'Are Certain People Doomed from Birth Never to Believe in God?'
Here is a question which I received:
"...Being saved from the foundations of the earth, is that predestination? Are certain people saved when they are born and others will never be? Do you believe God creates certain people for other things other than to serve Him?"
"He will deal honestly, justly and compassionately with every single human being..."
Okay. We have to understand that this question lies in the area of some of the most difficult philosophical questions which one may ever have when an omnipotent God deals with ordinary men and women of flesh, that is, people with very short physical existences whom He Himself has created.
We know that God knows all things and that He knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:9-10), therefore - one may reason - surely He is aware who will reject Him. Does He simply allow this? But if He is all-powerful and all-knowing, and knows that some will reject Him, but nevertheless allows it to happen, then He Himself must have planned it that way (this is the way that some will reason).
In attempting to answer this question, we simply have to look at what the Bible reveals on this subject and leave the finer details (which God has not - at the present time - clearly revealed to us), in the hands of a benevolent and loving God. However, there are certain comments on this question which the Bible, it seems to me, does allow us to confidently make:
1. God's real will and purpose would be to save all men and women and grant them all entrance into His kingdom:
'This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for men....' (1 Timothy 2:3-6a).
2. However, God has also decreed that our human decision and choice must be meaningful. Throughout the Bible God commands men and women to choose (Deuteronomy 30:19; Joshua 24:15; Isaiah 1:18; Ezekiel 18:23,32; Ezekiel 33:11). It is a philosophical distortion to say that because God is all-powerful and all-knowing, and will know that a few will reject Him, He is effectively forcing them to reject them. No - He is not. God's knowledge of the future does not undermine - and He will not allow it to undermine - His just wisdom and righteous choice to allow us to choose. He wants men and women to freely choose to follow Him in a scenario in which slavery to sin and a widespread distortion of the truth has been planted everywhere by our adversary. He loves to see people come to understand this and to come to a free moral choice to rise above this. He then gives them help and assistance - through the work of the Holy Spirit - to come to a true spiritual understanding about existence, mankind, and about divinity. In this scenario, they make their own choice and decision to reject sin, the state of sinfulness being the reason that there is a barrier between men and women and God. He wants us to choose Him in a scenario in which we could have chosen to do evil.
We must understand that the human mind is just a little sampling of the mind of God; it places us far above the mental capabilities of the animal kingdom. The power of the human mind is a clear illustration that we were indeed made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).
Those who state that, if God allows us to reject Him, He is effectively forcing it to happen, are underestimating the importance of human decision in the mind of God, and they are failing to understand the power He has placed within the human mind. Of course, one might say, that since God knows all the final outcomes on this planet, He could force everybody to make the right choice, but He does not want 'divine robots' or automatons - He has made us higher than the angels, but now He wants a free moral human choice from us. He wants nobody in His kingdom who will complain about being forced into it for evermore!
I can illustrate God's determination to respect human decision by a terrible accident which occurred here in the UK recently:
At night, a man was driving himself and his family in an area which was unfamiliar to him. He made a fatal error and took a turning which caused the car to plunge into a river. I understand that his three children were killed - a terrible tragedy. Now, did God want that to happen? Of course not! God loves children and He loves families, but He has also determined to respect human decision; the driver of that car took a series of poor decisions and he will regret it forever (the children, of course, are even now being comforted in Heaven and will rise in the resurrection at the last day). God has placed us into a Creation which, whilst often beautiful, is also often dangerous and He wants us to 'handle it with care.' Things are always potentially dangerous because of the human society which our very first human parents chose for us all; the Lord warned them it would lead to death and it certainly has. Yet, through it all, God has a plan of redemption which He is working out. One day we will all learn that this is the best way that God could ever have worked with us, although - for the present - we see accidents and tragedies, but God wants His human Creation to learn from these things and to place their full trust and confidence in Him alone. So this terrible example should clearly illustrate that God has determined to allow humans to act freely and autonomously upon this earth during the present age.
Those people who make a choice for good and who want to form a relationship with God are the subjects of divine predestination. God certainly intended them to make this choice, even though the choice remained their own. So both aspects of this are true:
a. They made a meaningful choice (or, a series of such correct choices).
b. They eventually discover that this choice is 'underwritten' and supported in Heaven.
These people are indeed God's spiritual sons and daughters! (2 Corinthians 6:13-18; Ephesians 2:19-22).
Maintaining both those aspects means that one is being biblical; if either aspect is over-stressed at the expense of the other, one goes into theological error.
But now what of the rest?
3. 'Double predestination' is not, and never was, a biblical teaching. So it is very clearly not correct to say that the rest of mankind are simply 'predestined for hell and for condemnation.' That goes well beyond what the Bible reveals. The teaching is not biblical at all but is the Fatalism of the pagans! Yes, we know that some in this group will finally enter into condemnation. However, the Bible insists that they are never forced into this (Isaiah 65:2). When the Bible speaks of the 'little flock' and the 'remnant' it is speaking of the fact that a majority during the present age are indeed rejecting God although in most cases they do not know that they are rejecting God - it is just the result of the confusion the devil has placed within all human societies. But the 'little flock' and 'narrow gate'-type verses are about the present world, they are not eschatological statements about human salvation. As Neal Punt has written,
'The "small gate," "narrow road," and "few" finding convey the intrinsic value of salvation, not the extent of its availability. These expressions have the same meaning as finding the "hidden treasure" and selling everything else in order to purchase the "pearl of great value." These figures of speech are intended to teach us to covet salvation as a rare discovery and an invaluable treasure.'
(page 219, ch 22, A Theology of Inclusivism Full review here.).
But where the Bible offers studied eschatological statements on soteriology, they are always positive statements: Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10-11; 1 Corinthians 15:22-28; Colossians 1:20; 1 Timothy 2:3-6; Revelation 7:9-14; 22:1-2. Moreover, Jesus told His disciples to reject the reasoning that only a few could be saved: Matthew 19:23-26. The Bible is actually careful to avoid the conclusion that some are 'reprobates,' doomed to destruction. We may note Matthew 25:34, for example. Here, the King, in addressing those on His right hand, says, "...Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world." But contrast this with His address to those on his left hand in verse 41: "...Depart from me, you who are cursed [He does not say 'of my Father'] into the eternal fire, prepared [not for you, but] for the devil and his angels." Predestination is about the saved, not about the lost. According to biblical teaching, those finally lost will bring this upon themselves.
Romans 9-11 largely applies to those in this second group. God is using people and circumstances to work out His grand purposes upon earth and - at present - He is using a 'hands off' approach, but it is now quite widely agreed (away from the more hard-line reformed writers), that Calvin misunderstood these chapters. The chapters only concern those on earth whom God is presently allowing to go their own way and whom God reserves the right to employ to fulfil His purposes.
There are biblical indications that - right at the end - God will also offer salvation to this group, but it could be a lower-level salvation than that enjoyed by the first group who had been true believers during the more 'fiery' period of the Church upon earth. Many Jews may well be in this final group to be saved. Please notice such Scriptures as Romans 11:25-36, 1 Timothy 2:3-6, 1 John 2:1-2 and Revelation 22:1-2.
So to answer the question, predestination is an entirely positive teaching in the Holy Bible (Ephesians 1:4-12) - it is about the saved, it is not about the 'lost' at all. See my article on that subject here.
The questioner asked, "Are certain people saved when they are born and others will never be? Do you believe God creates certain people for other things other than to serve Him."
The answers are: Yes, just as Christ was effectively slain from the foundation of the earth, so true believers were effectively saved from then (Ephesians 1:4-5, 11-12; Revelation 13:8). Will a few never be saved? Almost certainly, but they are not forced into it and a time appears to be coming when God will invite many into His kingdom who might otherwise have been seemingly headed for destruction. Do I believe that God creates people for purposes other than to serve Him? Yes, because Romans 9-11 seems to frankly tell us that. Not all are becoming true believers at the present time and God allows that: '..."I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."' (Romans 9:15b). However, such verses never tell us that all such presently disobedient ones will all finally go to Hell. Biblically, people bring judgment on themselves, God does not force judgment on them; this is why biblical teaching only upholds the predestination of the saved, but never of the 'lost,' and this is where Calvinism - for all of its good points - certainly went into error.
The only other thing which it is probably important to add is to say this: Because God has complete knowledge, including knowledge of the future, that does not mean that He cannot set that aside in His dealing with men and women within the historical present. He will deal honestly, justly and compassionately with every single human being, especially where such people throw themselves at His feet in honest and earnest prayer and supplication; such an action tending to indicate that those people are on a road which will finally lead to His kingdom.
I hope that my comments here have helped.
Robin A. Brace, 2007.