Thursday, August 23, 2018

Predestination: What is Our Destiny?

The greatest mistake and heresy Christians commit is separating tiny tidbits of scripture from larger context. Sure, some verses make great motivational posters and are just so quotable… but using a verse separated from its larger context--the chapter, the book, the culture, the grand narrative of the whole bible-- has led to countless misunderstandings (at best) and abuses (at worst). We know, after all, that the Devil himself loves to use scripture to his advantage (see the temptation of Christ; Satan quotes the Psalms to try and get Jesus to jump off a building to “prove” Himself.) so we should take care before we choose to use a verse to prove our point to others!

The question we have to ask ourselves when we are quoting scriptures is this: Am I doing this to achieve something I want or am I doing this to achieve something God wants? And to answer that question we need to have a really good understanding of who God is and what He wants!

With all this in mind, I wanted to take a look at the idea of “predestination”. Here are the most commonly used verses in regards to predestination:

“he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Ephesians 1:5)

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30)

These verses on their own have led many people to interpret this to mean that, before time, God chose a few people to be saved and a few people to go to hell. Does that sit well with you? It certainly didn’t sit well with me… but who am I to argue with scripture? Right? WRONG. Again, context is everything! But before we dive into the larger context, let’s explore a few questions first.

  1. From what you know about God and the rest of the Bible, does it make sense that God only chose an elite few to be saved?
  2. What is the core trait of who God is?
  3. What did God intend the world to be like from the beginning? (Think Eden. If Eden is our template what should a perfect world look like?)  

These three questions are great questions to ask whenever we face strange or uncomfortable verses in the Bible. We always need to fit the ideas of a small verse into the larger context of a) The Biblical Narrative, b) The Character of God, and c) The Perfect World (Eden/Redemption).

So, let’s explore Predestination through these lenses.

  1. In the larger context of the Bible, we know that God is not an elitist. In fact, he detests elitism! That is what the Pharisees were all about! “I follow the rules better than you, therefore God loves me and not you.” The same is true of many people who adhere to the idea of predestination: “I am a chosen one. You aren’t. God thinks I’m special.” We only need to look as far as the most quoted verse of the bible to debunk this idea of elitism: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, and whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17). That doesn’t sound like a chosen few, now does it? There’s a whole wide world out there!
  2. Which brings us to our second question: Who is God at His core? God is love. God is grace. God is mercy. If you chose any of these as your answers, you’d quickly see the issue with the idea that God chose a few people from the beginning of time to be saved and a bunch of people from the beginning of time to burn in the fires of hell. That does not sound like a loving God to me. And it completely undermines the concept of grace-- this undeserving free gift of mercy extended to all. If we were chosen/predetermined as part of the “elite few”, then, on some level, there is no grace anymore, since we “deserved” to be saved because we were on some cosmic “it” list. In Ezekiel 33:11, it says “As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live.” Sounds like there’s a choice here for us…
  3. Lastly, what did God intend from the beginning? If we were all predestined before the beginning of time to have some chosen and some not, then God should have created a world that reflected that… but God didn’t create a world with that dichotomy from the start. He created a perfect world from the start. But a perfect world with a choice. It seems that choice plays a major role in the destiny of humanity!

So now we must ask ourselves, what do these verses of predestination really mean then? The common understanding just doesn’t jive with the larger context of the Bible, the character of God, or the redemptive story. What are we to do with these verses then? Perhaps we’ve defined predestination wrong all along. Perhaps predestination isn’t the issue, but rather our understanding of it.

Predestination can either mean that God pre-destined our physical destination (i.e. Heaven or Hell), or it can mean that God pre-destined our spiritual destination (i.e. from cursed to blessed). God has always determined that we would look like Christ… and that opportunity is available to anyone who wants it. You see, once we choose grace, there is no other possible destination-- we will be transformed from cursed to blessed, from sinner to saint, from ruined to perfected, from selfish to selfless. We will become like Christ.

Now look back at those verses on predestination. Suddenly they become clearer with these new lenses on! Both of those verses link predestination with adoption into the family of God. If we “zoom out” a little further, the verses surrounding these ones make the link between predestination and spiritual transformation that much stronger:

Ephesians 1:4-6 “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—  to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”
What were we chosen for? Heaven? Hell? No. We were chosen before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless. To be perfect in love. And he predestined us to be his children by lovingly giving up His Son so that we could freely get that gift of grace we needed in order to get to the spiritual destination He always intended for us. But the choice is always ours as to whether or not we accept that gift.

Romans 8 continues that theme, as God predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son. This is about spiritual destination! Not physical destination! Heaven isn’t some hot nightclub with a VIP list that mandates who’s “in” and who’s “out”. The Kingdom of Heaven is here and now and the doors have been flung wide open so that anyone who walks down the mainstreet called “Grace Way” will be transformed into a completely new person by the time they reach the throne room. God predetermined that your heart would be destined for perfection in love. Every person will be transformed from cursed enemy to adopted child and royal heir. It will happen. There’s no stopping it. No one will be rejected by God (but some will choose to reject God and deny themselves their destiny).

This is what scriptures were always meant to be! Life-giving! Not soul-crushing! It is truly Good News that God’s chosen destiny for all of us is LIFE and LOVE and ADOPTION and TRANSFORMATION! This sounds like the God I know and love. This sounds like the plan Jesus died for. This is what predestination is. We have our destiny laid out before us and we choose to move forward or not, as free agents with free will. We are not locked into a destiny void of choice, simply hopeless in our eternal destination. We are not members of an elite club of “chosen ones” that can look down our noses at the “riff raff unchosen sinners”, nor are we members of a cursed club of hopeless souls, doomed to an eternity in hell. No one is beyond the reach of God’s love. No one is “too far gone”. And no one is “elite”. But all will be made perfect in Christ. That is a predestined guarantee.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Painful Truths: Grappling with Grief

The thing I hate most about grief is that it makes me selfish. I turn inward. I cradle my pain and hold it close, even though I detest it.

Pain reveals the worst parts of me. My fear. My jealousy. My anger. My bitterness.

People are quick to offer grace to me. They tell me that it’s “understandable”, but I hate that those parts of me exist. People have praised me for my honesty, but there are times where I desperately wish I had a poker face. My heart is on my sleeve because that’s where it’s been skewered— squirming helplessly out in the open, unable to hide. For better or for worse.

Sure, my compassion shows. My love. My joy. But that same heart is also incapable of hiding its anger, its hurt, its fear. The naked truth is that I end up hurting and disappointing people. And I resent myself all the more.

Pain reveals the darkest parts of me and forces me to confront it. Will I be consumed by my own darkness, or grapple with it?

My Creator is the only one who knows how to buff out those flaws and mend the broken pieces. He is the only one who knows what the perfect version of me is supposed to be. He is the only one who can restore me, because he carries the reference picture for my fully redeemed heart.

I’ve had trouble trusting and believing. Believe me, I’ve cried the same questions as the rest of humanity: “God, are you there? Do you love me like you claim to? How can you be Good and allow this to happen?”

God did not break the world. We did. God created perfection and we wanted more.

The only way God could give us the joy of experiencing Love is by giving us a dangerous gift: free will. God gave us His heart, let us hold it in our hands, and we chose to shatter it. And in His pain, God revealed His true nature: Mercy.

Since the very first day humans broke God’s heart, He has been busy making repairs-- making things right. Unlike me, He did not withdraw or lash out in His pain. He continued to pursue. He continued to love. He continued to forgive.

Blaming God for my suffering and questioning His love would be like a child shattering a precious vase and angrily blaming his parents for the fact that his fingers got sliced on the broken shards. But my Father is there. He rushes back in every time my anger subsides, and I finally let Him in close enough to bandage my wounds.

I am loved. And because I am loved, I am being transformed. This naked, broken heart will be mended. This pain is a process that has revealed my cracks and now I can let God get to work repairing them.

And someday, when this broken world slices me open again, I hope that a new truth is revealed: I am whole. I am restored. There is no more darkness in me left to reveal because God has replaced my heart with His own. And that heart only bleeds love and mercy.