I have a running feud with the notion of predestination. We’ve come to blows many times. No matter how many ways I try to slice the doctrine, I consistently find I have a moral monster of a God on my hands. In the last several years, however, we’ve established a kind of separate peace. That is to say, I’ve discovered what I find to be better ways to think of God and our relation to Him, ways that retain both our dignity and God’s.
Nevertheless, that word — predestine, and its derivatives — remains in many of our English Bibles.
Today, I found it in the familiar Romans 8:28-29. The NIV reads,
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Then, while reading JR Daniel Kirk‘s Unlocking Romans, which is slowly blowing my mind, I came across a new perspective on Romans 8 that sparked a minor lightbulb. It may just bring me to a genuine peace with predestination. But lets not get our boots on before our trousers.
Kirk was highlighting the connections between Paul’s exposition of humanity in light of the resurrection of Christ and the Genesis creation narratives. In so doing, Kirk made the connections between sonship and image-of-God language, utilized here in Romans 8 and also in first few chapters of Genesis. “Image” and “son” likely aren’t synonymous for the biblical writers, but they’re clearly connected (see Genesis 1:27-28; 5:1).
So when Paul writes that God had predestined that people “be conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Rom 8:29), it’s simply a reiteration of the original plan for humanity, though now centered on Jesus. God had initially conformed Adam in His own likeness. Adam was God’s son (Lk 3:38). Though Adam marred that likeness, Christ restores it, likewise restoring God’s agenda to have a humanity that appears like the Creator on the earth.
For now, then, I’m scribbling out “predestined” in my Bible and writing “always intended.” And perhaps predestination, rendered thusly, can be my neighbor.