Ask Pastor Mike: Are people predestined? Why might so many people suffer the torment of Hell?

Week of October 8th

Question: Are people predestined? Why might so many people suffer the torment of hell?

Many people struggle with these types of questions. They are especially difficult because we are concerned about our family and friends’ faith or lack of faith. As with other challenging topics, we must let the Bible guide our perspective.

Predestination is a mysterious topic because Scripture does not reveal all that we may want to know about it. The term predestination refers to two sub-terms: election and reprobation. Election denotes God’s sovereign choice to save some, not based upon any good or earning of their own, but because it pleased God to do so. Reprobation means that God sovereignly chose to pass over some in sorrow, deciding not to save them and to punish them for their sins as an act of His justice. There are many opinions about predestination among believers, which mostly deal with man’s will and choice, along with God’s justice and providence.

Scripture does convey teaching about predestination. Here are several examples:

Acts 13:48 – “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”

Romans 8:28-30 – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

Romans 9:11-13 – “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad–in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls–she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”

Ephesians 1:4-5 – “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,”

1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 – “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”

These scriptures, among others, instruct us in God’s doctrine of predestination–both in election and reprobation. These scriptures show us that God sovereignly chooses those whom he saves, while they also display that God–in his sovereignty–chooses to pass over some for the sake of his righteous justice. In fact, even after Job suffered immensely, he says to God: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

Although this teaching may strike some as burdensome, disturbing, or uncertain, over the years of growing with God and in his word, I have discovered the truth of predestination to produce peace and joy in my life. It produces peace because it offers eternal assurance of salvation for those who trust in Christ. The Bible teaches that there is nothing that can separate those who are in Christ from Christ. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39). Predestination is a joy because it is good news! As it is written in Ephesians 1, “he predestined us…to the praise of his glorious grace…” (Ephesians 1:5-6). If you have surrendered yourself to Christ by repentance & faith, you can know that you are predestined to experience the glory of God forever. This is a joyous truth and worth praising God!

When we understand what it really means to be spiritually dead in our sin (Ephesians 2:1-3), we rest in the joy of God’s glorious grace to us. Remember, grace means undeserved favor. That implies that each one of us deserves Hell for our sin. The Bible teaches, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23); and, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). All of us deserve the reprobation of God, yet God, in his mercy and grace, chose to save some.

But, why? Why me? Why not them?

These are excellent questions! The Bible points us to these types of questions:

  • Why did God permit Satan to trouble Job?
  • Why did God authorize everyone to die in the flood, yet he spared Noah and his family?
  • Why did God let Cain kill Abel?
  • Why did God allow Joseph’s brothers to abandon him?
  • Why did God sink the Egyptians in the Red Sea?
  • Why did God choose Rahab, a prostitute, for his kingdom work?
  • Why did God restore David after such grievous sin?
  • Why did God send the Israelites into captivity?
  • Why did God send his only begotten Son to die?

I don’t know the exact answers to these questions. I don’t know why some experience God’s election while others experience his reprobation. It can be tremendously painful to wrestle with these questions, especially as they become personal to us with family and friends. 

So, let me leave you with a word of hope:

“A man’s steps are from the Lord; how then can man understand his way?” (Proverbs 20:24)

This connotes that we are each creations of the Lord’s. Our bodies, our ways, and our lives are only in existence because of God. He not only created us, but he sustains us. God has the right, the responsibility, the knowledge, the wisdom, and the goodness to determine our steps. If this is true, and I believe it is, “how then can man understand his (God’s) way?”

Therefore, respond in faith. Believe. Trust Christ because we know he is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

The one piece of advice that helped me most to learn to understand this important topic of predestination was: Read the Bible and see what it says. So, I encourage you: Read the Bible and see what it says. Over time, God will make it more and more clear what you need to know from his word. 

If you would like to learn more about predestination from other resources, feel free to check out the following:

  • Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
  • What Is Predestination? by R. C. Sproul
  • Evangelism and The Sovereignty of God by J. I. Packer
  • Chosen By God by R. C. Sproul
  • Institutes of Christian Religion by John Calvin