Saturday, February 27, 2016

Some Thoughts About Foreordination and Predestination--George's Post


A.   Some Thoughts about Predestination and Foreordination

Many Christians struggle to make sense of the doctrines of predestination and foreordination.   Often it is easier just to set these troublesome doctrines aside in their minds, as they are seemingly at odds with the commonly-held, and reassuring, doctrine that God is not a respecter of persons.[1]    One of the virtues attributed to God is His fundamental fairness.   Men are drawn to God, and accept, praise, worship and honor Him, at least in part because they consider God to be fair and equitable, not given to acting based upon caprice or whim.   And that fairness requires of God that He judges men according to their works, not based upon nationality, ethnicity, status, position, or other commonly recognized indices of social standing.   “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.”[2]    God judges in righteousness, without bias, based upon what men do and the secret intentions of their heart, while men, in their fallibility, judge based upon appearances—according to the sight of their eyes, and the hearing of their eyes.    Were it not for this fairness, God would be less in our eyes, fall short of what we expect of God as the “Great I Am,” and certainly of one who loves all of mankind.
But the scriptures constantly speak of Lord’s justice, describing Him as one who judges in righteousness.   When speaking of God’s judgment, Isaiah says:  “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:  And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and  might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.  And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears.  But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smith the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.  And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.”[3]
It is, without fast talking, difficult to reconcile this concept of God’s fairness with the notion that some men, for reasons untold, are “foreordained,” “called,” and “predestinated,” entitled to enjoy special blessings at the hand of the Lord, without regard to their works or intentions or, at least, without being held to the same standard of reckoning applied unstintingly to others.   Yet these concepts surface in both the Old and New Testament.   Of the Prophet Jeremiah we read: “Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”[4]   The Prophet Abraham is promised that “in thee,” meaning that through his seed or prosperity, “all families of the earth shall be blessed.”[5]   Repeatedly the Old Testament affirms the blessings that are to flow to the House of Israel, the chosen of God, even though they are not always faithful, remembering the promises made to them and their descendents, and staying obedient.  “But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.”[6]  “For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called three by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou has not known me   I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded three, though thou has not known me:”[7]  
Christ himself was “foreordained before the foundation of the world.”   “But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:  Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.”[8]   That Christ was foreordained is not so puzzling, in that Christ was the “Word,” who existed before the world was created.[9]   The roles Christ were to play as the “only begotten of the God,” the “son of God,” the “Savior” were conceived before Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden, and were assigned to the Christ, as one instrumental in the creation of all things created for the benefit of men.   Christ frequently speaks of not doing anything but what He saw His Father do, of coming to do the Father’s, and not His, will, and as one acted under assignment from the Father.  
But virtually the same language is used when speaking of the saints of God:   “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly pleased in Christ:   According as he hath chosen us in him, before the foundation of the world, that we shall be holy and without blame before him in love.   Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will….In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.”[10]   In this context, it is much more problematic.   What does it mean to speak of the “saints” being “foreordained” or “predestinated?”   What could the saints have possibly done to have warranted such special treatment?     How are they different from those who are not “saints?”   What could they ever be said to have done to warrant special treatment?
The twin concepts of “foreordination” and “predestination,” which frequently run in tandem with one another, are based upon three premises.   First and foremost, they presume that, at some time in the past, a selection has taken place:   some individual or some group of individuals has been “chosen,” set apart, designated, separated from others, according to and at the will of God.   When the term “foreordained”[11] is used, it suggests the “choosing” may have been ratified by the performance of an “ordinance.”  What exactly that ritual might be is left obscure, but it calls to mind the performance of earthly ordinances where individuals are separately called out, and ordained, to hold a position of authority or power, such as the “laying on of hands” to confer upon one the office of an apostle.    Second, the individual or group of individuals “chosen” or “pre-designated” are thought to be “more likely than not” to realize the blessing or to hold the calling to which they have been “foreordained” or “called.”   They are “expected” to fulfill the callings to which they have been called.   Why precisely they are so “predisposed” or “equipped” is not clear.   They may have been endowed by God with special spiritual gifts, equipping them to do great things or achieve special tasks, otherwise beyond the abilities of others; or they may have intrinsic talents, known to God but not given to them by God, similarly equipping them to act in special ways; or  perhaps it is just that God, for whom all things may be present—the past, present and future--has the “fore” sight to see what it is in store for them in the future.   Or, possibly, it is some combination of all of these factors.     
Last, the terms are never employed except to designate a “blessing,” or special status, in favor of the one who has been chosen—the chosen is “foreknown” or “predestinated” that he or she might be firstborn among many brethren, justified, and glorified.   These elements are all apparent in the following passage from the 8th Chapter of Romans:   “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: whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”[12]  
It is nigh impossible to reconcile such “blessings” in favor of those chosen if they have done nothing to deserve being “chosen.”   How are the chosen different from others—why would God elect to choose them and not others similarly situated --is God acting arbitrarily, randomly, at whim, capriciously?   The Mormon belief in a pre-existence eliminates the conundrum facing Christians who have no concept of a life prior to this life.   If there were a “pre-existence,” during which God’s spiritual children made moral choices, some making far more progress than others, it is hardly a stretch to think of those who progressed the most being “foreordained,” or “chosen,” or “predestinated.”   In fact, if those were the facts, God would be capricious, were he to eliminate the differences among His spirit children, existing as the result of pre-mortal decisions, at the time those spirit children were sent to the earth to inhabit mortal bodies and be tested to see if they would be obedient.   Thus, we are not startled when God reveals to Abraham:   “Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones.  And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rules; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good, and he said unto me: Abraham, thou are one of them; thou was chosen before thou wast born.”[13]
Do we know who is “chosen” and who is “foreordained?”   Here, of course, lurks a pernicious danger.    Those, who judge after the sight of their eyes, and hearing of their ears, will be prone to look to earthly success or Church position or other evidences of social standing as signals of “election.”   But the Savior cautioned us, saying “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.”[14]  Moroever we are also told that he who is the servant of all is the greatest.  “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.  And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”[15]   I am confident the Lord has a special place for the humble, righteous members of Malawi, even if, by the standards of the world, or even for that purpose, by the criteria often used in the Church to measure standing, those members seem to be the most humble and underprivileged.


[1] See, for example, Acts 10: 34-35 (“Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.); Rom. 2: 11-13 (“For there is no respect of persons with God.  For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be jusitified.”); Gal. 2: 6 (“But of these who seemed to be somewhat (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter ot me: God accepteth no man’s personJ for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me:”).
[2] 1 Peter 1: 17.
[3] Isa. 11: 1-5.
[4] Jer. 1: 4-5.
[5] Gen. 12: 2-3 (“And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:  And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.)
[6] Isa. 43: 1.
[7] Isa. 45: 4-5.
[8] 1 Pet. 1: 19-20.
[9] John 1: 1-3 (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.   The same was in the beginning with God.   All things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”)
[10] Eph. 1: 4-5, 11.
[11] Hence the term “foreordination”—the “fore” meaning prior to in time, and “ordination” meaing the performance of binding ordinance performed by or at the direction of the Lord.
[12] Rom. 8: 29-30. 
[13] Abr. 3: 22-23.
[14] Matt. 20: 16.
[15] Matt. 23: 11-12.