God’s Acts of Providence (48)

fast-mountain-streamMeditation on God’s Providence (5)

Allegory of Predestination as that of Creatures on a River

The LORD God created a great river.  All currents, obstructions and any other element that influenced the flow of this river were completely, eternally, and at every instant under His absolute control.  Downstream was a fork; creating two completely separate river branches.  One branch led to a terrible Abyss from which there was no escape.  The other led to a Pool of Living Water that cleansed all impurity and ensured Eternal Life. The only means by which any created thing could be swept down the branch leading to the Pool of Living Water was by the free choice of the LORD God in His perfect grace, justice and love.

The LORD God next created living creatures that possessed eternal souls and that were designed to float on the river’s water.  They were given the ability to propel themselves and to do kindness or evil to the other creatures with whom they came into contact.  They also had the power to do good or evil to their own selves by virtue of their thoughts, actions and desires.

However, these creatures’ wills were not by any means absolute.  The power of their propulsion could not overcome the currents and obstacles of the river if the LORD God so willed.  Thus, for example, if one creature sought another’s death and the LORD God willed that it should not succeed, then the river’s currents and obstacles would prevent that creature or any of its agents from getting to the protected one.  On the other hand, the river’s power would inexorably ensure that creatures the LORD God intended to meet did so.  Also, a given creature could be willed by the LORD God to encounter obstacles of His choosing in the order and timing of His choosing that could not be altered by any act of the creature’s will.

Before the river or anything else known to the creatures had been created some were elected[i] to enter the Pool of Living Water.  Nothing done by those so elected would change their destination, for they were forever safe in Christ, the Second Person in the Trinitarian God-Head, through Whom they had been saved.

Finally, and most terribly[ii], most mysteriously, the LORD God had ordained in His perfect grace, justice and love that some creatures would be swept down the branch that led to the Abyss.  It was not God’s action that led to this end.  Rather, any creature for whom God did not actively intervene would inexorably make decisions that placed them into the branch leading to the Abyss.

Though the creatures experienced their trip as happening over time and space, not so the LORD God.  For Him, time and space had no limiting effect.  He sees all time as happening in the present and all space as existing at a point before His all-seeing “eyes.”  Therefore, nothing done by the creatures at any point in time or space is a surprise to Him.[iii]  And, knowing all of this, none of it was taken into account in determining which creatures would be destined for the Abyss and which for the Pool of Living Water.[iv]

The creatures destined for the Pool of Living Water could become conscious of this end while on their trip down the river.  They did so through God’s Spirit awakening their spirits to the mysterious truth that lies behind the pattern of God’s willing the currents, obstacles, events and other creatures in their lives. 

The supreme event that opened their souls to this Good News was becoming aware of a Creature, the Christ, who was also God and who died so that they might be made right in God’s sight.  Though the “word on the river” was that it is a foolish thing to dwell upon and would only cause unhappiness if accepted, they discovered in it astonishing treasures of the greatest value.  Those destined for the Abyss that encountered this Good News left the experience angry, bewildered or both.[v]

Now the LORD God, though all was decided regarding the river branch and first causes, still cared greatly about the choices made by creatures based upon their wills.  That is, for those aspects of their lives left open to their own choice, the LORD God deeply desired that they would freely choose to glorify and enjoy Him.[vi]  In fact, at the Pool of Living Water there would be greater rewards[vii] for those who more earnestly did so, or did so through greater suffering than for those who did less.  But none would feel envy, so lost would all be in everlasting worship and thanksgiving to their LORD God. [1]

[1] What can be said of this allegory?  Surely that it falls far short of both satisfaction and accuracy, as will all attempts to explain the infinite Mind of the LORD God in this matter.  However, it is the best that I can do at this point in my faith journey to reconcile God’s eternal decrees and man’s free will.

It may appear that I am staking out unstable middle ground between the strict Reformed (Calvinist) and Methodist (Arminianism) points of view.  However, upon careful reflection it becomes clear that this allegory actually is in harmony with Reformed theology.  To understand why, consider that even here it is God who makes the ultimate decision on if or how hard to press His will against that of his Creature.  And, since He knows all, He can choose to allow the Creature’s will to determine an outcome or override with perfect foreknowledge.  Thus, the space that I have opened for operation of the Creature’s will is yet still utterly under the sovereign control of the LORD God.

[i] Q. 67. What is effectual calling?

  1. Effectual calling is the work of God’s almighty power and grace, whereby (out of his free and especial love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto) he doth in his accepted time invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his Word and Spirit; savingly enlightening their minds, renewing and powerfully determining their wills, so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able, freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein.
  2. 80. Can true believers be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace, and that they shall persevere therein unto salvation? [2]
  3. Such as truly believe in Christ, and endeavor to walk in all good conscience before him, may, without extraordinary revelation, by faith grounded upon the truth of God’s promises, and by the Spirit enabling them to discern in themselves those graces to which the promises of life are made, and bearing witness with their spirits that they are the children of God, be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace, and shall persevere therein unto salvation.
  4. 81. Are all true believers at all times assured of their present being in the estate of grace, and that they shall be saved? [2]
  5. Assurance of grace and salvation not being of the essence of faith, true believers may wait long before they obtain it; and, after the enjoyment thereof, may have it weakened and intermitted, through manifold distempers, sins, temptations, and desertions; yet are they never left without such a presence and support of the Spirit of God, as keeps them from sinking into utter despair.

[ii] Why say that God “most terribly, most mysteriously, … willed … that some creatures would be swept down the branch that led to the abyss”?

I use the word terrible with full forethought.  God’s Word teaches that the LORD God, though he is indeed love, is not love as you and I selfishly conceive of it.  His judgments can indeed be terrible, and, have consequences that from the point of view of our finite human minds are terrible indeed.  Let Scripture speak for itself.  The word is not used to convey the common usage, but rather the less common but very legitimate meaning of causing awe or dread.

1 Chronicles 16:25

For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be held in awe above all gods.

Isaiah 8:13

But the LORD of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.

Jeremiah 5:22

Do you not fear me? says the LORD; Do you not tremble before me? I placed the sand as the bound for the sea, a perpetual barrier which it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail, though they roar, they cannot pass over it.

Acts 19:17

And this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks; and fear fell upon them all; and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled.

Thus, when I say that God’s judgment in this issue of ultimate destiny is terrible, I’m in no way attributing negative motives or characteristics upon Him.  The fact is that the LORD God’s actions are perfect in their justice.  What’s terrible from our limited point of view is the fact that there’s nothing that we can do one way or the other to change this eternally perfect decision.

We, here and now in this fleshly life rebel at such a thought (I still do).  But we must acknowledge that there are realms of knowledge, justice, mercy and love that far transcend our earth-bound understanding. By so doing we make space for the possibility that there is a solution that makes this all perfectly right.  Faith is not meant to be easy, and predestination is perhaps the most difficult doctrine to accept in trust that it is indeed just, loving and true.

[iii] If the creatures have a free will, then how do you know that the LORD God already knows what they will do?

I know this because Scripture teaches it.

Psalm 139:4

Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.

Isaiah 46:8-10

Remember this and consider, recall it to mind, you transgressors,  remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,

Luke 18:31

And taking the twelve, he said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of man by the prophets will be accomplished.”

[iv] Knowing what they will do, why doesn’t the LORD God take this into account when determining the creatures’ fate?

Because if even the smallest act on our part counted, then salvation would be based on works rather than completely on the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

Romans 11:6

But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

Ephesians 2:8

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God

[v] How do you know how those not chosen for the “Pool of Living Water” will react to the Gospel?

Although there is no way to predict for every individual case, there are general statements made about and examples of the response of those who apparently fall outside of the Gospel’s bounds of grace.

1 Corinthians 2:14

The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Luke 4:28-30

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath.  And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong.  But passing through the midst of them he went away.

Acts 19:28,29

When they heard this they were enraged, and cried out, “Great is Ar’temis of the Ephesians!”  So the city was filled with the confusion; and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Ga’ius and Aristar’chus, Macedo’nians who were Paul’s companions in travel.

[vi] Why do you say that the LORD God deeply desires that they would freely choose to glorify and enjoy Him?

I hold this position because to do otherwise would appear to make nonsense out of some of the most important and sustained passages of Scripture.  That is, there are major sections of Scripture that are specifically intended to be teaching on moral living in God’s sight.  If there were literally no aspect of our lives that is outside of God’s direct control then there wouldn’t appear to be any point to such teaching.

For example, consider the Sermon on the Mount or the Book of Proverbs.  What sense do these parts of Scripture make if there is literally no area in which our wills have freedom?  Or consider Christ’s comparisons of one person’s response of faith to another’s.  What sense is there in comparing acts that were preordained before the beginning of time?

[vii] Why do you say that some will receive greater rewards in heaven than others?

I say so because Christ spoke of degrees of reward.

Matthew 5:12

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 16:27

For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.

Matthew 5:19

Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 20:20-23

Then the mother of the sons of Zeb’edee came up to him, with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something.  And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Command that these two sons of mine may sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”  But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.”  He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

We can also see this principle in action through examples of its converse.

Matthew 10:15

Truly, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomor’rah than for that town.



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