I’ve been trying to explain the reasonableness of the biblical doctrine of predestination (more accurately, divine election), the biblical teaching that God chose us before the creation of the world to come to Christ in faith. [Cf. Ephesians chapter 1.] I’m not satisfied with my previous presentations, so here goes again:
Picture someone who hates Christ. The head of ISIS, for example. Or the village atheist who trolls Christian websites. Anybody who hates Christianity.
Such people sometimes change their minds and come to faith in Christ. At one time they hated Christ, but later they changed their minds.
Question: What caused this change?
The answer that most quickly comes to mind is the following: The former Christ-hater gradually began to notice that Christianity is good and makes sense. He began to sense his own sin and his inability to atone for his sins by good deeds. He began to see that Christ, as reported in the New Testament, is an intelligent, compassionate and powerful figure. He began to understand that the eyewitnesses could not have been fabricating their account of the life of Christ. And so on. He gradually began to be attracted to Christ.
But this answer is obviously false. People who hate Christianity don’t begin to notice that it’s good. The moment someone begins to notice that Christianity is good, his mind has already changed. So the above is no explanation of the cause of the change.
[Yes, some people change their minds and become attracted to false Christs, that is, false conceptions of Jesus of Nazareth. But my main point still stands: “He began to notice Christianity’s good points” is a non-explanation.]
Therefore the honest person can only give two possible answers to the question “What caused this hater of Christianity to change his mind?” Either “We don’t know,” or the answer given by the Bible, which is as follows:
All men are born enemies of God, even if have the outward appearance of piety. See, e.g., Ephesians 2:1 and Romans 3:9—18. They do not want to come to Christ with repentance and faith. But in the fullness of time, God grants to some the ability to respond in faith when they hear the message of the gospel. See, e.g., Ezekiel 36:26 and Ephesians 2:4—5. God changes people’s minds, without them having a sense that they are being manipulated (the change feels natural and self-caused), so that they no longer hate God and his son, Jesus Christ. They are now capable of responding to the gospel message with repentance toward God and faith in Christ.
The theological name for this act of God is “regeneration.” God regenerates some, giving them spiritual life, so that they are able to respond to the gospel message with repentance and faith.
Let’s consider this point further. When it comes to what he knows, a man can change his mind by accumulating additional data and thinking about what this new data implies about the topic under consideration. He doesn’t always change his mind, but it’s possible for him to change his mind concerning what he knows.
But such is not true about what you want or what you love. No addition of facts or experiences or better arguments will change your mind in this sense, if you continue to want or love whatever it is that you want or love.
And therefore the conversion of unbelievers who hate Christ (which would be the default state of everyone) is a mystery which cannot be accounted for by positing that the subject gains additional facts, ideas or experiences. The conversion of an unbeliever must begin with an inward change of his desires, a change he initially does not desire. And since he does not desire this change, its origin cannot be explained by positing a purely internal source of change. We must believe the Biblical account of an unbeliever converted by an act of God softening his heart so that he no longer hates God and can respond in faith to the gospel.
You can say that the human soul is mysterious, with different desires and loves in competition, and that sometimes the dominant faction is overthrown by a rebellion, in which case the subject is now able to come to Christ. But this is to explain nothing. It’s a poetic way of saying that we cannot know the cause of the conversion. And since we cannot know the cause of the conversion by looking to humanly-derived knowledge, Christians have no choice but to believe the biblical account.
Go back to the hypothetical Christ-hater. He once hated Christ but now God gives him the gift of faith. He comes to Christ in faith and his sins are forgiven. He is saved.
Notice this: God could have planned to do it before he did it, couldn’t he? God is powerful enough to control whatsoever comes to pass, so he is powerful enough to plan to save the hard-hearted Christ-hater weeks before he does it. Or months. Or centuries.
And that’s predestination to salvation, isn’t it? You cannot say that it doesn’t happen that way because you cannot know how conversion happens without believing what God says about it in the pages of Scripture. The Bible says that God is the cause of salvation, and that he predestined it before the creation of the world.
To me, all of this seems quite obvious, at least for those who profess to believe what the Bible says. But many Bible-believing Christians hate the idea of predestination to salvation. Since they have no empirical evidence that this doctrine is false, (none could possible exist, because there can be no empirical evidence indicating the methods of God) and since they say they believe the Bible, I have to presume that their opposition is based on moral or esthetic considerations; that it seems ugly or unfair for God to predestine.
To be sure, we don’t feel predestined. As far as we can perceive, it’s our choice that saves or damns us. When people first hear of predestination to salvation, they generally reject it. It seems weird. Counterintuitive. But a close examination of things reveals that it does not really violate our sense of the world. Predestination happens “behind the scenes,” where we cannot see it happening. All we can know about is that it takes place, but it happens in a way that does not violate our primitive sense of controlling our choices.
To put it another way, the doctrine of predestination is actually a comfort for the believer in Jesus Christ. Instead of weirding him out, the doctrine of predestination tells the Christian that his God is strong enough to save even those who at first hate him.