“By the decree of God,
for the manifestation of his glory,
some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life,
and others are fore-ordained to everlasting death.”
Westminster Confession of Faith, III.3.
According to this piece of the Westminster Confession of Faith, God created some people for “everlasting death,” whatever that is. I assume it means eternal torture in the fires of hell. But I suppose a generous reading could indicate these people never popping into life in the first place. Are they just a theoretical set of people who never really exist? I don’t think so. Clearly the framers of Westminster thought they were discussing some actual humans. Perhaps these individuals could even be identified….
The idea that God loves some people and hates others --- indeed, that God created some people purely for the purpose of hating them --- is so foreign to the life and teachings of Jesus as to be outside the boundaries of Christian faith. It simply raises to the level of theological dogma a particularly sinful practice of humans. As if God were nothing more than an ordinary jerk, but with infinite power.
It is people who act this way. They reject the inept and ugly while fawning over the stylish and beautiful. If you are in the latter class you generally get what you need and want. But those in the former class have to make due with want and abuse. According to double predestination (the official name for the doctrine quoted above) there are some people whom God is “just not that into.” Like a vivisectionist who raises animals purely for the purpose of experimenting on them; or the child who acquires or makes toys just to destroy them in ever more cruel ways.
If God is really like this, why bother living? Why hope to have a relationship with such a vile and shallow being? Not to mention violent and unjust. If “God” is simply the way we refer to the way the world is and the way people treat each other… is that supposed to give us comfort?
I admit that sometimes I have trouble believing God is not like this. Certainly humans are. Too often, it doesn’t matter what you do, many people are going to like you or not on the basis of some arbitrary and accidental categories. Like that commercial in which all kinds of incompetence and boorishness are forgiven because the man is wearing a nice suit. According to double predestination, God gives some of us the nice suit and some of us an orange jump-suit, and that’s that. God loved David and hated Saul, even though both were sinners and David’s sin was arguably the worse. Some people seem to get what they need just by showing up. Others invest a lifetime in good deeds and selfless sacrifice and still don’t get what they need, if what they need depends at all on other people. God sees the heart, which is apparently where one’s preordained suit is.
If this is true I have wasted my adult life in service of such a god.
Fortunately, it is not true. The great insight of Neo-orthodoxy is that “Jesus Christ, as he is attested in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God.” (Theological Declaration of Barmen, II.1.) Therefore, Jesus Christ is the way we know who God is. Since double predestination is utterly foreign and contradictory to the God we see in Jesus Christ, it is a false doctrine. It doesn’t matter how many apparent biblical warrants can be stacked up in its favor (and there aren’t that many anyway), it is Jesus Christ who is the Word, and it is he who determines the meaning and content of Scripture. If we find something in Scripture that contradicts Jesus we are probably reading it wrong.
I write this because all Presbyterian ministers have to be examined when becoming a member of a presbytery. In that examination they are often asked if they have any “scruples,” or departures from the “standards” put forth in the Constitution, which includes the Westminster Confession of Faith. Most just happily shake their head that they are fine with everything in the Constitution, assuming that the subtext in the question has to do with whether they are willing to adhere to G-6.0106b (the prohibition against gays in leadership), like that’s the only really mandatory part of the Constitution. I am distressed that no one ever seems to have a problem with Book of Confessions, 6.016 (quoted as the epigraph above).
I sometimes wonder if it isn’t time to put aside whatever strange issues the Puritans were dealing with when they put this stuff on paper. It’s not the 1640’s anymore for crying out loud. This part of our heritage has been an embarrassment, practically since the ink with which it was written dried.