By the nature of the question, this response is going be a long answer and many will still have questions (maybe even anger) after one reads this post. This dialogue has been going on for centuries and it will continue to go on until the day the Lord calls His people to Himself and makes His dwelling place with man. Man cannot fully understand an infinite being fully. God is infinite and forever we will worship and grow in our knowledge and love of His endless attributes.
I must add though, we can know God, and we can know many things about Him in a “quite certain” kind of way without being arrogant or full of our selves. Fear of feeling arrogant should never drive us to stop learning about the glorious and beautiful mysteries of our God. God gave us His Word (Scripture) for us to know Him, His character, His mercies, His way of salvation, spiritual growth and this should lead us to share with everyone about how great our God is.
Let me start off this discussion with a rule of thumb when interpreting Scripture. The key in reading Scripture is to never cancel out what one passage says because we feel that another passage disagrees with it. Scripture does not contradict itself. We are the ones with the interpretation problem. So with that said, I’ll explain to you where I stand based on what I’ve studied and read in Scriptures and just know that readily I admit that in the end, I could be wrong, but I am writing I believe with all my heart or else I wouldn’t believe it or write about it. One thing I ask of the reader, take the time to get your Bible and as you read, read the reference verses that I link with comments that I make because God’s Word has the power, not mine. Here we go:
Let me spell out what I believe then explain it in more detail. I believe that God is completely sovereign (Psalm 115:3) and that nothing happens in this world without first passing through God Himself (Job 1:6-12). I also believe that God saw fit to order this life as we know it before the foundation of time and God has fashioned our hearts, every one of us (Ps. 139:16; Ps. 33:13-15; Ps. 105:25). Free will in the Bible is never mentioned unless it speaks about a “freewill offering to the Lord. I do not believe that this understanding of God has created robots, rather, His will mysteriously and powerfully works hand in hand with my will and is the driving force that gets what it ultimately desires. I do believe that we have free choices in this life, but the freedom of choice we perceive to have is different from the reality that God sees. A fish in the water is completely free and is totally uninhibited, but the poor little guy is not completely free to jump out of water and live; he is bound to swim in the water or else…
With this belief, it is a natural implication for me to believe that God is sovereign over all things including salvation (John 6:35-40; Eph. 1:3-5; Rom. 9:9-24; Rev. 13:5-8). But here is the mystery, the Bible also says that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom. 10:13) and there are other passages that clearly puts the responsibility on the man/woman to respond to the gospel or not (Acts 7:51; Acts 18:6), and if they do not, they are punished with an eternity in hell (Rev. 20:11-15). From a human perspective, this seems a contradiction to us, but let me assure you, it is not.
I have some more thoughts regarding seemingly conflicting messages in the Bible that are not conflicting to God, yet as we see them they are not compatible and leave us with questions that should lead us to humility before our almighty and awesome God, not arguments! Here are some other seeming contradictions in Scripture.
Let’s deal with God’s mysterious sovereignty over evil acts, yet He is not evil nor is blamed for it. A very clear example of how God is sovereign over all things, even evil, and yet is not blamed for doing evil is in the story of Joseph. Joseph’s brothers were wrongly jealous of him (Gen 37:11); they hated him (Gen. 37:4-5, 8); they wanted to kill him (Gen. 37:20); and they did wrong to him when they cast him into a pit and then sold him into slavery (Gen. 37:24,28). After all that, Joseph later declares to his brothers, “…God sent me before you to preserve life.” (Gen. 45:5). He also says in Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Here we see that Scripture clearly affirms mans evil deeds and their responsibility for their deeds, and God’s providential control so that His sovereign purposes were accomplished. God “meant” for all this to happen for “good”.
Pharaoh is another example of God sovereignly hardening his heart to accomplish His purpose of making His name great among the nations (Ex. 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17), and at the same time placing the responsibility on Pharaoh for hardening his own heart (Ex. 8:15, 32; 9:34). These are seeming contradictions.
In 2 Samuel 24, we read that the Lord “incited” David to take a census of the people (v. 1), but later realized that what he had done was sinful and he repented before the Lord (v. 10), and God sent punishment on the land because of this sin (vv. 12-17). So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, David sinned because God caused Satan to “incite” him to count his people (1 Chronicles 21:1). Then God punished Israel for a sin that He apparently encouraged David to commit through the means of Satan, and He is not blamed for it. So God did all this to bring about His purposes. This is a huge seeming contradiction…
This kind of story seems to be repeated as we read about Solomon (1 Kings 11:14, 23), Job (1:12-22), Ahab (1 Kings 22:23), the over throw of Israel and Judah (Isaiah 10:5; Jeremiah 25:9; Amos 3:6; 4:6-12) We read this in Isaiah 63:17, “O Lord, why do you make us wander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?”. In Jonah, Scripture affirms that the men threw Jonah into the sea and God threw Jonah into the sea (Jonah 1:15; 2:3). So mysteriously, God sovereignly directed these event so Jonah would go to Nineveh and yet God didn’t force the sailors to do anything against their will, and they were not conscious of any divine influence on them. God causes men to make willing choices to bring about His perfect will. This is man’s choice working in unison with God’s predetermined, sovereign will and most of us never know it because He does not cause us (most of the time) to act against our will. This is a mystery!
Ultimately, the most evil action ever committed was ordained by God… the crucifixion of His own Son, Jesus (John 19:11; Acts 4:27). So God is sovereign over all things and directs all things, yet Scripture nowhere shows God as directly doing anything evil but rather ordaining that evil deeds come about through the willing actions of humans. Also, Scripture never blames God for evil, it never shows God as taking pleasure in evil and it never excuses human beings for the wrong they do. We have to give these passages a lot of weight when we decide what we are going to believe in regards to God’s sovereign rule over His creation, even salvation. Just because we can’t make sense of how this could be, that is no reason for us not to believe it. If Scripture claims something this adamantly and excessively, we must not ignore it. Ultimately, God uses all things to fulfill His purposes (Rom. 8:28) and He even uses evil for His glory and for our good.
So, regarding the original question, I had to share all of the above to let you in on where I am coming from when I say that I believe God has elected certain people out there that are waiting to hear the gospel and be saved and in the same breath that this gospel is for all people. The reality is, we do not know who’s elect and who is not. I believe in election and predestination because the Bible talks about it clearly, but I do not know who the elect are and I do know that as long as we have breath, we have hope of salvation. I will always lean on the side of “Today if you here His voice, believe in Jesus and turn to Him….” This is how people will know if they are elect…. Do you here his voice?… If so, you are elect, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).
I will end with this thought: The fact that we are predestined was never meant to be a source of confusion, rather a source of worship. When Paul writes about to the elect who have been predestined, it’s always to worship God for His goodness and to bring comfort to those he is writing to. God’s predestining of our souls should lead us to break out in worship! I pray that whatever hang ups you may have with this theology would be able to be moved aside and that you would be able to see two things: The Bible speaks directly to this understanding of salvation and it is meant to cause you to worship Jesus. May we not lose the forest through the trees.
In the end, I am much more concerned about God, in His deep and infinite and amazing grace, saving souls who are prisoners of Satan and living in darkness. I am much more concerned with how God can take our sinned scarred hearts and make them new! But in the spirit of wanting good discussion and being truthful to Scripture, I thought it was worth while to share where I stand on this issue. God’s peace!