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QUESTION: Is Human Death Predestined?


The following question came to me recently via the Question Box on my congregation’s web site, http://www.Plymouth-church.com, where I have answered hundreds of questions over the past four years.

Are human deaths predestined by God? For example, is a baby who was aborted before it was born, or a passenger plane or a bus that had an accident and all the passengers die: does God predestine these        things?

This is a question that comes naturally from the sort of thinking that calls a natural disaster “an act of God.” While it is often true that God uses natural disasters for His purposes, and that sometimes He may even cause them, we can never say with certainty that God causes everything that happens. Could God prevent such disasters by intervening in the affairs of this world? Yes, He could – but would it be wise for Him to rescue us from the uncertainties of life?

For example, God could have prevented the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Had He done so, however, we would have much less incentive to use safer drilling techniques that will protect the earth’s environment. The human race, like a teenager, needs to learn to anticipate consequences of its actions and take responsibility for them.

Why do we blame all evils on God? God is the source of life. Death, as the wages of sin, comes from the one whom sinners serve – not from God.

I know there is a popular, long-lived theology that says God, as the sovereign over all the universe, is in control and that nothing happens against His will. That is true, as long as we recognize that there are things God permits, but does not cause. God permitted Satan to afflict Job; He did not actively cause Job’s suffering. His permissive will allows us to do evil things – or stupid things – that have consequences, which we must suffer. That does not mean He actively causes those things to happen.

While He at times does intervene in the course of events to cause certain outcomes, He does not do so constantly.

Would God will the abortion of a baby before it is born? Is death “God’s will,” as many well-meaning “comforters” have assure countless mourners at funerals for probably hundreds of years? Paul spoke of death as an enemy that must be overcome.

[Christ] must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. – 1 Corinthians 15:25-26

If God causes death, He is doing exactly what Jesus said Satan would not do: fight against Himself. When some accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of the Devil, He responded:

How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. – Mark 3:23b-26

Again, let me repeat that there is a permissive will of God and the active will of God. God’s active will is expressed by Peter:

The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9

What does God actively desire? What is His active will? It is that all repent so they will not perish. Will all repent? No, they will not. Jesus spoke of a broad road leading to destruction that many follow (Matthew 7:13-14). This is contrary to God’s desire, however. It is not what He wills for us. In fact, His desire for our salvation is so great that because of His love for us He sent His Son to die for us so that we might not perish, if we will believe in Him (see John 3:16).

Why does God not intervene and cause us all to repent and believe so we will not perish?

God is interested in having fellowship with people who love Him and serve Him because of their love (which is a response to His own love for them). He did not create us to be robots who do exactly as He has “programmed” us to do. Love and obedience freely given is what He seeks from us.

That means that many people do not accept His will. He will not force them. People who cannot love God freely now would never find joy with Him in heaven. If they try to escape His presence now, He will allow them to do so – eternally.

So, no, I do not believe that God predestines death.

There is one sense in which He has predestined it. In the Garden of Eden, God told Adam that if you eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, you will die. He and Eve ate the fruit. The result is that death has passed on the entire human race. In telling Adam what He did, God was not giving him a threat. He was stating a consequence – just as a parent may tell a child, “If you touch that, it will burn you because it is hot.”

God gave Adam a warning, not a threat. Adam declined to pay attention to the warning, and stood by while his wife decided to try the fruit. He joined her in eating, and death was the result. Now,

Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment. – Hebrews 9:27

This does not mean that there is a certain date, pre-determined, on which we will die. Rather, the fact that all of us will die is what God has determined already. There is one generation of people who will not die: that is those who are alive when the Lord returns (See 1 Corinthians 15:50-55 & 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17). Other than that, with only 1 or 2 exceptions where God directly intervened, all men will experience death – but at an indeterminate time.

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10 Responses

  1. IF GOD DID NOT PREDESTINE MAN TO DIE, WHY DID HE USE THE WORD “REPLENISH” WHILE GIVING ADAM CHARGE OVER THE EARTH? GENESIS 1:28. AGAIN, GOD HAD TO EXPRESS HIS ATTRIBUTES AS SAVIOR, REDEEMER, MERCIFUL, FORGIVING, COMFORTER, ETC. HOW WOULD HE HAVE DONE SO IF MAN HAD NOT FALLEN TO BE IN NEED OF MERCY, SALVATION, REDEMPTION, FORGIVENESS, ETC?

    • You ask a question about which we can only speculate – and for which our speculations are empty. This is because we have no information from God about why He gave this instruction, other than that He wanted the earth to be filled with people. Once the earth was filled, God may have intended halting additional growth in the population – but that is speculation, pure and simple. Or, it could be that God’s foreknowledge let Him know the history of man before it happened – and gave instruction accordingly. This does not mean God intended (i.e., planned ahead of time) man to die. It would simply mean that God knew man would sin and that because of sin he would die.

      Another speculative possibility is that God intended for men to walk with Him as did Enoch – until He would take them to be with Him in heaven (cf. Hebrews 11:5). In that case, men would not experience death, but would go directly to be with God.

      We do know that, knowing man would sin led God to have a plan for our redemption, for Jesus is the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). If he knew and planned for His Son to die, He certainly knew man would sin – and therefore die. God’s plan for man, though, was to have fellowship with us. It is man who rejected (and still rejects) that plan.

      What we sometimes forget is that God’s plan involves much more than mankind and this world. Peter hints at this when he says, “angels desire to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:12). There, “these things” are things regarding our salvation (see vv. 10 & 12).

      Jerry

  2. Halo mr. Jerry Starling, a good blog, i’ve thought of this issue for so long, and with all the good points you’ve raised, i however am of the notion that just as one has not control over when (date) he will be born, where (country), race, religion or even wealth status; so i think that man has not a choice of death.

    With this view, someone may ask, “what about those who commit suicide, dont they surely killed themselves????” Its still my view that even for these who commit suicide, God had predestined for their death to occur in such a way. However gory or unfair a death could seem, whether a homicide, execution, sickness,fall; God had and has the foreknowledge of how these deaths would occur, they had to take place at the appointed time God has preset/destined and not another.

    This would also apply to King Hezekiah when he fell sick (in Isaiah 38) , that God already foreknew that at the time Hezekiah fell sick, he would ask for mercy and the sovereign Lord would grant him an increase in years; and thus king Hezekiah’s preset death time was 15 years after he asked for forgiveness and not the instance recorded in Isaiah 38, and in such, i then believe that there is no such thing as a PREMATURE DEATH, perhaps “premature” to man but not to the all knowing, sovereign and omnipotent GOD. Just my humble views, shalom and God bless.

    • Pious Ogola,

      Thank you for your comment. Your logic presents a case that cannot be argued against – for whatever someone may say in reply, you can merely say, “God willed it so.”

      However, your case also makes human beings into robots programmed by God to do certain things in a machine-like way. While God created the universe as a beautiful, well-designed machine, He created Man in His own image. This does not mean a physical image, but as beings with will, intellect, and emotion. While animals reflect these to a degree, man is unique in all of this physical universe as possessing these traits.

      As creatures with will, we can “will” to do God’s will – or we can be self-willed.

      As creatures of intellect, we can learn about the world around us and manipulate it for our own purposes (thus being “creative” in designing new structures, forms, and beauty) – or we can design destructive instruments that only maim and destroy.

      As emotional creatures, we can feel love, respond to beauty, and experience sorrow – or we can be hateful, self-centered, and proud.

      God has made us so that there are almost infinite possibilities for man – both for good and for evil. Yet, He Himself wills only our goodness. As I stated in the original article above, there are things that God permits, which He does not cause. He does not cause us to sin; we do that ourselves (with encouragement from the tempter). So much of what happens to us is the result of our own choices in life, not of something that God causes to happen to us.

  3. Thank you for commenting mr. Starling. Indeed its true to assert that we as humans have freewill , but the bible also teaches about predestination , and many folks, christians so, wonder how these 2 concepts could run along. For instance there are those, like hyper calvinists (am not one) who teach that man has no freewill, something akin to robotic as you’ve put it well in the previous comment, coupled with the Calvinist doctrine of Double Predestination.

    I honestly believe these 2 concepts run parallel, that God’s sovereignty and predestination work does not in anyway diminish man’s freewill, however hard it could be to reconcile the two to those on the extreme ends of both doctrines. However, regarding birth as i’ve used in my previous comment, to me it appears this is a perfect example of God’s predestination, we never had the freewill to choose it, it was beyond our power totally.

    And for example, lets look at these cases of attempted suicide; someone drank poison, was hanged, e.t.c , he/she is found unconscious and rushed to hospital or receives first aid and somehow survives. Now, does’nt it seem like the person’s preset time hadnt arrived? am looking at John 7:6 – “Therefore Jesus told them, the right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right.”

    Also later down the same chapter in verse 30 it says “At this they tried to seize him, but no-one laid a hand on him, because HIS TIME had not yet come”, in the same John 8:59, “At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds” and finally in Habakkuk 2:3 says “For the revelation awaits an appointed time……………….”

    Am also thinking of people who get involved in accidents and survive while others in the same cars/ buses die, could it be that in such a scenario, for some their time has come, while for the survivors somehow their time had not come, just like Jesus had to die at the appointed time during the passover, and not anytime earlier.

    Could it be that man has freewill between his birth and his death, excluding these two ends of life? Shalom sir, God bless.

    • As I pointed out in my previous comment, whatever anyone says in reply to your “case,” you can merely respond, “God willed it so.”

      My own understanding of predestination relates to the gospel – the advent, life, work, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Christ. In your comment you mention times when He said that His time had not yet come. That is because He came to do a specific work in a specific way that was planned before the foundation of the world. Could He have turned away from that task? I believe He could have, had He so desired. But part of His work was to be obedient to His Father, even though He was tempted in all points just as we are. Certainly when we are tempted, we can sin. If Jesus was tempted as we are, then He could have yielded as well – but He did not. His will was to do the Father’s will, and He did. That was God’s plan – made before the foundation of the world. And that is what predestination means: a plan made before hand.

      Another thought. Jesus commanded us, as his disciples, to preach the gospel to every creature. In doing so, we have to act as if every person has the capability of coming to faith in Him. However, if the ultra-predestination doctrine is true, there is no possibility for many people – those predestined to damnation – to respond favorably to the gospel. Yet, to obey Jesus we must act as if the doctrine is false. The same is true of all of the basic tenets of Calvinism. I must act as if it really is possible for a child of God to fall from grace if I am to deliver the warnings to sinners as they are given in Scripture. So, if I must act as if these doctrines are false, isn’t it at least possible that they are false?

      • Hahaa thats true, you argue like an elder, indeed if in evangelism we act as if they are’nt true, then perhaps there’s a possibility they are’nt really true (though it sounds abit philosophical)

        Anyway your viewpoint is very solid, i’ll be looking forward to your other blogposts and articles on various issues, even past articles. Shalom and God bless you richly Sir or Pastor if you are one 😀 Peace

  4. […] God from the US-May God bless Him. His name is Jerry Starling; you can find the precise piece here https://committedtotruth.wordpress.com/2010/08/02/question-is-human-death-predestined/ including my comments. Though we didn’t agree as much, coz he was of the view that God does not […]

  5. I agree that God does not pre-destine a date of death for anyone. If it was so, then the grace would have no meaning to the born again child of God.As for those who are not born again, Jesus’ responses to his disciples in Luke 13:1-5 says it all – i.e sinners die because of non-repentance

    • Luke 13:1-5 does not address our physical death, but that impenitent people will perish in eternity. Otherwise, faithful penitent followers of Jesus would never die on this earth. Yet we know this just isn’t true. Hebrews 9:27 addresses the death that has passed on all men due to the Fall. This is a death that sometimes falls on infants who have no personal sin of which to repent nor the mental capacity to repent or believe in God.

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