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TH 302 Lecture 6

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TH 302 Lecture 6


6.1 The Doctrine of Predestination


This doctrine is often misunderstood. It is important to keep in mind that the notion of Predestination does not mean that every instant of your life, every move, every choice has been fore-ordained (which would mean there would be no real choices, and that God was using you like a puppet. We are not God's puppets, and Predestination does not mean this.)


What Predestination drives us to ask are primarily questions about consequences.


Recently we bagan to learn about the atributes of God, and in the next class we will learn some aspects of Theological Anthropology - the Doctrine of Humanity. It is in the interactionof these two doctrinal fields that Predestination begins to come into play. Predestination (whenever it has been reasonably and responsibly discussed) is never a starting point. It is always a possible conclusion. It is not what we begin with, but it is a result we may end up with if we arrange these doctrines in certain ways.


For example, one of the attributes of God we discussed is omnipotence, the idea that God is all-powerful. Now you can agree with this attribute or disagree with it, but depending on where you plant your flag, there will be logical consequences. For example, let's follow a chain of logic:


You say to a skeptic the following combination of statements: "1)The God I worship is all-powerful. 2) God wants me to be saved when I die. 3) I can choose not to be saved when I die, and therefore be damned."


A true skeptic would have some questions for us at this point, because it seems like 3) doesn't follow from 1) and 2). If God IS all-powerful, and wants something to happen, then it seems reasonable that it will happen. If it then doesn't happen the way God wants (i.e., an individual is damned instead of saved) the skeptic would be right to ask, "Is God then truly all powerful? Or is the believer in some way able to choose something an all-powerful God doesn't want to happen?"


This is not to say that you would have to abandon your position - rather, we must learn to be attendant to the consequences of the statements we make. We must learn to get a feel for what follows - and doesn't follow - logically from our positions.


From the standpoint of logic, claiming with equal weight the all-powerful sovereignty of God at the same time that you claim the absolute ability of humans to accept or reject God's salvation will raise difficulties. If you want to say both, it starts to look like a magic trick - now you see it, now you don't. Most of the time, as believers, we function with such tensions without really noticing them. But when we think theologically, we have to admit them and attend to them.


Doing this kind of theological work is kind of like driving a car across town. You most often can't go in a straight line, but rather you have to go north a little while this way, east a little bit this way, working your way to the destination by giving a little here and a little there.


So, staying with the example above, you might need to step back a bit from God's absolute power (perhaps God has chosen to limit Godself in some way, to allow space for human freedom) - or you might step back from strong confidence in the ability of humans to choose their own salvation (perhaps sin distorts our choices so much that choosing God's will is no longer possible on our own). There are many, many possibilites available to you within theology. The key point to realize is that you cannot have it all, and all at once. In order to make a system work, you are going to have to think through the consequences, and see what parts you will have to shift or compromise to get the goal you are looking for.


(Students often ask at this point, But what about Truth? in the hope that there is some magic answer that cuts across all times and places that I can give that solves all these problems of consequences. No such magic answer exists. There are lots and lots of ways to make this omlette. )




6.2 The Creator God and Creation


Consider these two different stories:


This one: Before the beginning, on a planet in a galaxy far, far waway, there lived a man who lived a good life. When he died, and after a long period of becoming perfected, he was raised to the level of being a god. He was given his own small piece of real estate in a faraway arm of a galaxy, and there he decided to create a solar system. In that solar system, on the third planet out, he created life and eventually, a man was born there. When he died, and after a long period of becoming perfected, he was raised to the level of a god. Now he will get his own small piece of real estate in a faraway section of the galaxy, to do with what he will...


... and this one: 1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. 6 And God said, "Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." 7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. 9 And God said, "Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it." And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.


We can see that these two accounts of cration are vastly different, and they make very different claims about God. The first story is a version of the creation story as you might hear it from a memeber of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons). The second is the account we more mainline Christians know from Genesis.


It is important to note that both stories treat the Bible seriously as a sacred text. We can see, moreover, that the Mormon account of creation tells us a lot - not only about how the world got here, but the nature of human beings (some of us might become gods!) and the nature of their god (he was once a man, with a body).


The Christian account, in a similar fashion, has these sorts of implications as well. To tell the Genesis narrative as we do implies some things about the universe (nothing existed before God started creating), about human beings (we are created in God's image, but we are not meant to become gods ourselves), and also about God (seeming to exist beyond time, and have awesome power, etc.)


The story we tell about creation, in other words, connects us to particular attributes and assertions about God, the world, and ourselves.


Some things we need to keep in mind (following Guthrie, pages 147 and following):


1) God creates the whole world (time, space, creatures, everything) and thus is Lord of the whole world



2) God creates in the beginning - which means God precedes the world, is present before and after its existence (the Alpha and Omega). 


3) There is only one God, and thus only one creator of all (think of the Nicene creed: "...of all that is, seen and unseen....")


4) God does not need the world.  The world needs God.  Yet God chooses to be involved in the world (and this we know particularly by the life of Jesus Christ our "Emmanuel" - "God with us")


5) God has pronounced creation "good" - all created things were, in their original state, "good" or "very good".


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