During a New Year’s Day party, while talking with a young man and his father, conversation somehow turned to nature and conservation. We were standing by a large bonfire in freezing temperatures. Smoke puffed and billowed from the fire as the father, obviously excited to share his worldview with me, began to explain the difference between “predestination” and “preordination.”
“It’s not just semantics,” he claimed. “Predestination is very different from preordination.”
He went on. “All the world and history are preordained,” he explained. “God has mapped out everything in the past, the present and future. There isn’t a tree that falls in the woods that can change the course of history.”
Now, I will admit I typically ask for these types of conversations. Ever curious about the beliefs of others, and concerned for the manner in which faith is so casually used to justify all sorts of abuses in this world, I took the bait.
“What about free will?” I asked him.
Just then someone interrupted the conversation. That agitated him, because he’d just delved into his principal point, and he wanted to drive it home like a stake through my theological heart.
God is a control freak. That was his point.
What really matters?
My mind rushed through the implications of preordination. If all is preordained, then nothing we do as human beings can ever matter. “Science is wonderful,” he admitted. But it’s apparently useless. Still, he was proud of the fact that his son had been courted by schools for biomedical engineering. The kid walked away from scholarship offers. He’s working as a manager of an eldercare facility. “I like older people,” he smiled. “And I want to go into physical therapy to help them.”
The father was not finished with his soliloquy. “Evolution tries to explain things,” he observed. “But for what purpose? God already knows all that.”
I challenged him on that point, pointing out that Jesus seemed to have no problem incorporating nature into his parables as tools of exploration and instruction for his ministry. His highly symbolic parables based on nature’s wonders were a key tool to help people understand the nature of creation, which is reflective of God’s nature.
“Jesus would have had no problem with the theory of evolution,” I maintained. “He wanted everyone to learn from nature. And when his disciples didn’t get that, he call them as “dull” or “stupid.”
That seemed to catch him off-guard for a minute. But he quickly got back on his preordination horse and kept riding.
So I interjected again. “There are bookends to preordination and predestination that essentially defy the teachings of Christ,” I instructed. “The literal interpretation of Genesis and the reverse literalism of Revelation are literary tools for people to control the narrative of the Bible. Those are not the methods of God or Christ. In fact, Jesus chastised the religious leaders of his day for being so legalistic about faith and turning it into law for their own control and benefit,” I counseled. “There is far more truth to be discovered and known through metaphorical means. That’s where God resides, and how Jesus taught. He should be an example for us all. The Word and the world are living things. It’s up to us how we engage with God and creation. What really matters is the choices we make. That’s a more responsible way to act and it respects the gift of grace.”
At that moment, the flames seemed to rise a bit in the reflections of his eyes. He was burning to prove himself right. Just then someone threw another log on the fire. A stream of sparks shot up in the air. I took a sip of my beer and walked away from the heat of the flames.
The world is a pretty cool place if you let it be. The alternative is a bit like hell, because it turns out that it’s not God who is the control freak. It’s the character we know as Satan. He never wants to let you think for yourself.