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Father Richard Kunst: Predestination isn’t the same as pre-knowledge

Here is a question that comes up from time to time with the kids at my parish school of St. John’s: “If God knows everything, then he knows if we are going to heaven or hell. So if he already knows where we are going, what’s the point of our even trying?”

When I get such intelligent questions from little kids, it reminds me why I love our Catholic schools. They are simply the best! The question, of course, is about predestination. Well, kind of. There is a difference between predestination and preknowledge.

Father Richard Kunst
Father Richard Kunst

God knew long before we were conceived whether or not we would be going to heaven, but just because he knew (and knows) does not mean he caused it. I know that tomorrow the sun will shine, and I know that before long the snow will start to fall, and I know that Christmas will be here on Dec. 25.

I know these things, but that does not mean that I cause them. That would be ridiculous. So, too, God knows where we will end up for eternity, but he did not cause it; he gave us free will.

Perhaps an easier way to understand this is by using the history timeline analogy which I have used in a previous column. Most history textbooks will give history timelines to help the reader better understand certain chronological events in history. For example you can see a timeline that shows 1492 as the year Christopher Columbus came to America, 1776 as the year the United States declared independence and 2015 as the year Pope Francis first came to America.

We can see all these events at the same time on the timeline because we are “outside” of the timeline. We can see it all at once, but that does not mean we caused these events. Though this is an imperfect analogy, it gives us a better idea as to how God sees all history at one time. He has preknowledge of everything, though he does not directly cause everything, thus compromising our free will.

Truths to understand

The notion of predestination is a much deeper theological principle than can be adequately explained here, but here are some brief truths when it comes to our understanding of predestination from a Catholic perspective:

First, God creates us with the sole desire to have us be with him in heaven forever. God is not a jerk; he has not created some people just to send them to hell. He loves us so much that he sent his Son to die a brutal death so that we could be saved.

Another truth about predestination is the fact that Christ died for all people, anyone ever conceived without exception. That means even the people who appear to be evil, such as members as the self-described “Islamic State” or ISIS. Christ died for them, so they were not predestined for damnation.

Finally, when it comes to the Catholic teaching and predestination, it is a truth that God decreed from the beginning to “inflict eternal punishment for the sin of final impenitence, which he has foreseen for all eternity. He is by no means the cause of the impenitence, but merely permits it” (Catholic Encyclopedia).

Where the blame lies

In the same article in the Catholic Encyclopedia, St. Prosper is quoted as saying, “That many . . . perish is the fault of those who perish; that many are saved is the gift of him who saves.”

God knows if we are saved or if we are damned, but that does not mean he caused it.

The greatest gift God has given us besides life is our free will. If we abuse this free will and choose ourselves over God and others, then we run the risk of forever being separated from him. But if we use our free will as God intended, then not only will we find joy in this life, but more importantly in the next life. But it is up to us.

As St. John of Damascus put it: “It must be borne in mind that God foreknows but does not predetermine everything, since he foreknows all that is in us, but does not predetermine it all.”

Father Richard Kunst is pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Duluth and of St. Joseph Gnesen. Reach him at