Can God Be Both Loving and All-Powerful?

 Photo by  Chetan Menaria  on  Unsplash

What if someone brings up predestination in your group?

Few theological topics cause an emotional reaction like the topic of predestination. If it ever comes up in your group, it’s very possible it’s because someone in your group is passionate about one of two predominant categories people think of when it comes to predestination.

The overarching question does not have to do with whether or not God predestined particular people for salvation in spite of their sins. Historically, most theologians agree that numerous passages point to the idea that God has indeed predestined lots of things, including who will be saved.

However—and this is where there is disagreement—Does God make the choice on who will be saved prior to that person freely choosing; or does God make the choice on who will be saved because he has looked into the future and knows they will choose him? Or another way to think about it: do people truly have the free will to choose God, or is that choice something that God already knew and orchestrated?

While this can be a very upsetting conversation to even have, take comfort in the fact that people have been talking about it and debating it for centuries. Good, Christ-following people are on both sides.

For those who feel that a person’s free will is the driving force behind deciding to trust Christ, that position is known as Arminianism (named after the theologian Jacobus Arminius). For those who feel God has predetermined who will be saved based on his own, hidden will, that position is commonly referred to as Calvinism (named after the theologian John Calvin). As you can imagine, both positions have complexity and neither can be summed up in one sentence…in fact, I’m sure I’ve offended both camps by trying to do so.

One can make a strong case for both positions by piecing together numerous passages and by reading articles and commentaries. Here’s a chart that can help summarize the main belief, strength, and challenge of each side.

Arminianism
God chose who would be saved based on his foreknowledge that they would one day choose him in their own free will.
Strength: God wants everyone to choose him.
Challenge: God is not in full control.

Calvinism
A person chooses to be saved as a confirmation that God had already chosen them.
Strength: God is in complete control.
Challenge: God does not seem loving or fair.

We don’t have enough information to fully solve this, though many people lean one way or the other. But whatever ends up being true, it doesn’t change the posture of the believer: to love God, and to demonstrate our faith by loving our neighbor and pointing them to their next step in following or trusting Jesus.

If the topic comes up in your group, just stick to what we say a lot around here: remain curious. There is a lot to learn about God on both sides of this debate, and even more to learn when we are humble and curious about either position.