Posts Tagged ‘predestination’

1 JOHN 5:9-13

If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. 10 Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

A hard line in the doctrine of predestination asserts that our world population is divided into two camps: those elected for salvation and those marked for destruction. The way of the righteous, happy and thriving like fruiting trees beside streams of water, is opposed to the way of the wicked, those unfortunate others whose lives are sterile of meaning and a driven waste on the winds.

When the poet says that “the way of the wicked will perish,” is this because their fate as individuals was decided beforehand? Or should we hear his words in the spirit of moral wisdom: whoever lives like this is certain to end up like that? The second reading seems more consistent with our own sensibilities.

The doctrine of predestination notwithstanding, the moral core of religion is itself centered on a pivotal and self-evident truth: that we human beings are indeed free to choose the “righteous” path of self-restraint and goodwill over the “wicked” path of selfish ambition. If we hadn’t the power, the exhortation would be meaningless.

But our path in life is something we choose – or to put it another way, our path in life is paved by the large and small choices we make as we go along.

PSALM 1

Happy are those
    who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

If the destiny of Judas had been predetermined, which would argue that ours must be as well, then what has become of that unique power we once thought the special mark of God’s image in the human – our freedom to choose, to love, resist, to rebel? Is it all a delusion, this capacity for liberty and self-direction that we fight for, defend, and protect with a swelling litany of Rights? Again, was Judas merely a pawn in God’s game of salvation (for some) and damnation (for the rest)?

As we wrestle with this question, it is important to remember that such things as individual dignity, human rights, and personal freedom were then only beginning to break upon the world of the Bible. In the dominant view, the individual in our sense today didn’t yet exist. In a real sense, then, Judas wasn’t free and his pre-programmed damnation is no problem. The essential thing was that Jesus got betrayed and died for our salvation; Judas was just a “mechanism” for getting it done.

But we struggle with the justice of it all, and we can do so precisely because we are free.

ACTS 1:15-17, 21-26

15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, 16 “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”

21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” 23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

There are elements of this passage that many people today find difficult to accept. In the first place there is the matter of what later Church theology would call “predestination,” with particular reference to Judas Iscariot. It was an exhilarating time in the early Christian history when the followers of Jesus “discovered” in the sacred writings prophetic references and cross-references to the events of his life and ministry.

From our vantage point, a number of these prophecies appear to be rather forced readings of the text, suggesting that they were not so much discovered as appropriated for Christian use. Where, for instance, the psalmist complains of his friend “in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread” but who “has lifted the heel against me” (Ps 41:9), is it Judas, a thousand years into the future, of whom he speaks?

What does it matter? you may ask. It matters to us because this type of thinking has produced and sustained a belief very common and troublesome, that temporal events, and especially those involving human freedom and person choice, are only apparently open to chance, accident, and decision. In reality, however, everything is unfolding according to a design determined long ago – outside of time, in fact. This way of thinking is what inspired a former U.S. secretary of the Interior to condone the denuding of domestic forests, since according to the Bible Jesus is coming soon anyway!