Predestination: The Entire History of the Universe Has Been Anticipating This Blog Post

Yes, but would it be God's will?

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.

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5 thoughts on “Predestination: The Entire History of the Universe Has Been Anticipating This Blog Post

  1. I had a breakthrough while studying Ephesian for Ed Tuttle’s Year Verse gallery.

    Check out the transition that happens between verses 12 and 13 in Ephesians chapter 1:

    “11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”

    He transitions from “we” to “you”. He also transitions from predestination talk to “when you heard and believed” talk. I had long assumed this was Paul using a parallelism to connect these seemingly different ideas (predestination and a moment of belief). Then in a moment that would make Occam proud, I realized that the simple interpretation was the better one. He said two different things because he actually meant two different things: *We* were included in Christ because we were predestined. *You* weren’t predestined, rather you were included in Christ when you believed.

    So who are “we” and “you”? “We” are the Jewish Christians, the first disciples. “You” are the Gentile Christians, the evangelized disciples.

    When this idea hit me I read and re-read Ephesians to see if I could reconcile it with every statement in the book. Not only did it work, it made sense of everything that had previously confused me. I haven’t re-read Romans in light of this idea (I intend to), but from memory, all the troublesome passages work out.

    In some of your recent posts you’ve actually strengthen this interpretation for me. The phrase “since the foundations of the earth” had been one of the most difficult ones to reconcile. I had to interpret it as referring generally to the book of Genesis. You’ve shed light on the fact that the story of Adam is really the narrative of the Jews, (regardless of whether or not all other people descend from Adam). Paul sees the Jews and the messiah through the Jews as God’s answer to the Fall.

  2. Hey Mike, It’s been a long time. I caught your post via facebook and thought it was rather interesting. I wanted to point out that the point of view you hold is not new, rather it is the oldest and most Traditional interpretation of the passage. If you haven’t heard or noticed. I have become a part of the Eastern Orthodox Church since we last saw each other. The process I went through on my spiritual journey lead me to ancient theology and I came to find that it tended to find a striking balance in all of the polarizing issues we face today, or at least most of them. I wanted to share a couple of quotes from the ancient point of view.

    “Now those who decide that man is not possessed of free-will, and affirm that he is governed by the unavoidable necessities of fate . . . are guilty of impiety toward God Himself, making Him out to be the cause and author of human evils. (The Banquet of the Ten Virgins XVI)” St. Methodius of Olympus

    “When the Apostle Paul says, “it is not of him that willeth,” this means that one’s efforts do not produce what is sought. It is necessary to combine them: to strive and to expect all things from grace. It is not one’s own efforts that will lead to the goal, because without grace, efforts produce little; nor does grace without effort bring what is sought, because grace acts in us and for us through our efforts. Both combine in a person to bring progress and carry him to the goal. (God’s) foreknowledge is unfathomable. It is enough for us with our whole heart to believe that it never opposes God’s grace and truth, and that it does not infringe man’s freedom. Usually this resolves as follows: God foresees how a man will freely act and makes dispositions accordingly. Divine determination depends on the life of a man, and not his life upon the determination. ” -St. Thephan the Recluse. (An Explanation of Certain Texts of Holy Scripture, as quoted in Johanna Manley’s The Bible and the Holy Fathers for Orthodox: Daily Scripture Readings and Commentary for Orthodox Christians, pg. 609.)

    There are many other arguments against the “hard” view of predestination but these two sum up the most compelling.

    Other than all that, how are you man? We should chat sometime or something 🙂

    1. Adam, this is great. As you know, Orthodox thought doesn’t get much play in the American church. Good to hear from you.

  3. Eastern Orthodox thought doesn’t get much recognition in the American church but as people in the modern church seek for deeper truths and resolution to the internal theological conflicts, they seem to be rediscovering the old truths that have been there for some time. Eastern Orthodoxy probably looks too much like Romanism for the majority of protestants. The ironic thing is that Eastern Orthodoxy’s primary criticism of protestantism is that when they separated from the Roman church they retained too much of its methodology.

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