Many people believe that their life and future are predestined by a higher power. They feel that from conception to death, we all follow a script already written in the mind of God. ‘After all,’ they say, ‘God is all-powerful and all-knowing, or omniscient, so surely he must know every detail about the past, the present, and the future.’
WHAT do you think? Does God foreordain our life course and ultimate destiny? In other words, is free will genuine or just an illusion? What does the Bible say?
The Bible leaves us in no doubt as to God’s having foreknowledge. He knows “from the beginning the finale,” says Isaiah 46:10. He even used human secretaries to record many prophecies. (2 Peter 1:21) What is more, those prophecies always come true because God has both the wisdom and the power to fulfill them in every detail. Hence, God can not only foreknow but also foreordain events whenever he chooses to do so. However, does God foreordain the destiny of every human or even the total number who will gain salvation? Not according to the Bible.
The Bible teaches that God is selective when it comes to foreordaining the future. For example, God foretold that “a great crowd” of righteous humans would survive the destruction of the wicked at the end of the present system of things. (Revelation 7:9, 14) Note, though, that God did not give a specific number for that great crowd. The reason? He does not predestinate individuals. God is like the loving father of a large family. He knows that at least some of His children will reciprocate His love, but He does not predetermine the number.
Compare God’s use of foreordination with the way he uses his power. As the Almighty, God has absolute power. (Psalm 91:1; Isaiah 40:26, 28) But does he use his power in an uncontrolled manner? No. For instance, he held back from acting against Babylon, an enemy of ancient Israel, until the time was right. “I kept exercising self-control,” God said. (Isaiah 42:14) The same principle applies to his use of foreknowledge and foreordination. Jehovah exercises self-control in order to respect the free will that he gave us.
God’s control of his powers does not limit him or render him imperfect. In fact, it magnifies his greatness, and it endears him to us, for it shows that his sovereignty truly is exercised not only with omniscience and power but also with love and respect for the free will of his intelligent creation.
On the other hand, if God predetermines everything, including every nasty accident and vile deed that has ever happened, could we not rightly blame him for all the misery and suffering in the world? Thus, upon closer inspection, the teaching of predestination does not honor God, but casts a pall over him. It paints him as cruel, unjust, and unloving—the very opposite of what the Bible says about him.—Deuteronomy 32:4.
By means of his servant Moses, God said to the nation of Israel: “I have put life and death before you, . . . and you must choose life . . . by loving Jehovah your God, by listening to his voice and by sticking to him; for he is your life and the length of your days.” (Deuteronomy 30:19, 20) Had God predestinated each Israelite either to love him and gain life or to disregard him and merit death, His words would have been both meaningless and insincere. Do you believe that God, “a lover of justice” and the very personification of love, would act in such an arbitrary way?—Psalm 37:28; 1 John 4:8.
God’s appeal to his servants to choose life applies even more so to us today, for the fulfillment of Bible prophecy indicates that we are rapidly approaching the end of the present system of things. (Matthew 24:3-9; 2 Timothy 3:1-5) How do we choose life? We do so in essentially the same way as the ancient Israelites did.
We choose life by “loving Jehovah,” by “listening to his voice,” and by “sticking to him.” Of course, we can only do these things when we know God as a person and understand his requirements for us. In prayer to God, Jesus Christ said: “This is eternal life, to know you, the only true God, and him whom you have sent—Jesus Christ.”—Italics ours; John 17:3, Phillips.
That precious knowledge can be found in the pages of the Holy Bible, rightly called the Word of God. (John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16) Indeed, this spiritual gift is a tangible evidence that God has not predestined our future but wants us to make informed choices based on information he has provided.—Isaiah 48:17, 18.
By means of the Bible, God is, in effect, saying to us: ‘This is my purpose for mankind and the earth, and this is what you should do to gain everlasting life. It is now up to you to decide whether to listen to me or disregard me.’ Yes, how perfectly God balances his powers of foreordination with his respect for our free will! Will you choose life “by listening to [God’s] voice and by sticking to him”?
▪ To what extent does God exercise foreknowledge?—Deuteronomy 30:19, 20; Isaiah 46:10.
▪ Why would God not predetermine everything, including the bad things that happen to people?—Deuteronomy 32:4.
▪ What will ultimately determine our future?—John 17:3.