It often occurs in the midst of life’s events, such as in tragedy, that we seek to find some sort of meaning. One of the ways this is evidenced is by the phrase, “It was God’s plan.” At times, this can bring a certain amount of comfort: such as when someone receives a new job, has a certain need met, or a prayer answered. But in times of tragedy, such a phrase and mindset can have the opposite effect.
Consider the following:
“My Pentecostal Grandmother told me after my 2 yr. old died from Leukemia that it was punishment’ for my past sins. This was many years ago – my precious Nikki would be 45 now and from that day until the day my Grandmother died, I never forgave her.”
– Shirley Ramsey.
What undergirds statements such as these about the plan of God come from a concept called “predestination.” Predestination is a theological doctrine which states that God has willed all events that occur in time. It has it’s basis in Scripture. One of the central passages comes from Romans 8:
We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:28-30).
The doctrine of predestination, however, also must be balanced with the concept of freedom. If God wills all things, are all human actions predestined and planned by God? This is what leads to a great deal of controversy within Christianity. John Calvin, for example, is famous for his doctrine of double predestination:
“By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1643).
In other words, God predestines some to heaven and others to hell.
The doctrine requires an obvious balance between our understanding of human freedom and God’s omnipotence and omniscience. Scripture teaches that God wishes all to be saved (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4), and this must be kept in balance with the gift of human freedom.
Tonight, we will discuss some questions that arise from predestination.
What do you think of comments such as “It’s all part of God’s plan”? Have you encountered such statements? Do you think they are helpful, especially in the face of tragedy?
Do you think God wills evil? What about death?
How influential do you think the concept of predestination is? For example, do you often hear people speak about going to heaven whether or not they’ve lived good lives here on earth? The opposite? What other consequences might arise from the idea that God plans all things before they happen?
What do you make of the some of the Reformer’s idea that God predestines some to heaven and others to hell? What might that mean for freedom?
What does double predestination mean for action within life? If I am predestined for heaven/hell, does it matter how I act?
The Church teaches that Mary was conceived immaculately in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. This means that she was part of God’s plan from the beginning. At the same time, the Church teaches that Mary was free to choose to accept the angel’s invitation.
What might Mary’s example and actions teach us? How should we use God’s gift?
The Catholic Church’s understanding of predestination is part of the mystery of God. On one hand, we know that God is all powerful, knows all things, and has ordered creation towards salvation. But at the same time, we uphold the freedom of people to accept or reject God’s plan of salvation.
Does the idea that God predestines the elect for heaven reveal anything about his love?
Predestination means that we are a part of God’s plan of salvation. Does it excite you that God wishes you to be saved and part of his elect?
What role could this idea play in evangelization? Do you think it is helpful to teach people that God is doing everything possible to give them salvation?