In my previous post, we began a discussion on one of the most controversial topics in religious philosophy – the doctrine of destiny. If you missed Destiny Part 1, you can read it here.
In Part 1, we identified some doctrines of destiny – fatalism and the concept of the mystic head – the “star”. We noted that predestination was used in the Bible, not destiny. And that closely allied to predestination is the doctrine of election. Today, we look at the concluding part of the destiny question.
In Romans 9:15 (MSG) God told Moses, “I’M in charge of compassion.” That scripture is better expressed by the New Living Translation: “I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.” (Romans 9:15 NLT) In order words, mercy is a prerogative of the Sovereign. God in essence resorts to his sovereignty to alter the determinations of his sovereignty. So we can appeal from the sovereign Lord to the sovereign God to change our destinies, even if we were fated for an undesirable end. The theological implication of this is enormous and vast. And we see examples throughout scriptures. As terrible as Ahab was he got deferment of his punishment through repentance. If you want to know how terrible Ahab was, listen to what the Bible itself testifies about him: “No one else so completely sold himself to what was evil in the Lord’s sight as Ahab did under the influence of his wife Jezebel.” That’s some testimonial! But when judgment came over the murder of Naboth and the seizure of his ancestral land, Ahab tore his clothing, dressed in burlap and fasted. He even slept in burlap, went about in deep mourning. (1 Kings 21) The severity of the judgment certainly matched the evil: “I will most certainly bring doom upon you, make mincemeat of your descendants, kill off every sorry male wretch who’s even remotely connected with the name Ahab…You’ve made me that angry by making Israel sin.” (1 Kings 21:20-22) But when God saw Ahab repent, he spoke as follows to Prophet Elijah: “Do you see how penitently submissive Ahab has become to me? Because of his repentance I’ll not bring doom during his lifetime; Ahab’s son, though, will get it.”
We see the same principle in operation in the whale of a story about Jonah. Jonah was sent by God to pronounce imminent judgment against Nineveh: “In forty days Nineveh will be smashed.” Nineveh was a very sinful city. But when the people of Nineveh heard God’s judgment “they proclaimed a city-wide fast and dressed in burlap to show their repentance. Everyone did it – rich and poor – famous and obscure, leaders and followers.” (Jonah 3:5) Even the king dressed in burlap too. Burlap was a symbol of mourning in those days. The king “got off his throne, threw down his royal robes, dressed in burlap, and sat down in the dirt.” He then issued a public proclamation – “Not one drop of water, not one bite of food for man, woman, or animal, including herds and flocks! Dress them all, both people and animals, in burlap, and send up a cry for help to God. Everyone must turn around, turn back from an evil life and the violent ways that stain their hands. Who knows? Maybe God will turn around and change his mind about us, quit being angry with us and let us live!” (Jonah 3:6-9) The Ninevehites had accidentally stumbled on a powerful principle – God’s prerogative of mercy. And their story proves the prerogative of mercy works at wholesale dimension too, not just at the retail level. God saw what they had done, that they had turned away from their evil lives. And he did change his mind. He didn’t destroy them. At which Jonah lost his temper. He was furious: “He yelled at God, “God! I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness!” Sounds like a lot of us, doesn’t he! We’d rather God kills our enemies than save them. Truth is, Prophet Jonah didn’t like the Assyrians. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. It was the then largest city in the world. The Assyrians were a fierce and cruel nation. They constituted a historical and perpetual threat to Israel.
Bottom line, no destiny is cast in stone. Even after the fact.
A well-known case study on the capacity of man to alter his destiny is the story of Jabez. Jabez was born in hard labour. The labour was so intense his mother named him pain! The Hebrew is Yabetz. It means distress or pain. But Jabez was a good man – a very honourable man. His story is found in 1 Chronicles 4. 1 Chronicles 4 however didn’t enumerate his grown up circumstances, though we can deduce a lot from his famous prayer. Jabez prayed a very powerful and heartfelt prayer to God: “Bless me, O bless me! Give me land, large tracts of land. And provide your personal protection – don’t let evil hurt me.” (1 Chronicles 4:9-10) God gave him what he asked for. From this prayer we can determine Jabez wasn’t wealthy. But God made him a landed aristocrat. The point being made is, even if life fates us for ignominy or prophetically pronounces a nomenclatural curse on us we can appeal to the Sovereign God to alter our destiny.
All the above notwithstanding, the Bible actually addresses the subject of destiny topically though the word “destiny” is not used. “Predestination” is used. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he wrote as follows: “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son might be the first born among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30) This is a cascade construct. We can therefore link the first and final parts and eliminate the inbetweeners to get a simple clarity of what the writer was trying to pass across. What Paul is saying essentially is that all things work together for good for those who love God because they’re in the end glorified by God. This is the elucidation and breakdown of Paul’s cascade: God has this incredible capacity called omniscience. It means he has infinite awareness and understanding. That omniscient capacity incorporates foreknowledge, or what we can call anticipatory cognizance. God is capable of foreknowledge because he does not dwell in time. He’s not subject to linear iteration of past, present and future. All knowledge and intelligence is in the present with God. He’s in a state of awareness. Sounds sci-fi not so. Well, let’s see how a scientific mind might explain God’s omniscience concerning destiny.
Let’s do a simple exercise. Take a piece of paper and write “Past”. Draw a forward arrow and write “Present”. Then draw another forward arrow and write “Future.” So you have Past, Present and Future interspersed with arrows. That piece of paper is a representation of the fabric of spacetime. It’s a plane. That’s our understanding of time – a linear equation pointing forward on a plane. It’s why scientists talk about the arrow of time. It always points forward, never points backward. It’s why time travel is a paradox. We reason about time colloquially and tautologically. The past is “in the past,” the present is now, and the future is “in the future.” It cannot be seen. But we perceive time this way because our understanding of reality is a flat plane, like that sheet of paper.
But what if we give you extraordinary capacities so you become Almighty and can therefore fold spacetime, you know fold that piece of paper so it bends unto itself. If you bend the paper so you align the “Past” and the “Future” the present will become stretched over the arc of the fold of paper. It’s what a third party observer will see looming. Now if you punch a hole through the paper (i.e. spacetime) to connect the Past and the Future you would have created a tunnel between the past and the future. Scientists typically call such a tunnel a wormhole. A wormhole is some sort of shortcut through spacetime as it folds onto itself. Now information can travel back and forth between the past and the future through that tunnel. To Almighty you, you can see the past from the future and the future from the past. It’s just a tunnel. And because the future and the past are so proximate they will exist in the present to you. Since you can see the future from the past you will be omniscient. You will know everybody’s future or “destiny” as if it were already happening. This will of course constitute “foreknowledge” since the future has not arrived on the plane.
It would therefore seem that OUR PERCEPTION of reality is a plane, but the architecture of God’s perception of “reality” is a folded spacetime. Because our perception of reality is a plane, destiny to us will always be in the future. It will be at the end of the time of an individual. But “destiny” to God is nothing but information – something known in advance. I hope our sci-fi illustration helps.
But we must distinguish foreknowledge from causation. That I know about something that will happen in advance doesn’t mean I caused it. The first part of this paper dealt with causation. In this second part we’re looking at foreknowledge sensu strictiore (in the stricter sense). What Paul is saying is that God developed an image program for those he foreknew would come to him. They’re to conform in image to his Son, he being the second or Last Adam. In the natural, men conform to the image of the First Adam, but in the spiritual the rebirthed conform to the image of the Last Adam. The predestination spoken of by Paul is therefore predestination to conformity to the image of Christ, not fatalistic selection. Those God predestined to conform to the image of Christ he called and justified – declared righteous. Paul is not saying some people are destined for hell and some are destined for heaven. What Paul is saying is that by God’s special powers he already KNEW those who would come to Christ. He created an image program for these. They are to conform to the image of Christ not the image of the first Adam. And he glorified them. As the Living Bible puts it, “For God knew his people in advance.” Without a doubt it all ends well for these people, hence all things work together for their good. This is the Message Translation rendering of that famous passage: “God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, completing what he had begun.” (Romans 8:29-30 MSG) Incidentally this passage affirms the doctrine of grace. God stays with us and completes our salvation. He completes what he begins.
The passage does not abrogate personal responsibility for salvation. Or it will contradict the words of Jesus himself and several passages of scripture: “The one who believes in him (Jesus) is not condemned…” (John 3:18) Belief is a personal verb. It bespeaks personal responsibility. “If YOU confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and BELIEVE in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans10:9) Salvation is a personal responsibility.
What Paul was addressing was constitutional predestination. It entails what is technically referred to as “justification.” Justification is a legal terminology in Christianity. It not only refers to the discharge of an individual from criminal indictment but also acquittal. What acquittal means is that those charges can never be brought again, ever! The law of double jeopardy kicks in. It’s why nobody can bring a charge against God’s elect. (Romans 8:33) Jesus already met the claims of justice. “Who is there to condemn us? Will Christ the Messiah, who died, or rather who was raised from the dead?” (Romans 8:34) This was what David was referring to when he wrote, “Blessed is he who has forgiveness of his transgression continually exercised upon him, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity…” (Psalms 32:1-2) Paul would quote David in Romans 4:8 (AMP) – “Blessed and happy and to be envied is the person of whose sin the Lord will take no account nor reckon it against him.” The Message translation puts it this way: “Fortunate are those whose crimes are carted off, whose sins are wiped clean from the slate. Fortunate the person against whom the Lord does not keep score.” (Romans 4:8 MSG) This is the grace doctrine.
Paul did not preach the common notion of fatalism as destiny. Christian theology incorporates mercy. It posits that mercy can alter destiny. Destiny is therefore alterable.
God always leaves a leeway for repentance. Listen to Paul: “Even though God has a right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction.” (Romans 9:22) “God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time.” (Ezekiel 18:32; 2 Peter 3:9) “He wants not only us but everyone saved…” (1Timothy 2:4) And so we know there’s latitude for a change of course in the determinations of destiny. In Christian theology destiny can be changed.
Again we find the word predestination in the Book of Ephesians: “In whom (Christ) 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: that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:11-12 KJV) This may sound confusing to the 21st century mind being a 17th century rendering. This is how a modern translation (The Message) puts it: “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we’re living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eyes on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.” (Ephesians 1:11-12 MSG) This passage is in consonance with Paul’s thoughts in Romans 9. Again, we see God’s foreknowledge. And then we see his glorious design. God’s predestination of his saints for glory is based on his precognitive capacity. He chose us in advance and designed a program for us in advance because he foreknew we would come to him. And so it is selective yet is not selective. It only appears selective because of God’s clairvoyance.
The doctrine of predestination in Christianity is therefore God’s forward planning based on advance intelligence. So we can conclude by saying God chose us in advance and designed a program for us because he foreknew we would come to him.
We will start a new series in my next post called Urban Legends. Urban Legends will look at popular beliefs and provide Bible perspective.
If you will like to give your life to Christ, please pray this prayer: Father, I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus Christ died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.
© Leke Alder | firstname.lastname@example.org