Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Destined

I read a passage in Scripture recently that made me think of predestination, though it was not about that. Predestination, in the strict Calvinistic sense that some people are predestined to Heaven and some are predestined to Hell—without their being able to do anything about it—is an abhorrent and un-Christian doctrine which should never have escaped the confines of a confused mind. A priest I know once responded to someone who espoused that doctrine by saying, “Your god is my devil!” For only an evil mind could devise a system in which immortal beings are created in the image of God for the sole purpose of eternal torment in Hell. One would have to try really hard to work the few texts of Scripture that use the term—and ignore the other 99%—in order to come up with that. Yet there must be some proper interpretation of the word, since it does appear in the Bible.

The whole “destined for Hell” business can be easily exploded with only one text: “God our Savior desires all people to be saved” (1Tim. 2:3-4). If God desires all to be saved, then He can’t predestine them to be lost without radically contradicting Himself, which He doesn’t do. But it is not my intention to argue this point in this reflection. I want to look at what it looks like to move toward the general human “destiny” of salvation.

God the Father “destined us in love to be his children through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…” (Eph. 1:5). To be destined is to be set on the right course, directed in the right direction, with the divine intention of attaining a specific goal, which He makes possible by grace. The only fly in the ointment here is that we have the capability of changing our destination. If you board a flight for New York, you are destined for New York. But if, at your layover in Chicago, you decide to get on a plane for Baltimore, you are no longer destined for New York. This may work as a very general analogy for our “predestination.” God destines us for Heaven, even pays for the ticket, but we are free to change destinations along the way if we choose. That goes against God’s desire for us, but since He honors our freedom He lets us make that choice if we wish. We may destine ourselves to Hell, but God doesn’t. He destines us to Heaven, but this is not absolute, because of our freedom; we have a say in the matter.

We can (and must) live like we are destined for Heaven. The passage I referred to at the very beginning was from a blessing of St Paul to the Colossians, that we may be strengthened “for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:11-14).

First we are called to endurance and patience amid the trials of life—and this with joy!—and at the same time called to give thanks to God the Father. Why? Because He has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints, thus reducing all our problems (even serious ones) to relative insignificance. He has transferred us to the kingdom of Christ. That’s a great word to use there. It’s as if we had been slaving under a wicked and harsh middle-manager in our company’s department of darkness, and suddenly we receive a memo directly from highest level of authority. We’ve been transferred! We shall henceforth—if we choose—labor in the offices of light. We have been qualified for this unheard-of promotion by the CEO Himself!

It is a gift; we didn’t earn it. But we’ve still got a job to do, and it is demanding. And if we decide to quit, we have that choice: our former position in the department of darkness will be held open for us, and our old nasty boss will be only too glad to have us back under his merciless authority! But we don’t have to go back there if we don’t want to. We’ve been destined for great things in the Company, and all will be fulfilled if we co-operate, enduring all with joy and giving thanks to God for qualifying us for this position.

A little further on in Colossians we read that God forgave us our sins, having canceled the legal indictment against us by nailing it to the Cross, and thus disarming the evil spirits (2:13-15). That is how He predestines us, by clearing the path, removing the obstacles to our salvation, taking away the charges justly leveled against us. Now it is for us simply to choose his way, accept what He has done. The only obstacles left are the ones we create within ourselves, and only in that way can we change our destination.

There’s much more that we could say about this issue, and I’ve taken a rather unusual approach, perhaps, but here’s the point. We don’t have to live in fear that we may be damned if we do and damned if we don’t! Nor do we have to walk around like anguished Puritans trying to prove they’re among the elect by their squeaky-clean and forced righteousness, which results in a conspicuous absence of joy. The Father has already qualified us, transferred us, destined us in love to be his children through Jesus Christ. It is up to us to say yes, and to show our gratitude by meeting the demands of the Gospel and enduring life’s trials with an abiding trust and a quiet joy, for all manner of things shall be well.

Check your ticket. What’s the destination? Mine says “Heaven”. All passengers please begin to board…