Faith

The Uncanny Partnership of Free Will and Predestination

Predestination is a theological term full of meaning. Unfortunately, it is often misunderstood, leading to a false representation, which ends up with most people choosing to ignore it or write it off.

Free will is considered the hero fighting against the evil of Predestination. We consider how we are thinking beings, making decisions all of the time. We are not preprogrammed or piloted by someone else, not even God.

But these two ideas are not enemies. Rather than battle or work against each other they work in tandem partnership. In fact, Predestination is the ultimate result of Free Will.

Predestination v. Predetermination

Predestination is often thought of as predetermination, or fate. No matter how hard you try to avoid or walk away from something, you can neither escape or avoid it.

While predestination means something will happen, it does not chase us or cause everything around us to bend until we fulfill it. It is simply the arrival of the next page in our story, written in advance.

On the other hand, predetermination is waiting for a page to be written one way regardless of the number of pages it takes to get there. It will appear, it is just a matter of when. All of life is pulling at the eventuality that is our fate.

How were the pages of our story written in advance? Predestination is based on the foreknowledge of God.

The ages of time are like a book God can page through. As finite beings we travel time page by page. The Eternal One, He exists outside of time but moves within it. Nothing surprises Him and nothing is beyond Him. God is aware of all that has and will happen, and planned His movements “before the foundations of the world”. The passing of time allows those movements to unfold.

Some take this information and suppose predestination is God’s cruel joke on humanity as they mistake it for predetermination. God has not predetermined every outcome, only served as the historian who puts it on record.

The Twist

It may surprise us to learn that predestination depends upon free will. Without free will there is nothing to predestine. The only remaining options are to live according to the rock-solid determination of fate, or rising and falling on the waves of chaos.

We are right to believe our lives are full of decisions which we alone make, driving our lives one step at a time. While God wants to influence and lead us, only we can decide which way to go, which end to arrive at.

And we do. All of the choices we make have consequences. Some of them are immediate while others appear further down the road. There are consequences that smack us in the face and some which are hardly discernible. They could be singular or they might have a combined effect.

The fact is, we make the choice. Once it is made it cannot be unmade; there is no do-over or undo button. As soon as it appears on record it cannot be taken away, only covered in the blood of Jesus. Thankfully there is hope: we can repent and find forgiveness, even restoration.

When God predestines us to something, He is actually looking down the road we have chosen to travel and the destination we have chosen to arrive at, and locks it in. Predestination is therefore the ultimate acceptance of free will.

God … Powerless?

Would you believe that every desire of Almighty God will not be fulfilled? There are ends which He wishes to see but cannot have.

For example, Scripture tells us how God “has no wish that any man should be destroyed. He wishes that all men should come to repent” (2 Peter 3:9 Phillips). It goes on in the very next sentence to tell about the coming of the “Day of the Lord”. The Book of Revelation describes a horrible end for many (20:11-15).

How could God look on and do nothing? Why does the most powerful Being in existence leave Himself unfulfilled? Because He honors our choices, our free will. God allows the free will of every individual to trump His ability to work in their/our lives.

God would rather our lives be full of goodness and joy, free of pain and sorrow. This is His ultimate plan for us. One day God’s people will live in all He wanted us to have from the beginning (see Revelation 21). Yet there will be an unfathomable number of souls God will long for who will not see it.

Choices and Consequences

Parents know what is like to want to do something, anything, to help their children and find themselves powerless. It is strange to think how God, Who loves every one of us more than we could imagine or know this side of eternity, puts Himself in the position to be powerless in our lives. Not because He is limited or less than “Almighty”, but because He allows us to employ free will.

Not every terrible thing which happens to us is the result of our personal decisions. They certainly are not God’s working in our lives. Sadly we, too, are powerless to prevent so many types of pain in our lives.

These come because of the choices of others. Some of those “others” are very close in proximity to our lives and some may be far away. The distance may be related to a physical location but could also be related to the passage of time.

I was born in the United States because of choices made generations ago by Scottish and German immigrants. My children live in Canada because of a choice my wife and I made a number of years ago.

This quick example covers probably a couple hundred people over about two hundred years in respect to one simple but important element of life. Compound that over thousands of years and billions of lives lived. How many choices were made? All of those decisions had consequences in the moment and for the countless souls who have come behind them.

God allows our choices to play out over time. While He cannot protect us from every harmful impact on our lives, He does promise “all things [will] work together for good” for His people (Romans 8:28). Paul goes on to give us one of the key statements about predestination.

We know that all things work together for the good of 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 would be the firstborn 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 8:28-30 CSB)


There is more to unpack with these thoughts, but the relationship between God and free will is complicated. I often share an equally complicated thought in an attempt to offer comfort when folks wonder and doubt because of all they or their loved ones have suffered.

If not for every choice made through time I would not exist. Whether they were overall good or evil does not matter. Without them, me, my children, any impact I have made on others or the world would not have been. It is the same for you.

Praise be to God for giving us through Christ every possible spiritual benefit as citizens of Heaven! For consider what he has done—before the foundation of the world he chose us to become, in Christ, his holy and blameless children living within his constant care. He planned, in his purpose of love, that we should be adopted as his own children through Jesus Christ—that we might learn to praise that glorious generosity of his which has made us welcome in the everlasting love he bears towards the Son. (Ephesians 1:3-6 Phillips)

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