The ability to point to an event and name it as divine action is a fundamental characteristic of Christian life. To say, “God did this,” is ingredient to the life of one who knows Christ. “God healed my mother”; “God answered my prayer”; “God sent his Son”. Without the ability to utter such statements in knowledge, one could not be a Christian.
Yet the ability to make such statements knowingly is a matter of discernment. The knowledge needed to truthfully name an event as divine action and not, say, chance or nature or, in a different way, human action, is not always readily available. Sometimes it must be discerned.
In some cases, this is simpler. For example, where Scripture speaks of a past event, such as God’s sending of his Son Jesus or deliverance of Israel from Egypt, we have God’s own testimony to his action. Sometimes we are able to extrapolate from testified past divine action to discern God’s hand in the present: the healing of cancer is like God’s past healing of leprous Naaman or Miriam.
Other times, however, discerning whether or not God has acted in a certain way is difficult. This is especially so, it seems, in that particular divine action called predestination, by which God predestines his own in Christ for eternal life. That God has predestined us for eternal life is evident from the testimony of Scripture: “he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:5 ESV). Who “we” — the object of this divine action — are, however, is ultimately difficult to discern.
In fact, John suggests that the identities of God’s predestined people are sometimes discerned only retroactively. He writes, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19 ESV). This should, of course, suggest that discerning another’s predestination is something from which we should abstain.
It is crucial that Christians be able to confidently and knowingly name certain divine actions, such as God’s creation of the world and salvation of the world in Christ. Others, though, are properly hidden from our discernment, available to our eyes only retroactively, once they have taken place in their full eventuality — once, in other words, God brings all things to completion in Jesus Christ.