10 March 2005

Predestination is just a Word

"How can I be blamed for something that God knows ahead of time I'm going to do anyway?"

Good question. Those of you who believe in Predestination are welcome to take a crack at it. I, however, think the doctrine of Predestination is the kind of trip people put over on God because they don't stop to think that the Author of Time is not bound by Time.

Time consists of one dimension only, and we move along it in one direction only - but only in this Universe. Since the Creator of this Universe is not stuck in this Universe, the Creator is not constrained like a bead moving on the wire of Time. So, "knowing everything in advance" and Predestination are human ideas that may have nothing to do with the way God relates to us.

God's relation to us seems to involve kenosis, a Greek word meaning the "emptying out of oneself." I think God comes all the way into our lives to experience them as we do. I think God gives up any priveleged position (comes down off God's "Throne") to do so.

Predestination and "knowing everything in advance" are human philosophical constructs that have no meaning in this context. Since this is all the context we know, it is meaningless to speak of any other. But we can still speculate, and I speculate that in the Universe to come all of our Time is Redeemed and made whole.

In the meantime, God lives and co-creates our lives with us. And Predestination is just a fourteen-letter word.


melodion said...

The hoary "how can I be blamed" question is not something which is formulated or even tickled at by any of the major Christian confessions on election/predestination I've ever come across.

I think taking a potshot at "The Doctrine of Predestination" on this basis is off the mark. Far more meaningful to address what "The Doctrine" actually says-- especially in context with the whole Christian narrative. Like everything else-- (even forgiveness!) it makes no sense apart from the rest. It's ridiculous on its own.

So, even though I "believe" in "The Doctrine of Predestination", I won't take a crack at the question, as formulated.

Scooper said...

You caught me in my imprecision! A quick check at CRTA's Calvinism/Sorteriology page shows that what people often think of as "Predestination" is actually "Unconditional Election" in which God is stated to have chosen those who will be saved and those who will be damned from before the foundation of the world. There is no need in this doctrine for God to "look ahead" through time, which is what I was criticizing from my perspective as a physicist.

In other words, I find no conflict between the doctrine of Unconditional Election and my understanding of the Physical Universe. I stand corrected on that point.

On the other hand, to construct such a doctrine to explain Romans 9:15,21 and Ephesians 1:4-8 seems to me a stretch to satisfy our human need for definiteness and closure.

I prefer to think that Salvation is open to everyone, but that some of us insist on working out our damnation. That is, the Incarnation-Crucifixion-Resurrection of Christ is sufficient to redeem the entire Universe, but God does not force Salvation on the unwilling.

melodion said...

Interestingly, the texts you cite don't provide much philosophical closure at all. Rather, they're spiritually unsettling, which was after all the author's intent. His point seems to be not that God has figured it all out, so don't worry; rather, that while God has indeed determined everything, we don't know exactly what he's determined, so we'd better be proactive and take some care of our souls.

All major Christian sects confess Election, in one form or another. I'm not aware of any Election doctrines which contradict free will, although, as I hinted at earlier, this is a common fallacy.

In fact, your own excellent Salvation doctrine doesn't contradict Election, either. Both simply make some empirical assertions about what is happening with God's will, our wills, and our salvations. I think they are in agreement about the details.

I also like your time critique. Beside the fact that it's simply fun to contemplate physics in such a fashion, it's also a great way to ease the angst and/or skepticism of some person who has misunderstood the idea of predestination. Which is most of us... it's a pretty heady concept.

The big problem with free will isn't that we don't have it, or that any major Christian sects deny it. It's that we consistently seem to use our moral liberty to choose the wrong things... which is pretty much what you seem to be saying.

Strict Calvinism sometimes appears to stretch this teaching in the direction you mentioned. The acrostic which John Calvin fashioned (which he intended not as a pat system to explain it all, but rather as a mnemonic to counter some bad ideas which were circulating at the time) includes the idea of irrestible grace.

This might seem to contradict your statement that God does not force Salvation on the unwilling, and indeed lots of good people have differed on what's being said. But, in its simplest form, it's just a way to articulate the amazing ability of God to overcome the hardest heart. Not even your strictest Calvinist will deny that, yes, indeed, some people seem to be working on their damnations... perhaps terminally.

We moderns often accuse many of these old doctrines of trying to say too much about God. In fact, I find that they are marked not by their definiteness, but rather by how much they leave open. Philosophically they may seem closed and pat-- but when taken spiritually, as intended, they often end up being healthy admonitions of one kind or another.

Thanks very much for the discussion, I enjoy it.