We had been sitting in the car for awhile, parked outside my young friend’s apartment while she poured her heart out and I scrambled for something to say. The words weren’t coming. I was drawing a blank. This sweet girl felt helpless, and I felt helpless too.
That young friend of mine was a teenage girl named Sara. She is about to turn 17, but I’ve known her since she was 8. We’ve been meeting together every week for the last 7 years, and during that time I’ve watched her grow from an angry, wounded little girl, into an independent young woman who has battled many obstacles to become a successful high school student. Now she even has aspirations of going to college and starting her own business one day. She is a true success story.
In the last 9 years of knowing Sara, I have seen her go through more trials then I can possibly describe. But amidst all the terrible hands that life has dealt her, the one thing I have NEVER seen her do is cry. Not once. She is a very tough girl, after all. And I think that’s why I was so caught of guard this week when she finally broke down in my car. This was a big deal.
What was the cause of her tears? Well it’s actually a combination of things. Not only does she have a variety of learning disabilities, but her home life has recently become more unsettled, which has made it even more difficult to concentrate in school. It’s hard to focus on math when things aren’t well with your family, and she was afraid that all her hard work over the years might begin to slip away. What if she can’t graduate on time? Or what if her grades suffer so much that she can’t get into college? All these questions were looming large in her mind, so I suggested she talk with her teachers about it. Unfortunately she found little sympathy with them. They didn’t want to hear her excuses, and essentially told her to buck up.
I was startled by this response, because Sara has worked her tail off over the past couple years to become a good student. Did the teachers not see that she was a good kid? Did they not sympathize with the learning disabilities and life circumstances that were holding her back? Did they not recognize her cry for help?
As I sat there and listened to her that afternoon, I was reminded of a study I once read about students with behavioral disorders. It explained that if you punish such children for acting out, their misbehavior will actually worsen, because you have increased their feelings of helplessness and defeat, rather than teaching them how to behave correctly. In punishing them, they learn nothing.
You see, kids with behavioral disorders need more than mere discipline, because the problem is not rebelliousness. Instead, the problem is that they don’t possess the skills and mental capacity to respond appropriately to their surroundings. That said, punishing teaches them nothing. What they need is for someone to enter into the situation with them, and teach them those skills, empowering them with the knowledge to change their behavior. They need an outside force to intervene on their behalf.
And that is exactly what Sara needed. She was stuck in a situation that she didn’t know how to get out of, and when she was denied the help she needed, she felt a sense of utter helplessness. It’s not enough to tell these kids to suck it up and work harder. They need outside forces to intervene and show them, to walk beside them, and direct their steps. They need someone to advocate for them, to talk with their parents, to teach them coping mechanisms. Otherwise, these kids really have no hope, and they know it. Hence Sara’s despair.
Now you’re probably wondering what on earth all of this has to do with predestination. Well the reason this story gave me insight into such a difficult doctrine is that Sara’s helplessness, and her need for an outside force to intervene on her behalf, reminded me of the process of salvation.
Like the children I described, all humans are helpless to save themselves. We lack the knowledge and the ability because we are so inherently sinful. And if we try to save ourselves, it will be an exercise in frustration, because we will fall short time and time again. Like Sara, we will eventually find ourselves demoralized by our inability to do what is right. No matter how hard we try, we lack the capacity.
It is for that reason that we need on outside force intervening on our behalf. We need someone to come into our lives and save us from ourselves, give us the wisdom, the knowledge, and the ability to know God and follow Him. We need something to open our eyes to the truth of the Gospel, because we would never recognize its message if left to ourselves. We are too hopelessly self-focused.
And what is that outside force? That power that opens our eyes and teaches us truth? It’s the Holy Spirit.
It is for this reason that I believe in predestination. Not because I think God sits in the clouds and decide who’s in and who’s out, but because it is our only hope. Without God’s primary intervention, we are as incapable of understanding or accepting the Gospel as a blind person trying to see. The ability to understand, to believe and have faith–that is an ability that does not belong to us. It must be given to us.
And if it is given to us, then we cannot choose it–it chooses us. That, in my opinion, is the healthiest way to understand predestination. Rather than view it as a harsh doctrine that makes God into a monster, we should realize that it is our only source of hope. Without God’s help we would be utterly helpless to know Him.
So I praise God that He chose to intervene on my behalf. Otherwise, I would probably feel as helpless as my young friend. Thank you, Lord, that I don’t have to.