“How could a loving God choose to send someone to hell?” a friend of mine asks during a discussion about predestination. His viewpoint is a common one held by many Christians. Despite the notion of predestination or God’s election being more explicit in Scripture than other ecumenical doctrines, many reject it. I don’t think they reject it out of arrogance, disregarding something that, to me, seems blatant in Scripture. Rather, I think many reject it out of compassion and a lack of understanding. In their concern for the lost, they cannot fathom why God would allow some to suffer. And because the doctrine of predestination seems so far outside our experience and reason, it’s easily dismissed.
Instead of quoting the Gospels, St. Paul, St. Augustine, or Calvin to make a point about predestination, let me begin by telling you a story – a story about election, choice, and true love.
Over the past few years, I have gotten to become friends with a wonderful couple. By the time I got to know this couple, they had two biological children. After a series of events, it became clear to them that they were to adopt, and they chose to adopt a little black girl. A few years later, they adopted another. Their love for their children is palpably undeniable. They look at their multiracial family with pride. To them, it’s a mural of diversity.
I’ve watched over the years, as these two little, black girls grew from newborns to toddlers surrounded by their white parents and siblings. I sometimes wonder at what point they will ask why their skin is darker than the rest of their family’s. For now, they don’t seem to notice. Only I do. If it weren’t for their skin color, you would have no idea that they weren’t biologically part of the family. They play together, they’re treated the same as the biological children, and most importantly, they are loved. The barrier of race and biology melts away, as the adopted, little, black girl reaches her hands out, yelling “Daddy!” and lunges into the arms of her white father.
I don’t know if these two little girls will ever fully understand what their adopted parents did for them. They were rescued them from certain peril – impoverished homes with absent fathers. Their biological mothers may have even contemplated abortion at one point. These two girls were saved from becoming just another statistic with the odds stacked against them. Instead, they were brought into a home of means (and more importantly love) and given the opportunity of a lifetime.
It was never dependent on their choice. It was because their parents chose to adopt them.
Considering Scripture refers to Christians, particularly Gentile Believers, as adopted, these two acts of selflessness have demonstrated in a tangible and visible way what God has done for me. I had no business thinking of heavenly citizenship. My sin nature excluded me from any possibility. I was dead in the water. But God, in His infinite love reached down and rescued me.
Why me? I wonder. I bet at some point, these two girls may ask the same.
I find it strange how someone would examine the doctrine of predestination and say that it paints God as unloving. After all, how many of us look at these parents with disdain for adopting only two children?
You only adopted two girls? What about the other millions that are in need of a loving home? How could you call yourselves loving parents and leave those kids on the street?
“How could God be loving,” my friend asks, “and only save some but send others to hell?” My friends adopted two girls, and they are considered heroes. God saves millions… billions, and somehow He’s a terrible, unloving Father?
When we think of it that way, accusing God of being unloving, within the context of predestination, seems rather ungrateful.
Each act of adoption is an infinite expression of love. Their choice to adopt one child was a tremendous act of generosity. The choice to adopt another leaves me speechless. Wow, what lavish generosity! Now we know how why the angels is rescued when someone is rescued in repentance (Luke 15:10). If God only saved one person, that is one more than He was ever obligated to save. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us” (John 3:1)!
Obviously, there is a difference between my friends’ limited means and God’s unlimited means. If my friends were to adopt a hundred children… no even just ten, we would give them a puzzled look, like, “Are you sure you can afford this? Don’t you think this is a little unwise?” As for God, His love and means have no end. So if God can afford to adopt all children, why doesn’t He?
Two reasons: His nature and our choice, and both reasons are enveloped in His attribute of love.
First, God can do anything except that which violates His nature. What is God’s nature? He is merciful and just. I don’t mean to lose the portrait of God’s affection with a series of logical statements, but this is important to understand. Without justice, there is no mercy. In other words, if the status quo is that God saves everyone, then there is no choice on God’s part. There is no event (i.e. justice) that juxtaposes His act of salvation. Therefore, His mercy isn’t so much as great, as it is expected.
In Romans 9, Paul explains it this way, “What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?”
Think about it this way: if the status quo was that everyone was to adopt two children, then we wouldn’t look at my friends’ act as admirable. We would look at it as normal. In fact, if the status quo was such that everyone was required to adopt two children, then not adopting would be considered shameful. And because it was expected, their act would not be loving as much as a social obligation.
If God is required to save all because He can, it not only violates His delicate balance between having a just and merciful nature, but it means His adoption was based on obligation rather than love. By taking away God’s choice and freedom, we take away His love.
This brings me to the second point. If God takes away our freedom, then our decision isn’t one of love but obligation. This is why God is so loving that He doesn’t violate our free choice.
For most of us, predestination baffles our mind because our experience doesn’t include seeing God’s election. None of us know when, why, or how God made the decision to adopt us. All we know is that one day we decided to follow Jesus, and in our experience, salvation is always presented to us as a choice. The doctrine of predestination doesn’t exclude choice. After all, Paul explains in Ephesians 2, “It is by grace we are saved through faith.”
Before we blame God for sending people to hell, let’s remember that people openly reject Jesus as the only way, truth, and life. It’s not like God is forcing people to reject Him. They’re doing so very willingly. As C.S. Lewis said, “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”
I suppose that in our fallenness, we are prone to complain, blame God, to always see what God hasn’t done rather than what He has. Gratitude is a matter of perspective. Why only adopt two children when you could adopt so much more?
Paul demonstrates a perspective of gratitude in Ephesians 1, writing, “In love, He predestined us.” In love… It is a gentle reminder that predestination is a doctrine of love and grace – an infinite gesture of gratitude on the part of a loving Father, adopting a child in despair. Whether that’s one child or one billion should not matter. The fact that He saves anyone should absolutely leave us speechless.
Let me end with a confession. I will always defend the doctrine of predestination because I think anything else discredits Scripture and sells grace short. But I must admit, I don’t understand predestination. Those two little black girls understand that their parents chose them, included them, and loved them, and someday they will understand in some small way, what that act of adoption did to change the course of their life. I too, to some extent, understand my relationship with my Heavenly Father and what His salvation has done for me. But one thing that us adopted children may never understand is why. All we can say is, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…”
“In love, He predestine us…” Every time I read those words, I’m left utterly speechless.