I have heard that God being in control of everything has decided ahead of time who will go to Heaven and who will not. Is this true?
This question embarks on probably the most debatable subject about God and Scripture that I know. This question deals with the subject of election and predestination. You may notice the response here is probably one of the larger responses on this site. Understandably so, as it is a subject that countless books have been written. I have no intention of writing a book here, however I will attempt to give my opinions on this very controversial and sometimes troubling subject. My response here will surely give rise to both disagreeing critics and those who agree with reasons to respond. My attempt to respond to this will start off with some of the various common and theological views of those who are proponents and opponents of the doctrine of election and predestination. Lastly, I will give my personal opinions on this entire subject.
As a simple definition of the terms, election and predestination is referring to the belief that God has 'elected' some souls to salvation and others He has passed over. Also that He has predetermined far in advance who would be saved and who would not. I will admit, that this is a simplistic definition, but accurate enough for the level of explanation that will be given here. As I said, this doctrine is one of enormous debate in the church and theological circles.
Just about every religion, whether it be Catholic, Protestant, Baptists, Jehovah witnesses etc. has some doctrine of election and predestination. This is so, simply because scripture speaks about things such as the words ‘elect’ and ‘predestined’ several times. The divisions come as usual, because man tries to continually know all there is about God and His intentions. We never seem to learn from God's word and what His response was to those in the book of Job (see starting with Job 38:2)
I feel that these different beliefs can be categorized in two groups. The first, which originates from the Arminian perspective is that, God has elected those that choose to believe in Him and do His will, when they receive the calling from Him to be saved and that He knew before they were born that they would choose Him so in that sense He predestined their fate. In other words because God is capable of looking down the corridor of time He knows, in advance who will choose Him and who will not. So the Arminian belief is, that it is because of our own free will, we decide to accept this calling.
Secondly, the Calvinists and reformed Christians reject the Arminian view on several points. Mainly they argue that because God is Sovereign, and in control of everything that happens, one's salvation is not decided by one's own free will but of God. This is because if it were our free will that was the deciding factor of being saved or not, then God would not be in control or sovereign. So their belief is that God has predetermined, in advance that some of us will be saved and others will be passed over. If you ask them why God would do this, you will get a good answer..... "I don't know. It's His world, His choice, His decision." One of the verses of scripture used by the reformed thinking is in the book of Romans, where it says;
"For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion." Rom. 8:9.
The reformed thinking is based on the Westminster confession. They give several other examples in scripture that support their beliefs such as;
"For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified." Romans 8:29,30
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will," Eph. 1:3-5
In the story of Jacob and his twin brother Esau, before they were born, before they did anything good or bad, God made His choice;
Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" Rom. 9:13
The Arminian view of free will in these issues is rejected by the reformed thinking also because of the fact that man in his fallen state is 'dead in his sins' (Col 2:13). They argue that because we are 'dead' we cannot we do anything on our own. That it is only by the intervention of God that any of us can be saved. Yes, salvation does in fact occur simply because of His grace;
"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." Eph. 2:8,9
The reformed thinking is therefore, because of God's own purpose, His own reasons, some are predestined to eternity with Him and others are passed over, and that God knew before we were even born who that would be. It is these views that raises more questions than can be answered.
Some will ask why God would intentionally create some people to be saved and some to be intentionally destroyed. So in this belief, some are predestined for t live in eternity and some are destined to be in hell for eternity. This is known as the doctrine of double predestination and is unbiblical. There is a verse in the book of Romans that proves this;
"What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath-prepared for destruction?" Rom 9:22
The key words here are "bore with great patience". Another translation gives "endured with great patience". Putting up with, enduring (allowing) is not the same as intentionally creating or causing. So no, I do not believe God intentionally or arbitrarily creates people to be destroyed. We are all "objects of His wrath". We are all deserving of death, yet, He chooses to save us.
MY Personal beliefs:
I do not agree the belief that some people are elected to salvation and others are passed over is in line with what the Bible teaches. I have struggled with this issue for a long time, praying for understanding. I struggle with this like anyone else, simply because it conflicts with other teachings in the Bible and goes against what God has made obvious to us about His nature. I cannot find absolute compatibility to this doctrine with the rest of scripture.
There is one theological belief that states the verses the proponents of this doctrine use to support their argument are actually talking about the election of certain people to serve God’s purpose. People such as Abraham, Moses, the Disciples and that God foreknew who would follow Him. That certainly makes sense.
Yes, I do believe that God can and does decide what He wants. It is imperative that we realize that all of us are nothing compared to Him or His Glory. I realized that when I took to heart the verse that said who are we to question what God does or does not do, or why.
"But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?" Rom. 9:20
Some may say, the comparison of a "thing" that is formed compared to human life cannot be made. But the essence of this verse stands. We are NOTHING. We are fallen, sinful creatures who are all deserving of death, yet God CHOOSES to save us. With all of that being said, My beliefs are with the view, that God does give us free will to turn to Him. Exactly what God has predestined as described in the above verses or how does God make any decisions, when He makes or has made those decisions or on what basis does He make them, I believe is one of the many things about God that we do not and cannot fully understand and that it is more important to do His will, spread the good news about Jesus and believe in Him instead of debating doctrinal beliefs. The most common question that arises in this doctrine is that since it is all predetermined ahead of time, then why bother speaking to anyone about God or His word? The Reformed answer to that is "because He says so", and that God has a sovereign right to save some and for others to pass over. Yes, I believe that we should spread His word because He 'says so'. But also because we do not know who is, who will, or who can be saved. It's all in His hands. One thing you will notice is that the ones who hold to the thought that everyone's fate is determined ahead of time, is that they quote all of the scriptures that seem to support it yet ignore the verses that tend to bring the doctrine into question such as;
"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." 2 Peter 3:9 .
"He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." 1 John 2:2
If God has determined our fate beforehand, why do the above verses say He wishes all should come to repentance, or that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for the whole world? I have heard that one answer to this is that the 'all' and the 'any' in the above verse of 2 Peter only refers to the Elect or those who are 'predestined'. I don't believe that that can be true because as the proponents of this doctrine will tell you all who are called (the elect or predestined) will in fact turn to God. So there would be no need for this verse. Also, what about the well-known verse book of John;
For God so loved the world...." (John 3:16) and the fact that it does not say, "For God so loves those He predestined beforehand"? Or in the latter part of this verse where it says " & ..whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life, or the many verses that imply that we turn to Jesus by choice?
Lastly, the verse in John chapter 1 verse 9 states; “That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. That verse speaks about the Light of Jesus coming into every man who comes into the world, not those who have been “predestined”.
How do all these verses figure into the doctrine of election and predestination? The proponents of the doctrine tend to skim over or answer these questions without giving many convincing proofs. I simply do not know all the answers to these questions. I am not God. But the truth of it is, Scriptures are too many times taken out of context. Their literary and historical form is not realized, and that makes all the difference in the world when trying to understand the Bible. I have said it may times on this site that we are finite limited beings who cannot fully comprehend and infinite unlimited creator.
I also do not agree with the amount of debate that occurs with these issues either. There are those that take their stand and insist that their beliefs are correct and that the others are ' dangerously wrong '. Also, I do not believe there should be more emphasis on these doctrines compared to what the main intent of God's word truly is. I have heard one reformed Theologian state that "The doctrine of Election and Predestination is at the core of Christianity and essential for us to understand". If I ever get to meet that Theologian, I will ask him to show me where in the bible Jesus stressed that point.
The proponents of the doctrine of election and predestination base their belief on the Westminster Confession, chapter 3. In section 8 of that chapter it starts with “ The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination… “ If the doctrine is a mystery, which by definition is something we cannot fully understand, how is it they can make any definitive statements about it?
Lastly, the most convincing reason for me to not believe this doctrine is in line with biblical teaching is the fact that as Christians, we all believe there is one of two final destinations for each of us; eternal life with the Lord or eternal condemnation. The doctrine of election and predestination essentially says, that God intentionally created some people for the sole purpose of condemning them. This absolutely goes against His nature as He has made obvious to us.
So rather than debate exactly what God's purpose or reasoning for His predestining anything or anyone, my emphasis is to say "thank you" for the privilege to honor Him by telling others about His word, and not to concentrate on trying to 'figure Him out'. Amen? God is NOT a religion, He is a REALITY!