Actually, I don’t believe in predestination. We are not robots! I hate predestination and consider it one of the great heretical ideas that have crept into Christian theology, first by the philosophically inclined medieval theologians, but then, in a horribly amplified version of the doctrine, by way of the Calvinists and their double predestination (some are destined for salvation and some for damnation). Through their ardent labor, millions have lived in agony about their whereabouts in the afterlife and have seen, in the misery of their earthly conditions, a sure sign of the divine determination to ransack and haunt them all the way from a hellish earth to a fiery hell.
Say Hello to the Philosophical God
This is what you get when you let philosophical categories determine what you shall say about God. Someone came up with the idea that God is omnipotent, i.e. all-powerful) Don’t be mistaken, it is not primarily the Bible but philosophical ruminations about a mighty God who is sovereign over all creation that led to ideas about a God who is omnipotent. Of course, it didn’t stop there. This omnipotence was defined in terms of there being no limits to God’s ability to do cool and tough things. But if there is no limit to God’s ability or God’s knowledge, and if nothing escapes God’s attention, is there still something like human freedom?
With the Bible in hand, many theologians thought not. There are plenty of references in the Scriptures that could easily be fit in a framework of divine predestination, even when there are many that don’t quite fit so nicely. But the philosophical emphasis on an almighty divine Originator of the world to whom the whole of creation returns seemed to demand predestination. Anything less would imply that God is not in control. Any freedom of human beings implies a little less freedom for the Highest Lord of all. Ultimately, philosophy ruled theological thinking in spite of all the claims to Biblical proofs.
The Quest for Certainty
Another motivation was anxiety and uncertainty. If God is in control of everything, you don’t need to worry so much, since everything is ordered well; fate and chance simply don’t exist. The unexpected is not unexpected from a divine point of view. Calvin seems to have been motivated somewhat by this. His pastoral concern for the people in his flock led him to assure them that God was in control so they need not worry.
Indeed, people prefer certainty over everything else even when that certainty—in the form of predestination—leads to another form of anxiety that grows like cancer: Am I destined for damnation? Is the evil that happens to me, the result of divine decisions made unto my perdition? This last uncertainty has been unbearable for many believers.
The quest for certainty has plagued believers and nonbelievers of all ages. In faith, it leads to overdetermination of the divine in disregard of the sweet and transformative encounter with the living Christ. In Christianity, we have predestination and its insidious brother, inerrancy. The latter too has found a nifty workaround in order to avoid Christ. The Word of God now refers primarily to the Bible instead of Christ, the incarnated Word. As long as we know exactly what God wants from us (book of conduct) and what God is going to do (timetables of the end times), we rest assured.
The Creative God
I believe in a different kind of predestination, but it is a predestination that God has nothing to do with! It has some affinities with what unbelievers call determinism, the philosophical doctrine that everything that happens is determined by causes outside of the human will. Where believers always have a tendency to put God in control of what happens in the world, the truth is, I think, that God struggles with reality as much as we do.
As God creates the world and still creates it an ongoing act of creation and redemption, matter resists the divine love, subverts the ordering principle of the Logos, and brings all life to corruption. As God breathes spirit into the nostrils of Adam, humanity wakes up only to destroy the divine-human community. Yet God loves the world and sends the Son.
God is the child that opens its eyes innocently into a resisting and evil world only to be harmed, shut up, beat up, and desecrated. This happens wherever a child is born, wherever blossom buds on a tree in spring, wherever calves and lambs are brought forth into the world. It is in the youth of creation that we see this predestination at work.
I’m not advocating some kind of dualism between matter and spirit, as some observant reader might be thinking. I’m trying to give voice to the reality of suffering in this world in the light of the doctrine of predestination. Rather than being a hardliner who assigns the predestining labor to God and then bites the bullet of explaining how such a God is still loving or how we can still choose to enter the kingdom, I turn things around: the predestination is in the material world around us and in the actions of the people that surround us.
This is nowhere more clear than in the early years of our lives. That time I describe above as God opening God’s eyes as an innocent child. I like to picture God as an innocent child because it is not God who predestines, but God who undergoes the devastating effects of the world upon innocent life.
Our early years are the ones that predestine us for the rest of our lives and its effects can hardly be reverted.
- If you’re a victim of incest, your life is going to be completely f•cked up.
- If you’ve been victimized by sex traffickers, the damage incurred is almost irreparable.
- If you lose a sibling in your early years, it is going to affect you in adulthood.
- If you are born with autism, it will haunt you the rest of your life.
- If you were the victim of violence, anxiety may paralyze and inhibit you.
- If your mom used Softenon in the 60s you will miss limbs for the rest of your life.
- If you grow up in a war zone, your life will continue to be a nightmare.
- If you grow up in poverty, you are destined for poverty. I can go on…
Blessing and Curse
I could go on. But it may be clear what I’m trying to say. It is not God who determines our eternal fate, it is life (both in the forms of natural evil and human evil) that determines what our lives will be like. And that is a much more important subject to discuss than silly metaphysical speculations about divine alterations of cosmic fate.
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It is heartbreaking to see how some people stumble on, broken from the start, in their attempt to realize their own human potential. They are hit twice. It’s not fair that some do well, build careers as well as houses to live in, while others never get a chance because they were ruined from the beginning. That, dear reader, is the true predestination: the material predestination of evil.
This predestination is all the more insidious because it is masked by beautiful sounding religious chatter that claims God’s blessings whenever something goes well in life. It’s not God, its material predestination! Some are let off the hook and do well. They can go on praising God’s glory, although more often they simply just live and then die, without ever giving life and its meaning a thought. Some are hooked into despair in their early youth by an evil that will set the course of their lives. I suppose they can thank God for being cursed?
Where is God?
That is what I call predestination and God has nothing to do with it. Rather one wonders, where is this God who promises to be near the brokenhearted and humble people in this world? I sometimes wish God were a bit more assertive or perhaps a bit more “predestining” through divine action in the world. Maybe God could direct some divine power to set things right, or better, to prevent that ugly predestination in people’s early youth in the first place.
But perhaps, this is what it’s all about: God is near, in the suffering of those who are predestined by life to suffer. In fact, God is nowhere nearer than in that brokenheartedness, that f•cked up life, that anxiety, that nightmare, or that handicap. That doesn’t make it right, of course, and leaves a lot of questions unanswered.
But at least we no longer have to assign the cause of mishaps and success to a predestining God above us in some inaccessible realm. God doesn’t predestine. Rather God suffers with us through the consequences in the hope to kick predestination’s ass.