnel it can vary, but it must stay within the limits.

I think in a way that’s what God has done with you and me in our personalities and abilities and the general direction of our lives. We can change things here and there by choice. But there’s only one major change you can make in your general direction or travel within the tunnel—the U-turn. You can turn slightly from side to side in the tunnel or you can go in the reverse direction in the tunnel. This turning around is what we call metanoia or repentance.

If you’re going the wrong direction toward destruction, God does give you a chance to turn around and go the right direction, toward salvation. In other words, we may be born in a tunnel, but you still can go a lot of different directions, up or down, right or left, but all within certain limitations God has given us.

God has laid down the pattern, and it’s like the weaving of the pattern of your life. Someone once compared it to a tapestry, which is woven from one end to the other. If you miss a stitch or you miss the pattern clear back at the beginning, it may not show up at once, but it shows up very much as you get toward the end. But it can’t get clear off the tapestry!

The pattern is confined to the space in which the life is being woven, and the direction in which it’s being woven. There are boundaries on each side and it’s being woven from one end to the other, so it proceeds in one direction and it cannot go further than the end or the sides.

You might say God is like the manufacturer or the one who supplies you with all the materials and the pattern. You’re the individual weaver who is supposed to follow this particular pattern. You can vary the pattern by choice. If you get off the pattern, you can make a mess of it, but you still can’t go beyond the limitations of the pattern, because that’s all the materials you’ve got, and that’s all the loom you’ve got, and that’s the only direction you can go.

I don’t believe in total free will either, saying that you can do anything and have anything and do whatever you want, like the poem “Invictus” by William Henley: “My head is bloody but unbowed.” That’s somewhat true; you can go ahead and go to hell if you want to, if you insist on it.

But neither can we Christians believe in total predestination or total fatalism, where we have absolutely no choice at all and nothing to do with what happens. Total free will says that it’s all your choice what happens and God has nothing to do with it. God’s Word teaches both, and I believe in a balance between the two.

God will let you operate within certain bounds. You can make choices to go so far this way and so far that way, and in which direction you want to go, but God sets the bounds. The boundaries are set, predestined or foreordained, but the direction you take and the variations within the boundaries can be chosen by you.

Of course, when you yield to the Lord and let your choices be His choices, pleasing the Lord, delighting yourself in Him, letting Him give you the desires of your heart, then you go His direction and follow His pattern pretty closely. Even there He often lets you decide on what kind of picture you want to paint of your life, and what kind of pattern you want. He may give you a choice of several different patterns.

Because you delight yourself in Him, He’ll give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4). God is more than good to us and He will give us a lot of things that we want, sometimes even if they’re not good for us, just to teach us a lesson.

Thank the Lord everything’s under control, either yours or the Lord’s or both. It’s in the Lord’s control to a certain extent, and then within the tunnel or within the pattern it’s under your control. God just sees the future, that’s all. He knows the choices that people are going to make.

The Scripture bears it out. It says that “many are called but few are chosen” (Matthew 20:16). The reason you are foreordained to be saved, “before the foundation of the earth,” is because God knows ahead of time what choice you’re going to make and how you’re going to choose. Therefore He has ordained your salvation because He knows the choice you’re going to make, not because He forces what you choose or forces you into that choice. Adam and Eve were not forced to make that choice to disobey God, resulting in their expulsion from Eden; they could have avoided it if they had chosen to, but they didn’t.

Just because you can see what’s going to happen in the future does not determine the future. I used to use this illustration of how God sees the past, present, and future. He’s like a fellow flying an airplane. Looking down on the highway he can see where it came from, where it is right underneath him, and where it’s going.

Or like somebody looking at a map: You can see by the map that the road ends in New York City and the other end is in Los Angeles. But the guy who’s right there traveling along the road can only see what’s around him at that moment. If he believes the map, then he knows where the road came from regardless of where he started out. Also, if he believes the map as to where the road’s supposed to end, then he knows it’s going to New York City even if he’s never been there and never followed the road before. If he keeps on going the direction the map shows, that’s where he’s going to arrive.

That’s the way we believe about the Bible: If we follow the map book, we can know where we’re going. But God can see it all from above, and He not only knows where you are right now, and where you came from, your past, but He knows where you’re going! Do you? You can! By receiving Jesus you can be sure you’re going to heaven.

 
 

Copyright © The Family International

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