Monday, September 15, 2014

Predestination and the Garden

It came up in conversation with a prospective new member, as we talked about what it means to be Presbyterian.

"What about predestination," she asked, because it's one of those doctrines that tends to float about when we Frozen Chosen come up.  I answered that it didn't matter all that much as a teaching, particularly where church membership was concerned.  I also answered that it wasn't much of a priority for Presbyterians these days, at least not in my neck of the denominational woods.

That doesn't, of course, mean that I've not thought about it, or that it's a meaningless thing to consider theologically.   I've thought about it a great deal.  And as sometimes happens when you approach something with an open mind, my perspective on it has changed.  It has changed pretty radically, over the last couple of decades.

I no longer view God's work as linear, because as best we can tell, it isn't.  There's not one destiny, one path along which we move.  Creation does not move like a train along a track or a thread unspooling.  That seems, to be frank, both cruel and radically limiting to God.  What sort of king can only see one path, or one outcome?

It's more complex, more open, deeply free.  Creation has room within it for meaningful change.  What is this like?

I was thinking this as I walked my dog in the cool of the morning.  I wake before the dawn, and take her out as my highschoolers are leaving for their bus.  Summer is slowly yielding, and so the air at daybreak now has a little bite to it, enough that my boys bothered putting on their hoodies.

My dog snuffled around, as she does every day, tracking here and there, following scents, doing her business.

At one house, the grass had not been recently cut, and it stood slightly taller and heavy with dewfall.  She sniffed and snuffed, and wandered out to the extension of the long, long leash-reel.  I watched her move across the lawn.  As she sniffed, she began to lick, tasting the cool water that played across every blade of grass she passed.  There was playfulness and pleasure in her simple action.  Were I a dog, I'd find the taste of dewy grass delightful too.

And as she moved, she left a path behind her, as the moisture on the grass was disturbed.  It was a single squiggle across the "surface" of the yard, written across the dew.

There were, in that yard, so many different possible ways she could have crossed it, so many different   potential tracks.

And that, I think, is a fair analogy for how I think about predestination these days.  God's work is the garden, and every path we might take through it.  It includes the path we take, but it also includes countless others untaken.