Christian Theology in a Thumbnail (17): Predestination/Election/Providence
Predestination/Election/Providence (PEP) are not synonymous terms but do converge in that each of them deal with the relation of divine action and human action. Election is the primary term biblically but predestination is what most people usually call this issue. I call it PEP here.
Three observations about the relation of divine and human action to get us started. First, PEP is not fatalism, what will be will be (a pagan Greek doctrine often confused with it). PEP has nothing to do with a pre-scripted history that unfolds as foretold and cannot be changed. Rid your minds of this notion if you hope to understand PEP.
Second, God’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways: Just because we cannot imagine how God’s sovereignty and human freedom can both be real without one canceling out or one overriding the other does not mean God cannot manage it!
Third, the relation of divine and human action in PEP is asymmetrical. Divine action is prior and primary, human action responsive to divine action.
I have five rules for understanding PEP:
1. PEP is the most radical way we have to say “grace.”
From creation to consummation and at every step in between the Bible affirms and proclaims that God acts first in gracious, creative, and generative ways towards us.
2. PEP is the most radical way we have to say “love.”
God is for us. From all eternity God has determined to be for us, not against us. What God is himself – an eternal communion of love given and returned between the Father and the Son in the Spirit – he is toward us.
3. PEP means “victory/justice.”
God will prevail. Somehow and in some way God will take this tale which so often seems “told by idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing” (Shakespeare, Macbeth) and bring it a fitting and flourishing end. All things will be set right, judgment (however we envision it) will be executed, and shalom will reign throughout the ages of ages.
4. PEP means “gratitude.”
Our lives are gifts, received with gratitude and lived with thanksgiving and generosity. The primal human response to God is to say “thanks” (instead of the “You’re not the boss of me” our first parents offered their creator).
5. PEP means the “courage to live by the cross.”
All of this means that when the rubber hits the road we can and will “take up our cross” and follow Jesus wherever he goes and whatever he asks us to do.
Karl Barth calls the doctrine of election “the sum of the gospel”! As such it ought to inform and undergird all we are and do. I hope some of my observations and rules help us recover the substance and vitality of this often wrongly maligned central truth of the Bible.