When preparing for a sermon a few weeks ago, I came upon the following text from Acts 4: “… for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”
This use of “predestined” brought to my mind the debate between Christians concerning free will and predestination that has gone on for a long while. One of the sad results of this debate is that the Biblical doctrine of predestination has been butchered so badly. I would suggest that most people who are uncomfortable with predestination understand it to mean that God randomly picks some people to save and randomly picks others to spend eternity in hell, and that this is certainly unfair. In this way, God operates as a supercomputer of sorts, where salvation is a wheel of fortune that is spun and lands for each person on either “heaven” or “hell.” And so, the logic goes, “If God predestined everything, then there is no use in praying for your friends or family.”
This kind of logic seems insurmountable in supercomputer god world, but I would suggest we don’t live under that kind of sovereign God. In other words, God is neither capricious or random. He just isn’t. And predestination is Biblical. It just is. And these two things work together in some way. And that frustrates people who want it all neatly explained. Reason cannot always be trusted to be able to fully grasp divine mysteries. Scripture sometimes declares certain truths that seem impossible together. How can Jesus be both fully God and fully man? How can God be in three Persons and yet only one God? How did Satan get into the garden anyway? How do predestination and the call to pray for one another connect? When we try to explain how this works together, it always falls flat, doesn’t quite capture it – the best we can do comes up short of the mystery that God declares to be truth in His Word – the worst we do when we try to make it all work is develop heresies. Better to affirm what the Scripture teaches about God and about His plan and rejoice that He knows what He is doing.
So, back to the Acts passage. Here is what is going on. Peter, John and the rest of the congregation are praising the Lord, rejoicing that God’s predestined plan had come (and was coming) to pass – a plan which involved enemies and the anointed One, Jesus, and now which involved the disciples and those who were opposing them. Peter and John and the disciples thought about predestination and rejoiced … God predestined everything, let’s praise Him for what we are experiencing and let’s pray for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven! What a different approach to the whole concept of predestination. Start with praising God that He is a predestinating God, and so His plan must come to pass, a plan that included this early congregation, and a plan that by His grace includes you and me. I think that anyone who rejoices in the sovereign God who accomplishes whatever His hand and plan have predestined to take place will be led to pray for his or her family and friends as the Scripture teaches us to, trusting the Lord to work out the details as to how our prayers and His plan work together.