I listened to a father speak of his heartbreak over his son. His son was convinced he was destined for failure. The boy was capable of achieving good things, but often chose to not even try. He felt worthless. The parents felt powerless. Nothing the father or mother could say seemed to change the boy's mindset. Even if an A was scored on a test, the boy was not convinced of his ability. The father and mother were not sure what to do to help.
Is it possible some are destined for failure?
Three men and their stories may help us know this Easter.
The film Forrest Gump uses a feather "randomly" floating on a breeze as visual inclusio to challenge our thinking about life: is our life predetermined, or do we have a choice? While pondering life, Forrest said, "I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we all are just floating around accidental like on a breeze. But I think maybe its both. Maybe both is happening at the same time." (Now read that again in you Forrest Gump voice!) No matter what voice you use, this challenges us to consider our choices and the choices of others.
Yet, while Forrest seems to be on to something, he does not really give us an answer. If both destiny and choice are going on at the same time, who or what sets the destiny?
Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Jesus predicted this would happen. Jesus indicated that Psalm 41:9 predicted this betrayal (John 13:18). Peter said the Holy Spirit predicted through King David that Judas would betray Jesus (Acts 1:16-20). Further, the Gospels indicate that Satan entered into Judas. It sounds like both God and Satan were taking away Judas' choice. Perhaps, Judas shows us that destiny is unavoidable. Perhaps, Judas' story shows us that God sets destiny.
Judas had choices like everyone else. Often, we can assume a certain level of fate on his life because of the way Scripture describes him. Even before the betrayal occurs in the story, Judas' name has an added moniker, "Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him" (Matthew 10:4). Yet, Jesus showed Judas he still had a choice at their last meal together.
Jesus washed the disciples' feet, including Judas' feet, at the last meal they had before the arrest (John 13:1-11). This not only demonstrated servant leadership, but forgiveness and relationship, indicated by the exchange between Jesus and Peter. Next, Jesus announced to the disciples that one of them would betray Him. This seemed crazy to them, but when Peter and another disciple ask Jesus who the betrayer would be, Jesus offered to Judas what He offered to none of the other disciples. He offered a sop (John 13:26).
The dipping and sharing of this morsel of bread, the sop, was a sign of friendship and honor in their culture. The chief guest, Jesus in this case, would give the sop to a person he wished to honor and to publicly acknowledge their friendship. Jesus offered the sop to Judas. Jesus declared in that moment that He cared for Judas and still loved him as a brother. The proper response on Judas’ part would have been to give a sop back. Judas did not. The Scripture has already declared that the plan to betray Jesus was in place (John 13:2). Judas had already prepared things with the chief priests. Still, in this moment, Judas had a choice to change those plans. Judas could have fled from Satan and drawn near to Jesus. Instead, after Judas took the sop, he followed through with his plans to betray Jesus. He allowed Satan to take over.
The fact that both Scripture and Jesus predicted these things only tells us that God was not taken off guard by Judas' choice. Further, God used this choice to set in motion the arrest, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. How God weaves our choices into His sovereign plan is a mystery, but Scripture clearly indicates both that God is in control and that we can make choices for which we are responsible.
Jesus was following a plan established from before the foundation of the world, so did He have a choice or does this indicate He was destined? We would have to wonder if Scripture could call Jesus' temptation in the wilderness "temptation" if there was no choice on Jesus' part. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will" (Mark 14:36). Why pray this if there was no choice?
Still, Scripture tells us, "He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God" (1 Peter 1:20-21). Jesus was not an afterthought. Jesus was not plan B. Jesus planned from before time what He would do about sin. This was the plan. This plan included Jesus in the fullness of His humanity having to make a real choice to surrender to the cross for our sake.
Easter reminds us that both God is sovereign and we have a choice. We are responsible for our choice. Yet, no matter what our situation, no matter what our struggle, no matter our doubts, God still loves us and desires that we choose His love for us.
The father I listened to does not have a son destined for failure. He and his son both have to make choices. He and his son have access to the transforming power offered by Christ. His son needs this power in his life, just like we all do. We have to choose it.