Things That Haunt Us Every Day
The famous line that everyone knows from Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” But the question Forrest asks his mother is more important than the folk wisdom answer she gave. “What’s my destiny Mama?” That’s a question which is on everybody’s mind.
Most of us wonder about our destiny. Do we have a purpose in life? Did God create us for some greater good or some special task? And then we ask questions that go deeper than just our own personal destiny. We know that life is limited, that one day our earthly life will end. And so we ask questions like Is that all determined by God? Does our number come up and that’s it. Do we have Free Will? Or is it all planned out and predestined?
The movie industry wrestles with those very same questions on the big screen. You can see it being played out in Movies like Final Destination, The Adjustment Bureau, The Truman Show, Stranger Than Fiction, The Soloist and The Matrix Series. It’s a deep part of movies like Forrest Gump, The Star Wars Saga, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.
Well, that’s a little of what we’re going to explore this morning. Is there life after death or is this all there is? And what about fate, kismet, destiny, karma, election and predestination? What should we believe about them.
I. IS THIS ALL?:
A. Let’s just jump right into it. Is this all there is to life? We live, we die, that’s it? If you’re Buddhist ultimate the answer is yes. When you reach Nirvana, when all delusion, greed, aversion, etc. are made one with the Supreme Being, your existence is “blown out” (that’s the literal translation of Nirvana) and your individuality is finally extinguished. You are no more. You’re one with the universe.
I don’t find that very appealing. It doesn’t feel right to me. One minute I’m here, the next minute I’m worm dirt.
For both Buddhists and Hindus alike the immediate answer is no. If you don’t achieve Nirvana in your first go around, you get to come back and try it all over again. Kind of like a game of Parcheesi or Sorry. I know it’s not quite that simple. But it is all about living life over and over and over again until you get it right, until your “stream of consciousness” is made one with the universe. You see neither religion believes you have an eternal soul or spirit or self.
B. Christian Scripture teaches that we DO have an eternal soul. It is what makes each of us unique. It is that spiritual aspect of our very being that houses who we really are. It is the immortal essence of who God created us to be. Scripture also teaches that there is life after death through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who defeated both sin and death on our behalf. He rose from the dead, ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of God. He has gone to prepare a place for us. One day He will return so that where He is, we may be also.
Listen to what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:12-22 (NRSV)
 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?
 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised;
 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.
 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.
 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised.
 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
 Then those also who have died in Christ have perished.
 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.
 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being;
 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.
Then listen to what Peter, one of Jesus earthly companions and eyewitnesses of the Resurrection has to say. 1 Peter 1:3-4 (NRSV)
 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.
I could continue to quote Scripture after Scripture concerning the Resurrection and life after death but it all boils down to one thing: Faith. That’s all I’ve ever needed but let me tell about something that happened early in my ministry that convinced me. It was my first church. I was a student at Central Methodist College serving a student appointment. Charles was in the VA Hospital; an Ex-Coastie like myself. His daughter was a member of the church and asked if I’d go by and visit. I did and Charles and I connected. I went be every week. I knew it wouldn’t be long. One night about 3 in the morning Charles’ daughter called and said the hospital called and gave him a very short time. Would I come to the hospital one more time. Of course I did.
But I was scared. I’d never been with someone who was dying. I’d never been in a situation like that. I didn’t know what to do. So I started praying for God to guide me. When I got to the hospital room Charles’ daughter and husband were there, not knowing what to do, I said, “Let’s pray.” Praying the whole time that God would give me the words to pray. I took Charles’ hand and his daughter took his other hand and we both held her husband’s hand and I prayed. When I said “Amen,” I looked at Charles whose eyes were open and a clear blue. He was smiling, looking up, as if he was looking at something off in the distance. He said, “Oh, it’s beautiful over there.” Then he closed his eyes and breathed his last breath. I didn’t really need that but his daughter did. And I’ve never forgotten it.
Jesus said there is more to come; that we will be with Him forever. Do you believe? Can you trust God? Do you have Faith? Because that’s what it takes. Faith in Christ.
II. WHOSE CHOICE IS IT?:
A. Movies like The Truman Show, Stranger Than Fiction and Final Destination have all dealt with the whole idea of fate or karma or predestination. They ask the question “Whose choice is it?” or “Do we have Free Will? Does anything we do really make a difference? Movies like Final Destination 1-5, all give a very bleak answer. They basically say no. You can’t cheat death. When your time is up, it’s up. It’s all planned out and there is nothing you can do.
That’s the premise of The Adjustment Bureau, one of the best movies I’ve ever seen to wrestle with the concept of Free Will versus Predestination. In the movie, The Chairman of the Adjustment Bureau makes sure all the agents keep things running smoothly and according to plan. Each person is fated to do certain things and they keep adjusting time and circumstances to make sure they happen.
Through a weird set of circumstances the main character finds out and questions “the plan.”
So, do we have Free Will or is Thompson right and we only have the appearance of Free Will. Those who believe in Election, Predestination, Karma and the like would agree with Thompson.
What is Predestination? First let me say that there have been volumes and volumes written about this topic. But basically what it all boils down to is this. Predestination is a doctrine which teaches that God predetermined who will be saved and who will be sent to perdition. It also teaches that we have absolutely no choice in accepting or rejecting salvation through Christ. Every move you make and everything that happens to you, good or bad, was predetermined by God. If you reject Christ it is because you never had a chance or option to believe.
It is based on the writings of Augustine, Calvin and the early Reformers. One of the chief passages used to defend this doctrine is Romans 8:28-30 (NRSV). But it’s pulled out of a larger context that I think contradicts the very assertion Election and Predestination make.
Romans 8:26-32 (NRSV)
 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, 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 within a large family.
 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?
 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?
First, if salvation is only for the Elect, why is the Spirit interceding for us and why does God search our hearts? If Election is only for a few why does Paul say, “He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us.”
One of the other verses used is Matthew 22:14 (NRSV) “For many are called, but few are chosen.” This comes at the end of the Parable of the King who invited many to a wedding banquet but they all refused the invitation so he told his servants to call people in off the streets.
The Greek word which has often been translated as “called” means “invited.” That’s how the NIV and Common English Bibles both translate it. You can refuse in invitation. And why would you be invited if you weren’t going to be let in? That’s just cruel. And that’s not the God I see revealed in Jesus.
B. So, what is Free Will? Free will teaches we have the ability to choose God’s plan of salvation for ourselves. We choose to either accept or reject God’s gift of salvation. God’s desires is that every person accept His gift. What was predestined was God’s ultimate plan for salvation through Jesus.
I think Scripture more than supports this understanding of Free Will. God does give us the choice.
In Joshua 24:15 (NRSV) “Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
Jeremiah 29:11-14 (NRSV)  For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.
 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.
 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,
 I will let you find me, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
And then there’s the most quoted passage of all John 3:16-17 (NRSV)  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” And you have to read it in context which I think seals the deal.
 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Paul in Romans writes:  Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. It doesn’t say “one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for just a few and everyone else is condemned. That contradicts what Jesus taught in John 3:17.
In my way of thinking there is no Good News in the idea of Election or Predestination because it condemns most of the world which Jesus said he came to save. In Titus 2:11 (NRSV) “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.”
C. A couple of other things that have bothered me about Predestination are.
If our place in eternity has been decided from the beginning of time why did Jesus come? Why did he have to die on the cross? Why this scenario?
I believe Jesus died because God created us with free will. Jesus didn’t die for the sins God created and predestined us to have. Jesus died for the sins we willingly commit by choosing our will over God’s.
Paul, in Romans 5:8 writes “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
D. Then there’s the question of prayer. If every detail of all of our lives is already written in the book and there is no deviation from the plan why do we still need to pray? And how can we teach that prayer changes anything? Jesus taught a lot about prayer. Matthew 7:7-8 (NRSV)
 “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.
 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
No less than three times in the Gospel of John, Jesus tells the Disciples: John 14:13 (NRSV) I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If everything is already predetermined, then there’s nothing we can really ask. It makes Jesus words empty. We don’t need to pray because we can’t affect change. Following through on this then we don’t need to worship, we don’t have to worry about personal integrity or discipline or anything of that nature because our Fate, our Final Destination has already been chosen for us.
E. Do I think God has a plan for us? Yes! In Jeremiah 29:11 it’s pretty plain that God has a plan for each of us. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future with hope.”
Yes, God does have plan for us but we can choose whether or not to be a part of God’s plan. We can choose to ignore that plan and do our own thing. We can choose to ignore God and not accept the gift of salvation Jesus offers. However, I believe we are the happiest and most fulfilled when we are trying to live God’s plan.
There was a discussion session after the initial screening of the movie Adjustment Bureau led by Craig Detweiler, associate professor of communication at Pepperdine University. At the end of the discussion he said, “Isn’t it great to think that at some point, we [can] become so in sync with the will of God that in a sense our free will lines up with God’s will? Isn’t that the moment when we’re sort of closest to heaven, closest to our calling, closest to who we’re created to be?” I would have to say “Yes.” Whether he realized it or not, that was very Wesleyan. That IS the moment we’re closest to heaven, closest to our calling, closest to who God created us to be?”
(Spoiler Alert) Adjustment Bureau concludes with a great scene.
I think the truth is that we do write the plan. We do so by choosing how we will follow Christ, how we live out this gift of salvation. God listens to our prayers, Christ intercedes on our behalf and the Holy Spirit guides us in our everyday life. But we have to choose to walk with God. And it’s a daily choice. A choice we call Stewardship.
Our Final Destination HAS been determined by Christ’s death on the Cross. He even told the Disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you so that where I am, you may be also.” But there’s a catch. You have to accept this gift in order to receive it. Your place has been prepared and Jesus who prepared it just for you, is the key to unlock that place.
The gift has been given, but the choice is yours. Will you accept it? Will you unwrap it? It’s your choice.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
Predestined for Free Will by David Bennett