It starts at an airport baggage claim area. Two identical bags appear on the carousel. A man grabs the one he thinks is his and heads home. He opens it to unpack later that evening and finds not his clothes but a woman’s: lingerie, hose, high heel shoes, blouses, skirts, a few souvenirs from San Francisco. He notices the faint, sweet smell of perfume. He looks at the tag and sees the name and address of this woman. She lives on the other side of town. He calls her and apologizes for any inconvenience he may have caused her and offers to bring the bag to her house. She is thankful to have found her bag and gives him directions. When he arrives and she opens the door, they are both pleasantly surprised. They are attracted to each other. They soon find out they are both single and decide to have dinner. One thing leads to another and six months later they are married. Friends and family proclaim it was destiny that brought them together. It was destiny that he picked up her bag by mistake. It was in the stars.“
We often think of destiny this way, associating it with Ouija boards, crystal balls, and astrology. Sometimes, we see destiny as having little to do with, if not the opposite of, God. Destiny is thought of as an impersonal force beyond our control. However, Christians believe strongly in destiny: God’s destiny for our lives. Presbyterians especially cling to a doctrine called predestination, the idea that God has a destiny in mind for all of us. We have taken a lot of heat for this doctrine of destiny because it has been used for unloving purposes and misunderstood. The doctrine of predestination does not claim that everything that happens to us is predetermined and is God’s will for our lives. If it rains on our wedding day or if we cannot find a parking place, if we find or lose a job, if a loved one becomes ill and recovers or dies, it would be wrong to see these happy or tragic events as God’s pre-determined plan for our lives. “Whatever will be, will be” is not predestination.
Predestination is a Biblical doctrine that has specifically to do with what God has destined us to and for in this life and the next. What is our calling? What is God’s plan for our life here and in eternity? What is our destiny? We find it in the Old Testament, in the story of Abraham. God chose Abraham and destined him to be a great nation and a blessing to all the families of the earth. We hear it in the words of the Lord through Jeremiah to the people of Israel, promising good plans for their future. We believe Jesus’ words to his disciples, “You did not choose me but I chose you” (John 15:16).
“Surely I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “Plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future with hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
Ephesians 1:3-14 speaks of us being destined for adoption as God’s children. We are chosen by God to be members of his own family, chosen from before the beginning of time. That’s why we say pre-destination. It was before we were ever born, before we had the chance to do well with our lives or to mess them up. God chose that we should be his, no matter what.
“He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ . . .” Ephesians 1:5
In the time that Ephesians was written, adoption was common. Adopted children were given all the rights of natural born children with one additional guarantee. In the ancient world, adopted children could not be disowned for any reason. They became a permanent member of the family. God’s choice, before the foundation of the world, was to adopt us, to love us and provide for us permanently. We have all the rights and privileges thereof, an inheritance, Paul explains. It is wonderful and impossible to imagine what else awaits us. The highest experiences of peace and joy in this world are only faint foretastes of what God has prepared for us. “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart even conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Why as believers is it important to know our destiny? The doctrine of destiny is, first of all, an assurance for us. It is assurance that our lives are in God’s hands rather than in the grasp of an impersonal fate or under the control of an astrological sign. We are not on pre-set courses based on our DNA, for better or for worse. Our future is certain with God.
The doctrine of destiny assures us that we have value. There are no “accidents” from a night of passion. God has a plan, a purpose, a destiny for all human life. God chose each person before the foundation of the world. God knit us together in our mother’s womb. Each human life is sacred and valuable.
Predestination is an assurance that stands over and against any works righteousness. It opposes every effort of ours to earn our salvation. God chose and destined us to be his holy and blameless children, doing for us through Jesus Christ what we could not do for ourselves.
If the doctrine of destiny is an assurance, it is also a challenge. It challenges us to live out that to which we have been called. We are destined so that we can be the instruments of God to bring blessing to others. God chose Abraham in order to bless all the earth. And so it is with us. We are chosen, destined, not instead of but for the sake of the outsider, for the sake of those who don’t know or have rejected their destiny. We are destined not to escape from a godless world, but are sent into it to live for it.
Because we are now adopted children of God, we take on the characteristics of the family. We let our light shine, we care for the widow and the orphan and the stranger, we work for justice and peace, we serve Christ’s church joyfully, we love one another as we have been loved. We have the responsibility to invite others into the family, their destiny as well.
Today is Adoption Day for my family. Many of you know that my daughter Alia spent the first three and a half years of her life in an orphanage in northern Kazakhstan. We found out that she would join our family in October of 2000, but could not travel to get her until April, 2001. Finally, on May 2, 2001, a judge in Petropavlovsk decided that Jack and I would be parents to Alia permanently. During the six months we waited before going to get Alia, the Kazaks experienced their worst winter in over fifty years. They had massive amounts of snow and many nights the temperature descended to -40°. I wondered if she was warm. I wondered if she had enough to eat. I wondered if she had enough to wear. I wondered if she had someone to love her and kiss her goodnight. But most of all, I wondered if she knew that halfway around the world three people loved her like one of their own and couldn’t wait to bring her into their family. We chose her – before she ever got into mischief at preschool, before she brought so much laughter into our lives, before any of her struggles or successes, before we saw the beautiful young woman she would become. We chose to love her before she knew we even existed. We chose that she would be ours, no matter what, and would go to great lengths (halfway around the world) to make it happen.
How does God see those he loves but who don’t know he exists? Is God more passionate about them than I was about Alia? You bet God is! Is God just as anxious to bring them home? Without a doubt.
Did Alia know what awaited her? She couldn’t image a room of her own, a house without locked doors, a pantry full of snacks, swimming pools, flush toilets, toys of her very own. How could a three-year-old know that her destiny was love and family in a world she did not even know existed? How can those who are apart from God’s family know what awaits them? Can they know that someone who seems so far away loves them and wants to bring them into the family? They cannot even imagine it.
Someone must have prepared Alia and told her we were on our way, for the first instant we saw her, she held up her arms and said, “Mama”. I bent down and she grabbed my cheeks and kissed me Russian style – one peck on each cheek.
What can we do to prepare someone to meet God, hold up their arms, and cry, “Abba”? What can we tell them about our family that makes then grab their destiny with both hands and kiss it? Do we know ourselves as God’s adopted children, loved and secure? Are we living out both the pleasures and the responsibilities of being chosen in Jesus Christ? I hope so. It’s our destiny.