Predestination and Election: Why Doesn’t God Choose to Save Everyone?
One topic I want to begin writing more about is that of election and predestination. This is by far one of the most difficult theological topics in the entire Bible. And yet, it presents significant joy and spiritual growth in our understanding of God. To this end, I hope to gain a better understanding and help others do the same.
Let me start by saying I am by no means an expert on this issue. Over the last several years I have endeavored to study and learn and gain a biblical understanding of this rich theology. And while I have experienced growth in my own understanding, I have also wrestled with nagging questions.
Some might say that nagging questions are a sign that something is wrong. I would disagree. One encounter with Jesus stands out to me. A boy’s father was desperate for Jesus to cast the demon that had afflicted his son for many years. The disciples couldn’t do it. So the boy’s father begged Jesus to cast the demon out. Jesus reminded the father, “all things are possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23) Thee father replied, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) I am reminded that it is ok to wrestle with our beliefs. At times we will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that something is true and yet, we will still wrestle to fully understand it. And this seems to be consistent with the Bible’s teaching. (You can read that entire encounter with Jesus in Mark 9:14-29.)
I will be the first to say that the doctrine of election and predestination is one that will require much wrestling. It is not a doctrine that you will one day wake up and fully accept. It is a doctrine that will take time, prayer, study, wrestling, and conversation. And, chances are, you will need to ask God some very difficult questions along the way. That’s ok, God doesn’t mind.
Let me first commend to you this article by Tim Keller. Pastor Keller is a highly respected pastor, theologian, and Bible teacher. Dr. Keller has written a short commentary on three of the most asked questions regarding the doctrine of election and predestination. I highly recommend you read the entire article. The questions Keller addresses are:
- If you believe in election, doesn’t that leave you with the problem of why God doesn’t choose to save everyone?
- But if everything is fixed and certain, why pray, evangelize, or do anything at all?
- I believe the Bible and I see all the teaching about election, but why do I still dislike it?
I don’t want to pretend for a moment that I could do a better job than Keller of addressing these questions. However, I do want to add some thoughts from someone who rejected the doctrines of election and predestination for most of his life. Perhaps my perspective will help.
The first question addresses one of the biggest objections to these doctrines: why doesn’t God save everyone? This often-cited issue has been a roadblock for many concerning the issue of election. Keller responds by asking (and answering) the question “If you believe in election, doesn’t that leave you with the problem of why God doesn’t choose to save everyone?” He writes:
“Yes, but the same is true for Christians who don’t believe in election. Election doesn’t create the problem, it only leads us to think about it. To deny the doctrine of election does not help you escape the issue. All Christians have this problem, and so we cannot object to election by appealing to it.”
I have often wondered why some people quickly and joyfully accept the Gospel while others; despite repeated exposure decide to reject it. In other words, why do some people believe and others do not? Are people that believe the Gospel smarter? Is something wrong with those who reject Jesus? Critics of the doctrine of election would say that those who accept the Gospel have faith, while those that reject Jesus don’t have faith. And while faith is certainly integral to the Gospel, the issue goes deeper. Here is the issue that every Christian must wrestle with:
- God wants everybody saved.
- God could save everyone.
- God does not.
No matter how you look at it, this is a tough issue to face. We believe in a God that has the power to save every person and yet, chooses not to. Wrestling with that reality is difficult for any person. And while those that believe in the doctrine of election will find a measure of comfort in the belief that God has determined, in and of Himself by His own will, who will and will not be saved, there is still wrestling to be done. For those who reject election and believe that God leaves man to his own free will, there is cause for wrestling as well.
Keller points out that if you believe that “some are lost because they choose wrongly and God will not violate their freedom of choice,” you have to deal with freedom of choice being sacred. Keller reminds us that even though we as parents typically allow our children to live according to their will, we happily intervene if their will is destructive and could kill them. Why doesn’t God do the same? If my choice will condemn me for eternity, why doesn’t God “violate” my freedom of choice, as Keller puts it, “for a moment and save us for eternity?”
Keller then goes on to point out that even if you believe God allows people to make their own choice, we still end up at the same place, wondering why God doesn’t save all:
“Regardless of whether you think we are saved by our choice or by God’s, you still face the same question: Why wouldn’t God save us all if he has the power and desire to do so? Again, it is a hard question, but it cannot be used as an argument against the doctrine of election. We can go further. Suppose election is not true. Suppose that eons ago God set up salvation on this system: Every person will have an equal ability to accept or reject Christ, who will die and be raised and be presented through the gospel message. The moment God determined to set up salvation on that system, he would’ve immediately known exactly which persons would be saved and which would be condemned on that basis. So the minute he ‘set it up,’ he would be de facto electing some and passing over others. We come out to the same place. God could save all, but he doesn’t.”
Keller does an excellent job of articulating my argument in favor of election. If you do not believe in election I would ask you to answer these simple questions:
- Does God know all things at all times? (Is God sovereign?)
- If God is sovereign, does God know who will and who will not be saved from eternity past, even before they are born?
- If God knows Bill will never be saved, no matter how many times he hears the Gospel, and God allows Bill to be born, hasn’t God predestined Bill for hell?
Some might argue that Bill made his choice in rejecting the Gospel. But that leads us right back to the argument against election of why God chooses not to save some when He has the power to do so. The very same argument can be made for those who believe it’s all a matter of choice and free will. Why does God choose to let some people make a choice to suffer eternally in hell? So, as Keller points out, even if salvation was built on the “free will and choice” system, the moment that system was set up God “would be de facto electing some and passing over others. We come out to the same place. God could save all, but he doesn’t.”
No matter how you look at it, God, in his omnipotence is able to save all but chooses only to save some. This is a hard theological truth to wrestle with. But wrestle we must. Not to try and make perfect human sense of a divine truth, that may never happen. But rather we wrestle to better understand God, know Him more, and praise him more joyfully. After all, for those who are saved, that is the ultimate purpose and end of our salvation for all eternity.