01 October, 2006

Predestination: What could we mean?

Each of you is free to respond to this post as you will. I will enjoy hearing all your thoughts, I'm sure. But, let me tell you what I will specifically be hoping to hear.

I hope to hear what you feel like this passage means. What do you picture in your mind when you read this?

Starting in 1986 or so I quit reading the bible for about 4 years. I plain and simple put it down. I could no longer read a single passage of scripture without the din of arguments and counter arguments playing in my head like duelling auctioneers. The auctioneer championing "my" arguments was always the loudest, but I knew better than to trust to volume. So, every time I opened the scripture I heard a loud voice yelling things I figured were wrong, and a louder voice yelling things I hoped were right. When I read a passage like the one below, I heard cross-references shooting from ear to ear, threatening to rob my sanity if I erred to the right or the left - and crippling the little sanity I could claim with each proof-text.

In other words, my head was a lot like a blog conversation.

I don't like to go there any more.

So, I would rather focus on meaning and purpose.

Whatever else may be true of this passage, it is the words of a dear, brilliant, divinely inspired brother to a beautiful, loving, challenged group of the Lord's people. It is Paul's reminder and encouragement of something that he wanted to embellish on when he could be with them (or that he had already told them, but I think this was actually written for the church at Laodicea.)

What I want to hear is what Paul wanted those brothers and sisters to remember when he said, "predestined." What comfort did he want to well up from within them? With what encouragement did he want to impel them forward? What strength did he want them to draw from the picture he paints?

In verses 4 and 5 Paul encourages the saints directly with predestination. Verses 3 and 6 are related to the idea.

What is he saying?

Eph 1:1-6
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should 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, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.

22 comments:

Danny Kaye said...

Well, the lovey-dovey, feeling I get when I read this is that Paul is encouraging the saints to cling to the grace of God because He has given us SOOOO much in Christ.

(I guess that means that I don't "feel" like the main point has anything at all to do with predestination, though I've never intentionally looked at it the way you are encouraging us to look at it now. Good mental excercise. Thanks.)

DugALug said...

Okee-Dokey... I'm brave. First let me say, that part of the problem is that Paul enjoyed a bad case of long-windedness. If you break the sentence down into section it begins to make much more sense to me.

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus

DJV (That's the Doug Joseph Version in case you were wondering). I'm Paul and I'm writing to the Ephesians and whoever else identifies with Christ.

Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Salutations... etc.

Okay now we are getting to it:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ

The 'us' in the sections is Christians. The rest is self-explainatory. Basically he is praising God and acknowledging that we are blessed by God.

Wait for it.....

According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love

What did 'He' choose? This scripture says 'us in Him'. What does that mean? To me that means Christians.

So DJV: God, lovingly chose Christians to be holy and without blame before at the beginning of time.

To me here is what it doesn't say: God Chose Doug to be holy and without blame...

The difference is in the focus of the choosing. All can be Christians... only I can be Doug (well... you know what I mean).

Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself

What was predestined? 'Us'... as Christians.

DJV: It was God's intention for Christians to be 'adopted' by Jesus from the foundation of the Earth.

according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace

DJV: because God is good, loving and it is his will, and it speeks of His character.

wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.

DJV: God has provided a vehicle for all to be found acceptable before Him.

So let me combine it all here:

I'm Paul and I'm writing to the Ephesians and whoever else identifies with Christ. God's grace be with you and be blessed because God lovingly chose us Christians to be holy and without blame before at the beginning of time. It was God's intention for Christians to be 'adopted' by Jesus from the foundation of the Earth because God is good, loving, it is His will, and it speeks of His character: God has provided a vehicle for all to be found acceptable before Him. Praise be to God

Doug is now running in a serpentine pattern.

God Bless
doug

Milly said...

I love that Danny is thinking and Doug is feeling sassy today.

It gives me things to add to my thinking, it’s not a lot today. I over did it and now I’m in time out. My thoughts are that we are all predestined to be children of God. We know that some will not be. So at what point does the seed die? Some are put in rich earth to grow strong, some fall into the rocks and struggle, and some never even find soil. Why? Are they predestined to never have a chance? It's hard to think that some of the people you love won't go to Heaven. It would be easier if all of them were like Terry Nickles who showed no remorse at the trial.

codepoke said...

Here's my take (before I start commenting on your comments, I will come clean. :-)

[This is my current point of view. Please remember that I want to improve on this, but I can only state it plainly here. I don't yet know how to improve on it.]

The comfort that Paul is giving to the brothers and sisters is that the faith they have found is no passing fancy. They have this faith because of a decision made eons ago by the eternal God and implemented by all three Persons of the Trinity working in harmony.

These Ephesians are rich beyond their sight and their wildest dreams for no reason other than that God blessed them. Therefore, nothing the world can do and nothing that can happen to them can derail them, without derailing the entire Godhead.

Verse 1 & 2 say those Christians are "in Christ." That's the key phrase of the whole chapter, and arguably of the whole book.

Verse 3 says that the Father has given us every blessing that we have, and that He gave them to us where we are - in Christ. It is only in Christ that there are blessings; every blessing is in Christ, and the only way to get them is to be in Him.

Verse 4 says that we were chosen in Christ before anything else happened. We are in Him now because we were chosen in Him then. The "us" and the "before" seem important to me in a way that they do not to anyone else.

Verse 5 is beginning to detail that to which we have been predestined. It is the Father Who determined to make us His children, and He did so through Christ. We are not merely predestined to avoid hell, but to adoption as children of God. That's good news.

Verse 6. We are accepted because the Father made us accepted in Christ (the Beloved.)

---

To me, the encouragement here is the oldness of our salvation. Poets look at the mountains and find comfort. Our salvation is older than the mountains. Scientists look at cosmic microwave radiation from the big bang (whenever that happened) and find the same comfort. Our salvation is older than the first microwave. And it's not a generic salvation, either, but your salvation and mine that's older than light.

We were in Christ before the earth was without form and void. Before, "Let..." we were known, loved, and eagerly scheduled for adoption.

When anything unsettles me, I look to that for comfort. I think Paul wanted me to, along with the Ephesians.

codepoke said...

DK,

I don't "feel" like the main point has anything at all to do with predestination

Well, I've detailed that I think the oldness of our placement in Christ is where the comfort is here. I certainly agree, though, that grace is what is called out by Paul.

codepoke said...

Doug,

I know it takes nerve to walk into what sure looks like a trap. Thanks for wading in! I like the DJV approach - with commentary! ;-)

I will repeat. I am trying to improve my understanding. Predestination, the standard version and my version both, turn people's stomachs, so I am trying to find the poison.

Are you reading that predestination is something that happens before the beginning of time, but not to named people? God predestines there to be people of whom some will eventually be in Christ.

You have said elsewhere that God is timeless, so it's all the same whether he foreknows before He predestines or vice versa. Given that, are you also saying that God can name those whom He predestines, but only because He foreknows whether they will end up "in" the vehicle God made for them to be found acceptable?

codepoke said...

Naughty Milly!

I over did it and now I’m in time out.

YOU KNOW you are supposed to be resting. :-D

It's hard to think that some of the people you love won't go to Heaven.

I hear you. I have no false hope that we will solve this one in our little blogging searches, but I understand.

Let me know if you see anything in these passages that seems to ease that pain. Because, it's there no matter what we believe about predestination, and God surely knows about that pain. He has given us a number of answers, but I am curious whether any of those answers seem to you to be here.

DugALug said...

CP,

God can name those whom He predestines, but only because He foreknows whether they will end up "in" the vehicle God made for them to be found acceptable?

Yeah kind of, but Not exactly. I believe that he predestined the 'vehicle' of salvation: aka christianity. Numerous scriptures back this, but none more than Jesus Himself saying "I am the way, the truth, and the light. No Man comes to the father but through me". Jesus is the vehicle, and there is no other. It was predestined, which to me means that God didn't just throw Jesus into the mix some 6000 years after Moses. Jesus was the plan all along, and all of history led up to Him providing a connection to God.

In our linear way of thinking this happened at the beginning of time, but I don't see God limited by the physics of this universe (like time or gravity), so God laid out a plan from end to end. God exists outside of time and chronolgy is only something that we, as created beings are bound by.

Forknowledge: let's talk about that for a minute:

It is like if I took a baseball and threw it at a window. I know what is going to happen before the ball hits the window. If I knew all the characteristics of the glass, the wood of the panes, and could calculate the exact force that the ball was going to make contact with the window, acount for wind, humidity... etc. I could tell you how many pieces of glass that the windows was going to shatter into and where they were going to land, before the ball actually hit the window... and I would know to run before the parents came outside ;)

God has all the equations, all the data, all of the factors and has taken all of that into account. He knows the numbers of hairs on my head. He knows every influence in my life and He has taken them into consideration. He knows my decisions before I do. That doesn't mean that he made my decision for me. He just knew what it was going to be and has referenced it in His master plan.

Does that make sense? Or am I rambling... or both.

God Bless
Doug

DugALug said...

CP

Are you reading that predestination is something that happens before the beginning of time, but not to named people? God predestines there to be people of whom some will eventually be in Christ.

Yes... again sort of... I see God predestined the litmus of salvation: that is as Paul says 'us in Him'.

God Bless
Doug

Lynne said...

well, to come clean on where I'm coming from, I would presently call myself a recovering calvinist. By that I mean I spent many years in reformed churches, and I don't want to knock them, i just feel that some parts of their systematic theology don't really reflect the character of God. There are dangers in any system, because we end up trying to tidy it up by adding human logic, and the tidier it is the less it seems to be quite in line with what the scripture actually says. So i'm rethinking everything at the moment, trying to decide what I really believe the bible says on these issues.

As far as Ephesians 1 is concerned, I find it incredibly comforting. my own parents never really wanted me (that's old history now) but God wanted me since before the creation of the world, wanted me so badly that Jesus gave up His life for me. That's the bit that matters. It seems to me that the issue most of us get unstuck over isn't so much that as whether God had that same love for people who haven't (or won't) become christians. That's the point (I think) where calvinists and non-calvinists most often part company..

Oloryn said...

I'm a bit late with this, so some parts of this may be more appropriate to the codepoke's previous post than this one, but:

In my own looking at these issues (which is also as yet unsettled), what I've been noticing lately is that if you pay attention to the actual wording, predestination is often tied or focused on specific things, and often something other than justification. In the passage cokepoke quotes, we're 'chosen.....that we should be holy and without blame before him in love', which sounds more like sanctification or glorification than justification to me. We're 'predestinated...unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself', which is a bit more vague. In Rom 8:29 (the verse we tend to forget when quoting Rom 8:28, we are predestined 'comformed to the image of his Son'. In I Pet 1:1-2, we're 'chosen.....that you may object Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood'. In this and other places, it seems to me that 'predestination', 'election', and 'chosenness' is often directed more towards those things that follow justification than towards justification itself (to make matters ever more confusing, in Rom 8:29-30, our calling, justification, and glorification all follow from our predestination to conformity to Christ's image).

Now I may be picking nits here, as these are all things included in 'salvation', per se, but as codepoke mentions, it is pretty easy when reading such passages to be hearing more of the ongoing Calvinist/Arminian dispute (and similar disputes) than what the passage is actually saying. The mere appearance of the words 'predestination', 'chosen', 'elect' easily diverts our minds to that particular dispute, and we start playing 'Bible logic puzzle' to try and decide for one side or the other (or stake out a middle position of some sort). Meanwhile, I get the feeling that there may be a whole dimension to this that we're not hearing because our attention is diverted. Predestination disputes often seem to be focused on justifcation, but it looks to me like there is more to it than that.

japhy said...

Focusing on Blessed be [God] who hath blessed us ... in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself I believe the core of this passage is: Christians are the canon against which everything else is measured. The Israelites indeed are God's chosen people, but they neglected the signs that pointed towards Jesus as the Messiah and as God. It is those who believe in Jesus as Christ who are "without blame" before God, because they have forgiveness of sins through a much more profound covenant than the one set up in the desert between God and the Hebrews.

I think it also speaks, more generally, to the importance of humankind to God, that we are in God's image, and that God chose humans to be His children.

Weekend Fisher said...

Paul is making a list of blessings and trying to tell us something about those blessings.

His topic sentence was that "God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ." Then he spends the next however-many bullet points under that showing how every spiritual blessing we have is something we have only in and through Christ.

* chosen to be holy and blameless: in Christ
* predestined to adoption: in Christ

More that are after the section quoted:
* redemption: through Christ
* made known his mysterious will: to put everything under Christ.

Etc.

Paul is not writing about us first and foremost. He's writing for us and to us, writing that what really matters to us is Christ. His point is that any spiritual blessing you have, it's through Christ.

So you know I'm not shy about saying the TULIP is wrong after the T. This (Eph 1) shows exactly where it's wrong. TULIP makes Eph1 about us and about how sovereignty affects us, instead of about Christ and how God exercised his sovereignty by laying it aside in Christ.

The TULIP'ers I've met generally have no qualms at all about reading the passage "he chose us ... he predestined us ... " (etc.) Where's Christ? It's the part edited out with the little dots, trail of the passing editor. You can't edit out Christ and have a Biblical Christian theology.

codepoke said...

Hey all!

I'm sorry I'm so very late getting back to your comments - and they are great ones! My lunch was eaten while presenting a powerpoint to a resistant audience, I "got" to take my son for his senior portrait sitting, and I have not paid bills for almost 2 weeks - I hate it when I'm afraid to look. :-)

It's just one of those weeks. Praise the Lord that I can do all that stuff, but I sure wish I could have replied better. Quick ones follow.

codepoke said...

DugALug,

If I knew all the characteristics ... I could tell you how many pieces of glass that the windows was going to shatter into

Don't tell this to a chaos theorist!

Yes... again sort of... I see God predestined the litmus of salvation: that is as Paul says 'us in Him'.

Hey. I got two "almosts!" That's like a record for me. :-)

codepoke said...

Lynne,

Thank you for playing!

i just feel that some parts of their systematic theology don't really reflect the character of God.

To clarify. Do you think it's their theology, or their presentation? Since you're rethinking, I'm guessing it's the former.

It seems to me that the issue most of us get unstuck over isn't so much that as whether God had that same love for people who haven't (or won't) become christians.

(Lord bless your backstory. I'm sorry.)

I agree. I think I am seeing that as the major point of focus in our little discussion, too. Maybe we will make that the centerpiece of the next post.

codepoke said...

Oloryn,

I'm a bit late with this,

Hmmmm. Well, I'll be throwing no stones on that count!

predestination is often tied or focused on specific things, and often something other than justification.

Amen. We are always said to be predestined to something, and I think always for God's benefit - not ours.

Meanwhile, I get the feeling that there may be a whole dimension to this that we're not hearing because our attention is diverted.

That's exactly where I find myself. I'm questioning whether I haven't been so sidetracked all these years that I've missed "the one thing that matters."

codepoke said...

Japhy,

The Israelites indeed are God's chosen people, but they neglected the signs that pointed towards Jesus

I would question whether a distinction between Israel and the church is meant here. If the placing into Christ was before time, then it would be something that happened without regard to Israel's failures, wouldn't it? I know that the Israel topic comes up later in the book, but I don't think Paul is thinking about that yet.

I think it also speaks, more generally, to the importance of humankind to God

Amen.

codepoke said...

WF,

So you know I'm not shy about saying the TULIP is wrong after the T.

Join the crowd. :-)

how God exercised his sovereignty by laying it aside in Christ.

???

OK. I reread the chapter, and I don't see anywhere that there's a hint that the Father or "God" laid aside any authority or sovereignty.

What am I missing?

Oloryn said...

So you know I'm not shy about saying the TULIP is wrong after the T. This (Eph 1) shows exactly where it's wrong. TULIP makes Eph1 about us and about how sovereignty affects us, instead of about Christ and how God exercised his sovereignty by laying it aside in Christ.

I'll give that a big Amen! My sense of Calvinistic theology has long been that it won't let God be sovereign over His own Sovereignty. He's required to stay 'up there' and hang on to His Sovereignty for dear life, lest if He ever fail to exercise his Sovereignty in full measure, He somehow become less than God.

I think doing that is to treat God as a mere cog in a web of logic. Ironically, He's likely to confound our logic by sovereignly doing things we wouldn't do if we had His attributes, like Self-limit some of those attributes (my own view is that Free Will exists only because He decided to put Self-limits on His own exercise of His Sovereignty). That's not a denial of His own Divinity, that's an expression of His own character. Jesus self-describes Himself as 'meek and lowly in heart'(Mt 11:29), and Jesus is the exact image of the Father, so those should be parts of the Father's character, too. We see part of the expression of this part of His character in His willingness to limit Himself for our sake.

Hmmm. If I keep going, this would need to become a post of my own (or more likely, a series of posts, if I could ever manage to express it). Lemme finish up by pointing out that while Calvinist theology seems to see God's Sovereignty as His primary attribute, I'm not sure that's the view of Heaven. The constant chant of the creatures around the Throne of God isn't "Sovereign, Sovereign, Sovereign is the Lord", nor (to the consternation of some modern theology) is it "Loving, Loving, Loving is the Lord". That chant is "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord" (Rev 4:8). At minimum, that tells me that of all of the attributes of God, the focus of Heaven is on His Character. Should that act as a check on our own theology?

Oloryn said...

how God exercised his sovereignty by laying it aside in Christ.

???

OK. I reread the chapter, and I don't see anywhere that there's a hint that the Father or "God" laid aside any authority or sovereignty.

What am I missing?


I think it's less that WF (and I) are reading that directly out of this passage as that we have pulled out of other scriptures a view of God's character, and are reading this 'alongside' that (though I'm sure some will take it that we are reading that 'into' this).

BTW, if I went a bit overboard on the last comment, I think it's that WF seems to share my own viewpoint on what I term the 'humility' of God, and this is the first time I've bumped into someone else who, from my point of view, "gets it".

codepoke said...

Oloryn,

"Sovereign, Sovereign, Sovereign is the Lord", nor (to the consternation of some modern theology) is it "Loving, Loving, Loving is the Lord". That chant is "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord" (Rev 4:8).

Great summary! And great point.

that we have pulled out of other scriptures a view of God's character,

Fair enough.

I hope to open another post to hear this one out. It's a powerful observation. I didn't see it in Paul's encouragement to Ephesus, but that's just an impetus to dig deeper.

this is the first time I've bumped into someone else who, from my point of view, "gets it".

I'm surprised. It seems like this is a article of faith for most Christians today (that God willingly surrenders part of His sovereignty.) I hear it everywhere. What is it about WF's presentation that struck you?