We all want some star charted destiny to guide our days, our interactions, the path of our lives. We all want to somehow be chosen, be special, to be plucked from the common humanity and set apart for some sort of glory. There is nothing shameful about this desire; we all have it at some level. There is something in the DNA of being human that makes us want to be unique, special, sacred and set apart from the profane, common things.
It doesn’t cross the line into sin until we mix it with faith, declaring that by chance or divine design we won God’s popularity contest.
We drink this deadly mixture every time we start talking about the theological concept of predestination. There have only been three or four conversations I have had in my life that have not treated the biblical idea of predestination as some individual blessing. We approach scripture some how already convinced that God has plucked us up specially. Out of all the people in all the space/time continuum, I am somehow the one God planned for before all time, so that when the right moment in history came along I was born so that I could be saved by God. Like I’m some fucking Luke Skywalker or something.
The Wrong Questions
Long and short, I don’t believe in individual predestination. I don’t believe God holds a divine lottery and chooses who gets salvation and who gets damnation. That’s just not what I see in scripture.
One of the go to passages when talking about predestination is Romans 8.28-30.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. (NRSV)
I don’t really know when it started, but somewhere along the way I learned that this passage is all about me. Somehow, I began to assume that I must be one of “those” talked about in these words. I personally was foreknown. I was predestined, called, and justified, so I must be glorified.
But I wasn’t.
That last line, “whom he also glorified”, always nagged at me. See, if I was some divine chosen one, and I was supposed to be glorified, then why was I still such a mess? Why did I still look at porn? Why did I still struggle with depression? Why did I drink too much, act in passive-aggressive ways, never have enough money for my bills, and eat too much McDonalds. I was in my mid 20’s, and I started to realize that asking these questions about why I didn’t see the benefits of individual predestination was asking all the wrong questions about predestination.
If the truth of the matter was that I wasn’t yet glorified even though the passage about me said I was. So, either the bible was wrong, or I was wrong in my reading. There are countless hermeneutic hoops you can jump through with this passage to have it make sense. Things like suggesting my glorification was predestined but not complete, or digging into the Greek to find out that it’s talking about a process of glorification. It’s not that any of those understandings are wrong, but now I am left asking why. Why are we so determined to keep ourselves the focus of God’s sovereignty? Why are we so hellbent to prove our status as the chosen one of Yahweh? Why are we obsessed with keeping ourselves at the center of it all?
Maybe this obsession with individual salvation and predestination really has given us shitty questions. Maybe that is why the answers we have seem so unsatisfactory.
You Will Be My People
Ever since the sixth day in Genesis 1.26-31, God has been talking about humanity as a people group. Yahweh said, “let us make humanity in our image.” All of humanity. This is the very first interaction of divinity and humanity. This is before the brokenness of sin; this is perfection coming into existence. Why would we assume that God is going to suddenly switch from talking about humanity as a whole to talking about you and I as if we are the special snowflake he designed the experiment of time to produce.
We just aren’t that special.
But we are important.
From the time of Abraham forward, Yahweh has been working to bring about a people group that is loyal to him, a people who know Yahweh as their only God. These are the redeemed of the Lord; these are the people God saves. This was supposed to be all of humanity. John 3.16 states that God loved the world. Out of that great love for the whole of humanity, the Son of God was given as a sacrifice so that any and all from within the human race who would believe in Jesus, the Messiah, for salvation would receive the assurance of salvation. Those who believed would become the adopted family of God, a new people who were what humanity was predestined and first created to be: the image of Jesus, called, justified, and glorified.
The human race was always meant to be the complete image of God. It is for this reason we were created from the dirt and primordial mud; it is for this reason the divine Light breathed life into our bodies, giving us a soul. We were created to be God’s image; we were predestined to be the image of the eternal Son of the god most high.
So why do we assume that this one passage about predestination is somehow about you or I individually, especially when the rest of scripture points to the salvation of humanity as a whole that we personally get to be a part of ?
If I am finally able to step down as the star of the salvation story, the invitation to the family of God that is laced through scripture finally gets to actually be for everyone. When we begin to read this Romans passage (and indeed the whole of scripture) through the lens of community, we are left with a better set of questions.
What does it mean to love my neighbor, who is the image of God, as I love my self, who is also the image of God?
If God has invited us all to be his people, how can I announce that invitation to the people in my life?
Since we are destined for glory, how can we work now to stop power games, egotism, and oppression so that glory can start leaking through?
So, I’m not Harry Potter. I’m not the destined one God has been waiting for. I am simply one of those whom God designed from the beginning to look like himself, clothed in glory.
I am human. So are you.
That is glorious.