Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Predestination

Predestination is a challenging doctrine, made even worse by the fact that most of it's adherents use it as an excuse to become insufferably smug about their own salvation. Then again, holding to that doctrine doesn't inherently make you a Nazi...at least, I hope not.

As a Presbyterian, predestination is part of what I believe--so I'll offer up my overly long two cents on the subject.

First, "predestination" cannot be understood temporally. As mortal beings, part of the ebb and flow of time, we tend to think of it as God's foreknowledge of all of our actions. We've got this image of God planning things out in the back room before pressing that Big Bang Button, carefully charting our lives and deciding whether we gets ta be saved or not. But that's absurd, and antethetical to how God has revealed himself to us. The span and flow of time is meaningless to God. All of temporal existence rests before God as an eternal now. Predestination is a statement of God's limitlessness, of the God who stands above all of the temporal and spatial structures of creation. It is an inescapably necessary correlate of an omniscient, almighty God. If you want to worship a small and clueless godling who is unaware of what you've got planned for next Thursday, go right ahead. I wouldn't quite see the point, but...

Second, an orthodox understanding of this teaching does not allow for any smugness. You can't EVER say with complete certainty, "I am among the elect." You can trust that God loves you. You can trust that God is just, and that Christ is your Savior. You can delight in God, and serve God. But Calvin's clear on this: the number and identity of the elect are known only to God. Election rests in the mystery of God's glory. Those who are chosen are not to be confused with any church organization. Being convinced "in your heart" that you've been saved doesn't cut it. Being a staunch and dogmatic Calvinist doesn't either.

Oddly enough, that uncertainty is the point of predestination.

Predestination, for Calvin, means that you don’t have to fret over every little action, worrying over every little step. Predestination, for Calvin, means that you don’t have to lie awake at night with eyes wide open and mind churning, compulsively recounting every last thing you could have done better that day. God is almighty and graceful, and if God has claimed your life, then it is out of your hands. God is just and loving, and if God has called out your name from across eternity, then it is out of your hands.

And if it's out of your hands, then you don’t have to worry about it. The true end of your life, the true purpose of your life, the true meaning of this brief and fleeting flicker of existence, all rest behind the deep veil of eternity. Trusting God to be true, you can roll up your sleeves and be about God’s business.

Or, at least, that's my take on it...

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