Predestination: Yes, God Does Keep Some Secrets from Us

Let’s continue our blog series on Paradise Lost by looking at Books 7 and 8.

Book 7:
Raphael recounts how God created the world, in what amounts to Genesis 1 in poetry form.

Book 8:
Adam shares the story of his first few moments of life.

On a couple occasions, Adam asks Raphael for more information about creation. His curiosity is completely innocent, and Raphael answers willingly enough, but with the caveat that some of God’s ways are beyond human comprehension. God will never withhold knowledge that will make us happier (7, line 117), but because God alone is omniscient, some of His truths are “suppressed in night” (line 123).

…heaven is for thee too high
To know what passes there; be lowly wise (8, lines 172-173)

We may not like to hear it, but God does keep some cards close to His chest. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).

One of the “secret things” that belong to the Lord is the doctrine of election, more popularly called predestination. Yes, the Bible talks about election. To ignore it is to skirt the edges of the ignorance we denounced in our last Paradise Lost post. Proponents of free will are in danger of this error. (It’s an error I committed frequently. When I didn’t believe in election, I simply pretended Romans 9 didn’t exist; I willingly denied truth that was readily available to me.)

At the same time, advocates of predestination—and especially those who call themselves Calvinists—need to be careful not to try figuring out exactly how election works. We mustn’t rely too heavily on human logic to make sense of the mystery of predestination. We may end up explaining how certain verses don’t really mean what they say—and that isn’t humble hermeneutics. Martin Luther warns us that “what is above us is none of our concern. For thoughts of this kind, which investigate something more sublime above or outside the revelation of God, are altogether hellish.”

Unlike Luther, John Wesley was an advocate of free will, yet he agreed on our need for humility in mining the depths of God’s wisdom. Commenting on Deuteronomy 29:29, he says that the ways of God “are often times hidden from us, unsearchable by our shallow capacities, and matters for our admiration, not our enquiry.” When we are “lowly wise,” we humbly and willingly accept our limitations in the face of God’s omniscience.

There is definitely room for debating Biblical doctrines, even weighty ones. There are many mysteries that God has revealed, either in full or in part. But where mystery remains, let us not pretend to know what God has not taught.

How do we know when we are being lowly wise? When we step into the waters of God’s mysterious providence and, instead of complaining about getting wet, we admire the unsearchable wisdom of God that is “past finding out” (Rom. 11:33). We know we are being lowly wise when we can say along with King David, “LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty. Neither do I concern myself with great matters, nor with things too profound for me” (Ps. 131:1).

Far from making Him cold and distant, God’s omniscience comforts me with the promise that His knowledge is infinite. Therefore, He can be trusted with all my cares, longings, and needs, for He is both aware of them all and aware of what is truly best for me.

So let us praise God for what He has revealed, and let us admire Him for the knowledge He has kept secret. We may not know all His mysterious ways, but we do know His heart, and it is a heart that lavishes unending grace on undeserving and repentant hearts. Knowledge of this amazing love is more than enough.

photo credit: Erik Daniel Drost via photopin cc