Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The Challenge Continues, Day 149: I Chron 28-29; Psalm 120; Romans 11

Predestination, the Minefield of Determinism
As an Anglican who identifies as "liberal orthodox" on the political and theological scales, even the word "predestination" itself stick in my craw, much less the concept. Basically, the assumptions of predestination are rooted in the concept that God, being omniscient (all-seeing) and atemporal (outside of the constraints of time and thus both eternal and all-knowing) thus sees and knows what all human choices and actions are or will be. Free will in human beings is abstract at best. God knows our hearts, sees and foresees our choices and thus knows (determines) whether we will enter eternity as saved (hooray!) or damned (oops!).

To me, that precept seems like a third rail of controversy between me and God. If all is determined, then why do we strive? At best, we strive in order to prove that we are among those determined for heaven's roles. At worst, we labor in vain.

It is not so much an issue when we see God active in the lives of people like David and Solomon. Yes, David was informed that it was not his destiny to build the temple; but Solomon was blessed with that opportunity. David, seeing a path forward, labored to make sure that his son and the kingdom he ruled had what they needed in supplies and were prepared for the work with both a moral and physical awareness of what it meant to Israel's awareness of self and God's intent for the nation. In other words, one life is a chapter in the story of our common walk with God, and each chapter is a necessary element of the story that makes up God's proverbial Book of Life. Destiny means connection to past, and an opportunity to contribute to a future that is beyond us.

But what happens when predestination gets us mired in the muck noted above? When I was a young man growing up, I lived in a community that was stratified. Some of us were seen as intended for college (and, presumably a professional life) while others were intended for trade school. That separation took place in our sophomore year of High School. Perhaps your teen years saw the same influences? The agent of that determination was our school's guidance counselor. I saw friends of mine pulled aside from time to time over the course of that year to meet with teachers or representatives of the vocational school...and then, my friends were gone--to another school and another path in life. Some lacked the grades to make it in the college prep courses, but some simply lacked the social support and motivation to achieve a college degree. At my young age, that seemed like a form of social determinism. It was a boon to some, I am sure...but what of others who aspired to one way of life over another? Our society is purportedly one in which a will to attempt should be linked with equal access to opportunity. It doesn't always work out that way.

I recognize that human society is a broken thing in which we try to live by high values in the midst of morally compromise brought about by social inequality and a lack of equal access to resources. But when that tincture mixes with the theological waters noted above? Predestination starts to sound like God is tendering preferential treatment to those marked as sanctified. As for the rest of us? Thank you for trying.....

But Paul continues to dance with this dilemma, and I bless this author of the Epistle to the Romans for taking the concept of predestination on. He has burst the bubble of Israel's assumption that just because a person is born under the Law they are free and clear. It is in humble practice that the birthright is realized. As for the Gentiles...all those untimely born...can they be saved? From our human perspective: YES! God intends that through Christ's death and resurrection that EVERYONE should be able to hear and receive the Good News of new life and salvation. Instead of worrying about whether we have a golden ticket to heaven, says Paul, our concern is to inhabit the present moment, living in the sure knowledge that God's intent is to lift all things (and people) to union and communion in the fullness of time. It is not so much up to God to pick and choose who is in, or who it out. It is a challenge placed before us...that we be willing to express the grace, mercy and justice of God's absolute love for creation. Thus realized, we then break the yoke of predestination and by God's grace make a faithful witness to the restoration of ALL creation to the sanctity of standing in the presence of the Almighty.

It does take no small amount of patience, faith and hope though, doesn't it?

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