Brothers and sisters, I want you to know, that the Gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin, for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the Church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, Who had set me apart before I was born and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son to me, so that I might proclaim Him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days, but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother.
"...God, Who had set me apart before I was born and called me through His grace..."
These words have mystified people for centuries. Does Saint Paul imply, or even openly admit, that God plays favorites? That God predestines people for their roles in this life? And does it mean that being predestined, we basically have no way of avoiding this predestination?
The basic teaching of the Orthodox Church has always been that God does not predestine us to fates, which we can't influence. But at the same time God does predestine us to be Christians, His followers, the disciples of Christ. This latter predestination depends on our response.
As I've mentioned in some of the previous LANS posts, we are all created by the will of God, we are all created in the image of Christ, we are all create to be in eternal union (communion) with God, we are all created with a purpose. That purpose is to walk the path of salvation prepared by Christ, to be witnesses to God's goodness in this world, and to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
This is our predestination. This is God's will for us from before we are even born. But God, in His infinite love, also created us with a free will. Knowing God's will for us, it is now up to us to either accept it and follow it, or do whatever we desire. Each choice, however, does have its consequences.
Why would God give us this freedom of choice? Because He is not a tyrant. The only way to truly enjoy and live in His love is to choose it, not be forced into it.
To choose God's destination for us does have its consequences. It might include hardships, suffering, ridicule, misunderstanding and even hatred from our family and/or society. "If the world hates you, be aware that it hated Me before it hated you" (John 15:18-25). We are not in the hunt for a good life, we are in the hunt for a good eternal life.
To choose God's destination for us also includes His teaching, as Christ has taught us when He was physically present on this earth, and as His Church has preserved and passed on through the centuries. This teaching has not been always accepted and understood by the world. In fact, if we look back in history, we can easily say that most of the time Christ's teaching has been misunderstood and mischaracterized. Yet, it remains in the life of the Church, in the life of the faithful who desire to follow God.
We have all been set apart and called by God's grace to His faithful followers. Let us respond to this call daily. Let us make sure our life is aligned, as best as we can, with this call.
Yours in the Lord,