I grew up on a non-denominational church where, to my knowledge, there was little if any talk of other denominations or of the divisive beliefs that have led to the fractured state of Christianity. As far as I knew, our pastor knew everything that was true about God, the Bible, and the world and so did all the other pastors out there and they all were in perfect agreement about everything. It wasn’t until the summer after my high school graduation that I started attending a young adult group with a friend at a church that had strong ties to Calvanism that I even heard the word predestination. The leader of the group preached on it and I was incredibly confused about how someone could believe that a person could be destined for hell and have no opportunity to change that fate. Afterwards, I went and talked to him and raised my questions and, from what I remember, his response was pretty much along the lines of “We all deserve to go to hell for our sins, but God chose some of us to save. Just be glad you’re one of the ones he chose and don’t worry about anyone else.” This seemed such a callous view that I wasn’t sure I what I was being taught could be considered the same religion as what I had grown up learning. It also got me pondering, if you had to be one of God’s special chosen ones to go to heaven, how I knew if I was one of them or not, but that’s a topic for a different time.
After that night, I started looking into the scriptures that had been used to support the belief of predestination and I had to admit, it did sound like that’s what it was saying, but I read other interpretations and that was enough to explain away what I had been taught that night and convince me that Calvinists must be crazy. From that point on, I pretty much avoided thinking about Calvinism or predestination as it seems like the kind of question that can’t be answered in this life and would only lead to fear, anger, and frustration. I recently found out that I’m not the only one who feels this way and I was pleasantly surprised to hear what Marilynne Robinson says on the subject through her character John Ames in the novel Gilead. When pressed for his thoughts on the doctrine of predestination, Ames admits that it is “probably [his] least favorite topic of conversation in the entire world.” However, I’m glad it is addressed in this book because his response to it seems, to me, the perfect way to address it:
“There are certain attributes our faith assigns to God: omniscience, omnipotence, justice, and grace. We human beings have such a slight acquaintance with power and knowledge, so little conception of justice, and so slight a capacity for grace that the workings of these great attributes together is a mystery we can’t hope to penetrate.”
While this is really just a fancy way of saying, “who knows?” it also points to why we don’t know and the explanation seems rational to me. The attributes he lists are typically the primary aspects Christians use when describing God and, if God is really as unknowable and mysterious as we also believe Him to be, how could we hope to know how those aspects interact when God made His decision on who gets into heaven and who doesn’t? I think the bottom line is, read scripture, listen to wise teaching, follow the traditions of the church all to the best of your ability and that’s probably a safe bet. Right? Maybe?