Pssst…I have a secret:
I don’t believe in predestination.
At least, not exactly the way it’s usually taught. The way it’s taught, it comes across more like premeditation. God has a plan, mapped out since time began, and everything in our lives pretty much happens because God wants it to. God has hand-selected the people He wants in His Heaven, and the billions of other people are expendable. God knew that when He created them, but did it anyway. God intentionally puts horrible things (cancer, bad accidents, poverty, and the like) in our lives either because He’s testing us (a la Job) or because He is “strengthening” us for the journey.
I know that is, to some extent, an exaggeration. But it isn’t much of one. And I simply can’t buy into it, for several reasons. First, I see it as a pretty big contradiction to claim that God wants all people to be saved, then say that He has chosen only some for that purpose. The fact that we don’t know who they are is supposed to motivate us to bear witness to all, that the chosen few will hear and come to the table. I find it has the exact opposite effect. After all, why should I worry about it, when God obviously knows who will be saved? Nothing I do will really make a difference; if I fail at it, God will find some other way. He’s magic like that.
For the record, I don’t believe that I have no responsibility. But I also don’t think it’s quite so set in stone. I think we’ve adapted and misinterpreted some key passages. God may know who is and isn’t saved, and it may or may not be according to the same criteria we use. We are likely to get to the next life and be rather surprised at who we see–and who we don’t. For that reason, we do need to reach out, in both word and deed. Jesus said they will know we are Christians by our love; I don’t think he just meant that we’re nice to insiders.
Second, I have serious doubts about the idea of God causing or ordaining terrible things just for the purpose of making us stronger, developing character, or encouraging trust. God can, and will if we allow it, use all things for good. But that isn’t the same as causing it. There are horrible things happening everywhere. We, as believers, have a responsibility to be part of God’s work here on Earth. He wants to use us to bring relief, peace, love, and joy into the world.
Third, I have a problem with the way we seem to think God is in every detail. News flash: God does not care if you have steak or chicken for dinner tonight. There is this really, really awful song that has gotten a lot of play on Christian radio lately: This Is the Stuff, by Francesca Battistelli. There aren’t really words for how much I hate this song. It isn’t just that her voice is so whiny. It’s that the song itself is whiny. To me, this is like sticking my fingers in my ears and going, “La la la, I can’t hear you.” The whole song is about little annoying things happening throughout our days and how God uses them to shape our character. It’s the absolute most self-centered song I have encountered in a long time. It reminds me every time I hear it that among many people who call themselves Christians, there is a sheer denial of real suffering in the world. If the worst you can say about your day is that you misplaced your car keys and phone, then you need to consider yourself very, very blessed. Don’t worry about whether God is “using” those annoyances to make you a better person. Because if you’re still dwelling on that, trust me, you’re not becoming a better person. Leave the car keys, go turn on the news or open the paper, and then consider ways you can really make a difference in this world.